When struggle meets veterinary success

When struggle meets veterinary success

Florida veterinarian's determination pays off after sacrificing for a better life for her son and a career in veterinary medicine.
Jul 01, 2014

Dr. Dixie Brown, left, and Erica Helbig, practice manager, East West Veterinary Care Center in Cape Coral, Fla., stand outside their newest hospital the day they received they keys in November 2013. Brown first bought a failing practice she turned into a success, then bought another location and still continues to expand. (PHOTO COURTESY OF EAST WEST VETERINARY CARE CENTER)
Elizabeth "Dixie" Brown, DVM, didn't long to be a veterinarian. Or a business owner. She just wanted to be successful.

Now the Florida veterinarian has two booming practices and is looking to expand further, and she did it all despite tough challenges along the way. The determined veterinarian has gone from a single parent working three jobs to get through veterinary school to a successful practice owner in an area of Florida hit hard by the recession.

Earlier in life, Brown was married and working in Los Angeles as an animal trainer for movies. She dreamed of being a stay-at-home mother of six children. But fate had another plan: She found herself newly divorced in Reno with her then 4-year-old son.

She had few options for work that would support her and her son, let alone give them a better life. "I had decided at that point to go back to school with the help of some very wonderful people at the Nevada Empowered Women's Project," Brown says. "They were the wind beneath my wings."

Brown started her education by working full time and taking a few classes. She transitioned to working three part-time jobs and going to school full time and secured a scholarship that moved her education from community college to the University of Nevada, Reno.

"At first I was going into nursing because I needed to provide for my child and I didn't think I had a chance for a degree in animal science," Brown says. "But I finally just bit the bullet and decided that's what I needed to do."

Luckily for Brown, she also won the single spot reserved for Nevada residents at Ohio State University's College of Veterinary Medicine. She says she believes the school saw how much she wanted to achieve her dream. "I had given up everything to make this happen," she says. "I'm a determined little thing."

To get by as a veterinary student and single mom, Brown worked multiple jobs, lived in public housing and juggled classes along with her other responsibilities. And she did it all without much outside support. "I remember my father saying, 'When are you going to quit that school thing and get a real job?' No one really supported me emotionally or financially," she says, adding that her own determination and study groups with her veterinary school peers saw her through.

Her son was her biggest cheerleader, she says. He used to sleep under computer desks on campus while she studied, carrying his sleeping bag along, then getting up for school the next morning. After a particularly trying day in class, Brown recalls coming home and throwing her bag across the apartment saying she was quitting. "He put a finger up and said, 'I didn't eat my dinner in autopsy class for nothing!' and pushed me to finish," Brown says.