Double the Fun

There are times when Nick Van Engen questions his decision – even now when his goal is within sight.

“It was tough when I couldn’t see the light at the end of the tunnel,” Van Engen said. “Would I do it again? There are some days when I think yes and then there are others when I think no."

“But at the end of the day I will have earned two degrees in four years.”

Van Engen graduated in May with his DVM. During his DVM studies he was also working on a PhD in veterinary microbiology. He will spend this summer in Ames completing that degree.

Spending time at Iowa State during the summer, spring and winter breaks was the norm for Van Engen. He says that was the only way he was able to complete both degrees in four years.

“Any extra time you have over a break or a weekend, the goal is always to get caught up,” he said. “This is how I managed research projects and writing papers.”

Time management was a significant factor in Van Engen’s success. He says there was always time to work on his studies – he just had to make time for it.

Each year of the DVM curriculum offered its own challenges. His first year was an adjustment year, while he had to deal with an increased volume of work the following year. By the third year, he was concentrating on producing publications while dealing with increased clinical work in his DVM studies.

And now in his fourth and final year, Van Engen says he had to switch how he worked on the two degrees simultaneously.

“There are certain blocks where I have to concentrate solely on clinical work,” he said. “But fortunately, I still have some down time when I can work on my PhD studies.”

But it wasn’t all time management. Many of the courses he took, counted for both degrees – although he had to do additional work in these for his PhD credits. Plus, he started right out of the gate working on both degrees.

“It would be extremely tough to decide to get both degrees mid-stream,” Van Engen said. “You have to have the vision and opportunity before you start vet school.”

Van Engen actually began planning on getting two degrees while he was an undergraduate biology major at Iowa State when he was a research assistant with Dr. Hans Coetzee. By the time he was admitted to the College of Veterinary Medicine as a DVM student, he was well-positioned to complete both degrees.

Despite his achievements, Van Engen is humble about the accomplishment.

“It becomes difficult when people ask me how I did it,” he said. “I know there are many of my fellow veterinary student classmates who are more than capable and could have accomplished the same thing.

“The two degrees have added extra value to the time I have spent here at Iowa State,” he said. “It has been tough at times, but when I finish, it will definitely be worth all the work.”