The work of a dairy farmer is never done. A typical workday is 5 a.m. to 8 p.m., and consists of milking and feeding the cows at 12-hour intervals, repairing machinery, doing fieldwork, and being on call 24 hours a day to deliver calves. It‘s a demanding lifestyle that takes dedication and perseverance. As a former dairy farmer, Kent Wright understands the meaning of hard work first hand, so when he decided to return to MSUM to complete his bachelor’s degree in biology and pursue a career in medicine he was up to the challenge. He knew returning to MSUM after 18 years meant shaking the cobwebs and trying to remember the definition of terms like endoderm and ectoderm. Calculus and physics would not be an easy feat, but his imparted values of working hard on the farm transitioned well to the classroom.
Wright’s attempt at college in the late 80’s ended early, and he returned to his parent’s dairy farm near Sebeka, Minn., to take over. Wright went back to the place he felt most comfortable, and it wasn’t until he began working with a veterinarian that his passion for biosciences re-emerged. The veterinarian taught him how to conduct embryo transplants to breed some of the world’s best show cattle. “In 2001, I bred a cow that was nominated for all-American reserved status. In 2003, I had the reserved champion male at the world show, and in 2007, we had a female that was second in her class in the junior nationals,” Wright said. In 2009, when the dairy industry took a hit from the economy, Wright and his wife had to make a tough decision. “We had to decide to either continue in the diary industry, which was full of variables we had no control over, or move on to something else. I returned to school to pursue a career in medicine,” Wright said. “When we decided to let the cattle go, that was probably one of the hardest days of my life--to watch all those years of work go down the driveway--but you just decide to move on.”The couple liquidated their cows and machinery and sold a majority of their cropland a year later. “I don’t want to be inhibited because I have to take care of the farm. I can’t do both, so I had to give up one,” Wright said. Though he’ll no longer farm, Wright said farming will always be a part of who he is.
“You don’t just walk away from all that. It builds your character and your values. One reason I’d like to do rural medicine is because I believe I understand farmers. My whole life was growing up around farmers, loggers, the outdoorsmen, and I understand those people and their values and beliefs and what they’re going through. I think I could serve them well as a doctor.”
In his early forties, Wright returned to school at MSUM with a different attitude and more life experiences under his belt. He was a dedicated student, rarely missed class and acted as a role model to his younger classmates, even though he might not have noticed. “Kent has been simply an amazing student. He has maturity, perspective and really has been a role model. He became inspired to be a rural doctor. He knows the farmers, the farmer culture and how health care often comes too late,” Ellen Brisch, biosciences professor, said. Returning to college after 18 years did not come without stress. “The first semester back was an eye opener. I laid awake many nights wondering what in God’s name I had signed myself up for,” Wright said. Wright credited the help he received from the faculty as alleviating some of his worries. “They were so much help. They get to know you. They were the best part about the transition because they were always there to answer questions you had.” Wright said his favorite class was developmental biology. “Maybe it was because it was the first semester I was back to school. I felt like I learned so much, and I had to gather all that knowledge back. I was really proud after that class because it was a hard class and it took a lot of extra studying.” Now, Wright says it’s hard to remember a time when he didn’t understand physics and biochemistry. Wright has been accepted to Ross University School of Medicine located in the Caribbean, and his wife and two children will move with him in the fall of 2012. They will spend the next few years in the Caribbean and Miami as he finishes school and his internship. Wright said he’d love to return to Minnesota to complete his residency. “If I can practice medicine in a rural area, keep my children in a rural area, I’m happy with that.”Wright may not be waking up everyday at 5 a.m. to feed and milk the cows anymore, but he will continue to have long days and face new challenges as he learns the ropes of medicine. Wright looks forward to the future when he can help farmers and other rural folks he relates to so well.