Everyday Hero: Debra Junkins

Huntley veterinarian opens clinic’s doors to students interested in career

Deb Junkins examines Minnie, a Beagle mix, at her practice Pet Vet Animal Clinic & Mobile Practice in Huntley. Junkins has worked with schools and their work programs to allow high school students the opportunity to gain experience and credits.
Deb Junkins examines Minnie, a Beagle mix, at her practice Pet Vet Animal Clinic & Mobile Practice in Huntley. Junkins has worked with schools and their work programs to allow high school students the opportunity to gain experience and credits.

Pet Vet Animal Clinic & Mobile Practice Ltd. is more than a suburban veterinary practice.

For years, owner and veterinarian Debra Junkins has made it the clinic’s mission to serve as a training ground for would-be vets and just about anyone else considering a career in the industry.

“Our clinic believes in being open,” Junkins said. “All of us strongly, strongly believe that a person at a young age, if they think this is what they want to do, should have a chance to be exposed to that.”

That’s why the clinic opens its doors to local youth organizations and students of all ages, from kindergartners to college graduates. The clinic has worked with McHenry County College students and students from other college-degree programs. Some come to job shadow for a few hours; others spend the summer working at the clinic. Some students have gotten experience in the field through Huntley High School’s cooperative education program. A few of those exposed to the business through such programs have gone on to work at the clinic. Others have embarked on careers of their own in the field, including two former Huntley High School students who started out working in the clinic’s kennel. And many more have decided the job wasn’t right for them.

Job shadowing is often “the single most important experience” for students in cooperative education classes at Huntley High School, teacher Page Schaschwary said. In addition to working 15 hours a week, co-op students learn about career opportunities and what it takes to get a job in a variety of competitive fields.

“Pet Vet is very supportive of our program,” Schaschwary said. “It’s our go-to place for vets.”

Students come back from the experience with a better idea of what jobs are available, how much education is required and what type of jobs are available in the industry.

“We try to be brutally honest,” Junkins said. “Like every job, there are good parts and there are bad parts. ... We’ve definitely had some students who’ve come and later said, ‘This is definitely not for me.’ ”

“There’s a very romanticized view of what veterinary medicine is,” said Karen Larsen, practice manager at Pet Vet Animal Clinic & Mobile Practice. Veterinarians, vet technicians and kennel workers don’t get paid to play with puppies and kittens all day, she said.

The work often is interesting and exciting, but also comes with challenges, Junkins said.

Dogs weighing 80 to 110 pounds can make a vet’s job physically challenging. And delivering bad news about a beloved family pet can be difficult emotionally. Furthermore, being a vet doesn’t mean working solely with animals.

“You have to be able to work with people,” Junkins said. “All the animals come attached to a person.”

Vets also make less than other doctors. In 2012, the median pay for vets was $84,460 a year. By comparison, the median pay for physicians and surgeons was equal to or greater than $187,200 a year, according to the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics.

“You have to have a love for working with animals,” Junkins said.

Junkins and her staff at Pet Vet Animal Clinic & Mobile Practice see their efforts to give young people experience in the industry as a way to give back to the local community over the past 16 years.

“The public, the business community, the village [of Huntley] have all been very supportive of our practice,” Junkins said. “This has been a way that we feel we can give something back.”

Vincent Izquierdo, who first logged hours at the clinic when he was a student at Huntley High School, has been working at Pet Vet Animal Clinic & Mobile Practice for eight years. His mother, Elizabeth Izquierdo, nominated Junkins for the Northwest Herald’s 2015 Everyday Heroes award.

“She’s been such a big help to my son. She encouraged him,” Elizabeth Izquierdo said. “She’s such a dynamic person, and the opportunities she offers to young people are really wonderful.”

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