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Overcoming impossible odds to launch a career with the USDA

INSTAGRAM @khalifornia_dreamin   
Dr. Khali Natasha Jones was born and raised in Atlanta, Georgia. She graduated from Tuskegee University in May 2015 with a B.S. in Animal Poultry and Veterinary Science and in July 2015 with a M.S. degree in Animal and Poultry Sciences. She obtained her DVM from Tuskegee University College of Veterinary Medicine in May 2019. Dr. Jones held several leadership roles in the Christian Veterinary Fellowship, Human-Animal Bond/Animal Behavior Club, Omega Tau Sigma International Veterinary Fraternity, and Veterinary Public Health Club. She has traveled internationally to Haiti and Nicaragua on veterinary missions’ trips and received numerous scholarships including Merck/AVMF Veterinary Student Scholarship, Zoetis Veterinary Student Scholarship, and the Adel A Malak Scholarship. Dr. Jones is currently a Supervisory Public Health Veterinarian with USDA FSIS covering the Atlanta district, based in Perry, Georgia.

My journey toward the degree of Doctor of Veterinary Medicine was far from easy. I faced many struggles; however, my faith in God became stronger with every bump in the road.

Some of those bumps were an academic suspension in spring 2012 and academic dismissal in spring 2014, with gross anatomy being the culprit. I had grounds to appeal my grade, but it was denied. I started vet school in an early entrance program; but at that moment it looked like I would never achieve my dream.

Still I refused to quit. On my hiatus, I finished two degrees, completed an internship at Zoo Atlanta, and began working as a vet tech. I also applied to a few other veterinary schools and even received interview dates. However, I received an unexpected call from the Tuskegee University College of Veterinary Medicine academic committee in December 2015, wanting me to interview for re-admittance. A day after the interview, the associate dean called in tears, saying that I interviewed as if I already had my DVM. “We don’t want to lose you as a student, we want you back.” I thought it would be another year before starting, but she said, “No, you start in two weeks!” In January 2016, I became a member of the PRISTINE Class of 2019. I finally conquered that gross anatomy class and passed with flying colors! And to think, later I would teach anatomy and physiology to undergraduate and graduate students during spring semester 2017!

On the early morning of August 1, 2016, I was involved in a car accident. It left me with a torn ACL in my left knee and internal bleeding, which required extensive abdominal surgery. I woke up in a hospital room with an NG tube and family around. Over the course of seven days, I worked to rehab my knee, increase my lung strength, and finally eat solid food. Four days after being released, I had a checkup of my knee. The doctor was scheduled to fit me for a brace, but due to my amazing progress and range of motion, I no longer needed crutches or a brace. Many thought my second year of vet school would have to be delayed, but I WALKED into class on time. To this day, I have had no problem or pain in my knee. Furthermore, I made honor roll that academic year, making almost all As. I was so proud of myself and these grades were confirmation that this career path was still my purpose. The accident might have slightly slowed me down physically, but mentally I was on a mission upon my return to second year. I was focused and determined to do my very best and prove to myself and everyone else that I could succeed.

Fast forward to November 2018, I’m a fourth-year student in full swing of senior clinics and preparing for my Grand Rounds presentation and NAVLE. Unfortunately, I was involved in another car accident less than a mile from my Tuskegee home. My car landed in a wooded forest, just missing a tree head on. I remember getting out the car, nose bleeding, trying to understand how the car was facing the street and not the trees with the passenger side crushed in and windows shattered. I looked at my side, the driver’s side, and not one scratch. I only sustained right eye contusions.

Despite the accidents, I felt solace in knowing that God’s plan and purpose for my life still prevailed. I’m a fighter. I’m a survivor. Always have been. I took it one day at a time, continuing on the path set before me. I am thankful for His grace and mercy for sparing my life. I’m also grateful for my village: my family, friends, classmates, professors, and prayer warriors who cared, supported and encouraged me. Before you know it, I had finished out my semester strong, did a phenomenal job on my presentation, and prepared for a 10-week externship in northern Alabama with the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA).

My narrative and academic performance qualified me for scholarships that I never knew existed in veterinary school. I was blessed to receive over $50,000. As a member of the Omega Tau Sigma International Veterinary Fraternity, Pi Chapter, I was given the line name “Can’t Stop Won’t Stop.” My fraternity leaders stated, “You are proof that no obstacle should keep anyone from finishing anything. You are a woman with a million goals and are working diligently to complete all of them. Despite having to finish this process later than you planned, you have done so successfully and gracefully.” I was very emotional when my line name description was read during our ceremony. It was thoughtful, real, and truthful—it was perfect. My prophytes dug below the surface to present and name me appropriately.

In 2017, my third-year of veterinary school, I was awarded the Adel A. Malak Scholarship funded by USDA Food Safety Inspection Service (FSIS). Through this scholarship and pathways internship program, I received partial tuition assistance, employment as a GS-9/student veterinary trainee during summer and school breaks, in addition to mentorship and professional development. I also received hands-on experiences that truly prepared me as a future federal veterinarian. Upon graduation in May 2019, I converted to a full-time relief supervisory public health veterinarian (SPHV).

As a member of the FSIS Office of Field Operations, I am pleased to be on the frontline protecting the public’s health by ensuring the safety of meat, poultry, and egg products. In my role as an SPHV, I ensure products for human consumption are safe, wholesome, and properly labeled. As a relief in the Atlanta District, I travel to various poultry plants such as Perdue and Tyson to perform antemortem inspection searching for the presence of disease, verify birds entering the facility are handled and treated humanely, and work with line inspectors to perform visual inspections of viscera and carcasses. I also make dispositions on abnormal carcasses which include infectious diseases, neoplasms, trauma, and contamination. Through a working relationship with the establishment, I ensure sanitary conditions are met and I also authorize export documentation that allows products to be shipped internationally to countries such as Hong Kong, South Africa, and Vietnam.

As years of vet school went by, I knew I wanted to be a non-traditional veterinarian. Don’t get me wrong, my foundation is treating and performing surgeries for small and large animals, but general practice wasn’t my first go-to. The more I learned about public health and veterinary medicine, I knew I wanted to explore employment opportunities in various federal agencies or the armed forces. I still yearn to work in a “community practice” capacity; after my first year in my current role, I plan to work with corporate and non-profit clinics as a relief vet so I can touch “live” animals again (LOL). As someone who is huge on preventive medicine, I plan to one day serve local and international communities providing low-cost comprehensive wellness care.

My desire to become a veterinarian began at age six and through all the challenges, it has never faltered. Veterinary public health is a significant and essential part of human-animal-environmental interactions; consequently, I chose this career path because I am passionate and dedicated to ensuring human and animal health and wellbeing on a global scale. I take great pride in knowing I am making a tremendous impact in the community of veterinary medicine.

In the midst of your storms, whether it is classes, finances, family, know that you CAN and WILL be victorious. Never stop dreaming, never stop pushing and pressing forward. Believe in yourself and have faith. It’s not going to break you; it’s going to strengthen you. You’re not only going to still be standing; you’re going to be standing stronger.

For more information on the Adel A. Malak scholarship, please email Adel.A.MalakScholarship@fsis.usda.gov

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