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A letter about the NAVLE

This month's Wellness Spotlight was written by our past SAVMA president, Matt Holland, offering support and guidance for those students who may not have passed the NAVLE on their first attempt. A reminder that we are all in this together and we want to see everyone succeed. 


Congratulations to every one who passed the NAVLE. Congratulations to all who didn’t, you’ve still made it this far, and you will still continue on towards greatness. 

An open letter to veterinarians everywhere:

Dear Doctors, 

Around this time of year, most of us found out we passed the NAVLE on our first attempt. Some of us – myself included – found out we didn't. After talking with others who also experienced this, here are just a few of the questions that, after receiving the news, completely drowned out everything else:


  • "Can I survive this without telling anyone at school?"
  • "Can I survive this without leaving the profession?"
  • "Can I survive this at all?"


We were embarrassed and ashamed, but more than anything, uncertain: " what?"

The first person I told was a mentor. This person is well-respected and successful – they told me they didn't pass, too. I remember finding comfort in that.

Not long after, a member from the previous class at my school, Steve Zachar, reached out to my class. He wrote us a wonderful email. Here's how it started:

"Congratulations to all who passed the standardized test which must not be named. No worries if you need to retake it... Life happens to everyone, just keep moving forward. The results are not reflective of what you actually know, nor are they an indicator of the kind of veterinarian you will become. The NAVLE is just a huge pain in the ass that the nerds invented to take whatever is left of your soul after 3.5 years of vet school."

At the time, I had no idea how right he was.

Steve went on to tell us he didn't pass the first time he took it. Or the second. He changed his study habits and got over the hump on the third attempt. He reported having a good job and a good life. He survived.

He was also well-respected and successful, and even went through almost the exact same curriculum I did. I found even more comfort after seeing his email, yet was still painfully aware of the difference between comfortable and confident. And though I felt less discomfort, I still didn't have an answer to, "now what?"

I reached out to another mentor, Jennifer Quammen. I told her about my situation, and she put me in touch with her friend Brittany Koether. Brittany, much like Steve, was also a rockstar veterinarian who happened to need more than one try to pass the test. And, also like Steve, survived and lived to tell about it.

It finally struck me that there were outstanding veterinarians from all walks of life who had cleared this hurdle. So off I went! Until a couple weeks ago.

Seeing so many from the class of 2018 share the good news about their exam results immediately made me think of those who had bad news and weren't sharing it. I wanted to help. Then, some members of the class of 2018 reached out and asked for help. I wanted to help even more – I wanted to at least be able to help people find an answer to, "now what?"

I still want to help people find that answer. And sure enough, I need help. If you meet the following two criteria, I'm looking for you:


  • You survived not passing the NAVLE, &
  • You want to help others survive.


Please reach out to me – send me a message on Facebook or an email ( I am forming a support group for people going through this dark time, and the most important part of the group is to have survivors ready and willing to help people going through it.

Remember that email from Steve? Here's how it ended:

"Mental health needs to become a priority in this field and we should be taking better care of one another as a veterinary family."


I couldn't agree more. Will you help me take care of the veterinary family?


Thank you,

Matt Holland

Illinois Class of 2017


Remember you are never alone. Please reach out for help if you need it. National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255

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