When Dr. Roberta Levenberg helped organize one of the biggest science nights in recent years at her kids' public school in Virginia, she had a not-that-well-kept secret: She had graduated and worked as a veterinarian in Brazil before marrying her husband and moving to the United States.

While she didn’t want to pursue studying and taking the licensing test at the time, she knew she wanted to stay busy.

“I couldn’t be home, doing nothing,” Dr. Levenberg says. “So, I became vice president of the PTA at my kids’ school.”

Because she loved science—of course, as a veterinarian, who are doctors and scientists—Dr. Levenberg volunteered to oversee Science Night. She reached out to dozens of organizations: Parks and Recreation, the National Parks, Lego engineers, magicians, libraries, climatologists with tornado and hurricane simulations, and, of course, the two closest veterinary clinics, one of which was VCA Healthy PAWS Medical Center in Haymarket, VA.

“Their hospital manager and medical director immediately said yes,” she says. The VCA team brought in a slew of cool items for their booth, everything from stethoscopes and thermometers to a microscope with slides of intestinal parasites (gross to some, but cool to any curious kid). Team members talked about the care pets need and even how to best pet cats and dogs.

With more than 30 booths to manage, Dr. Levenberg bounced around the event. Her husband, however, had a secret mission.

“He walked up and told them I was a vet in Brazil,” she says.

When Dr. Levenberg came by the VCA booth next, the hospital manager Sharyl Mayhew struck up a conversation and asked if she wanted a job. It happened fast: “She said, ‘Monday, come into my hospital. I’m hiring you.’”

It Started at the Front Desk…

Before she married, the then-Dr. Santos graduated from Brazil’s Federal University of Uberlandia in 2003. She went to work for the government, eventually overseeing more than 20 team members. They inspected farms and managed other public health issues.

Back in the United States, on her first day at work at VCA Healthy Paws Medical Center, Dr. Levenberg worked the front desk. Without a license to practice medicine in the United States, she spent her time honing her client service skills in English (her second language after her native Portuguese) and learning the VCA hospital workflow.

”The front desk was the best way to learn the practice software,” she says. “My knowledge of the English language created a slight barrier in the beginning, but practice in answering the phones immediately helped with that.”

Eventually, she was promoted to veterinary assistant, where she could interact more with pets and put her medical knowledge to use in client education in the exam room.

Then she had to abruptly leave: her husband in the military had been relocated to a base in Texas.

She didn’t ditch VCA, though. Her previous boss put her in touch with the hospital manager at VCA Henderson Pass Animal Hospital in San Antonio, TX who immediately hired her. She was eventually promoted to veterinary technician supervisor. It was at this second VCA hospital where her VCA career took an even bigger turn than that promotion, though: She received a scholarship to study veterinary technology to become licensed as a veterinary technician. She completed a year’s worth of material in two months.

That’s when she came to a realization. She went into the office of medical director Dr. David O’Brien and told him, “This is too easy. If I need to study veterinary medicine, I’ll just study to be licensed as a veterinarian.”

“We’re all connected, and we’re a family that supports you,” says Dr. Levenberg. “When I ask for help from other VCAs, I never get a ‘no.’”

…And Ended as a Veterinarian Again.

Dr. O’Brien gathered up all the veterinary textbooks at the clinic and in his house for her.

“He told me, ‘If you need more, let me know,’” she says.

That was in November 2019 as she began the process of studying for the Educational Commission for Foreign Veterinary Graduates certification program through the nation’s leading association for veterinarians, the American Veterinary Medical Association. If she could satisfy the requirements and pass written and hands-on exams at the end, she’d be free to use her veterinary degree fully.

Doctors and veterinary technicians at Henderson Pass helped her every day as she reviewed and updated her medical knowledge and techniques. But she was surprised and grateful to receive help from any other VCA hospital whenever she had questions.

“When I was getting ready for my practical exam, I reached out to a regional technician in the area,” she says. Dr. Levenberg wanted to be sure she knew everything about how VCA hospitals administered anesthesia to patients.

“She let me see them go through the entire process,” she says.

Other hospitals let her visit and walk-through clinical cases with them: “Every single VCA hospital always made time for me. They never said, ‘Well, maybe next month.’ It was always, ‘Come in any time, and if I’m not here, here’s the person who can do it for you.’”

Dr. Levenberg passed the licensing exam in June 2022 and has been practicing as an associate veterinarian since August 2022.

‘Don’t Give Up.'

Dr. Levenberg says she has loved her time working for VCA hospitals.

“We’re all connected, and we’re a family that supports you,” she says. “When I ask for help from other VCAs, I never get a ‘no.’”

Dr. Levenberg’s journey to become a veterinarian has inspired her 12-year-old daughter, who says she wants to go to veterinary school. And the support of the VCA family helped Dr. Levenberg get back to what she always wanted to since she was 6 years old: be an animal doctor.

“I remember, my grandmother had a puppy when I was 6,” she says. “And it was super-cute, and one day, I went to her house, and it was sick and dying.”

That puppy’s death solidified something inside Dr. Levenberg: “If only he’d gotten help, if only he’d gone to the doctor.”

And she’s done a lot of work to become that doctor—twice.

“Don’t give up,” she says to foreign graduates thinking of taking the exam to practice veterinary medicine in the United States. “Go for it. Don’t be scared. Take it one step at a time and keep moving forward.”

Is veterinary medicine calling to you? A career in veterinary medicine is full of possibilities and opportunities to continue to learn and grow. Explore the vast array of opportunities in veterinary medicine by visiting the VCA Careers page.