The Little Things

by Ahne Simonsen, DVM

November 22, 2013

Dr. Simonsen (second from left) demonstrates a suture technique on simple phantoms created with cardboard, a huck towel, string, tubing, and painters tape.
Pam Runquist/HSVMA

Use your needle drivers to pass the suture to yourself – you’ll get better visualization that way.

Try pinching the suture between your thumb and forefinger when creating a surgeon’s knot – you’ll have better suture control.

Hey, let me demonstrate a few tips that make tying that loop knot at the end of the simple continuous pattern easier.

Sometimes it is the little things that matter the most. The phrase may sound cliché, but the concept has been exemplified on a multitude of occasions during my veterinary school training and my career as a veterinarian. The concept was also true time and time again at the recent HSVMA suture dry labs held at the Western University of Health Sciences and University of California at Davis veterinary schools.

Each year, HSVMA’s Rural Area Veterinary Services and Student Outreach programs sponsor a number of suturing dry labs at veterinary schools for HSVMA Student Chapters. This month, Dr. Paul Breckinridge and I organized and attended labs in Pamona and Davis, Calif.. We were joined by amazing RAVS volunteer veterinary professionals and university faculty, and surrounded by excited first and second year students eager to get a jump on their suturing skill set.

The students spent the first portion of the lab creating their own suturing boards which would help them practice ligatures, suture patterns, and feline castration auto-ligation techniques. I gave a lecture that outlined the benefits of practice, highlighted common challenges, and demonstrated tips for improving ligation and suturing techniques. Then the students got to work practicing.

Dr. Breckenridge instructing a student
HSVMA-RAVS senior staff veterinarian, Dr. Paul Breckenridge, gives Brianna Benedetto tips on suturing techniques.
Pam Runquist/HSVMA

Students love the one-on-one attention that they receive at these labs. The labs give first years an opportunity to create their first ligatures and suture patterns with the help of a supportive mentor rather than fumbling to figure it out themselves from a book or a video. The labs give second years the opportunity to suture under the eagle eye of a veterinary professional, who can give them practical clinical tips while also answering their questions about the details of each technique.

I enjoy being a mentor to the students at the labs because I love to teach, but also because I know that my suturing skill set wouldn’t be what it is today if it weren’t for late night practice sessions at RAVS clinics during my veterinary school career. It only took a slight adjustment of my hands or the third explanation of the same concept offered in just the right way that helped me to get it right and keep practicing. It also resulted in my first job after graduation being at a low cost, high quality, high volume spay and neuter clinic using that skill set to improve the lives of shelter dogs and cats, as well as the animal family members living in low-income households.

I caught myself looking around the room a few times during each lab and smiling to myself. Not only did I love hearing those little gems of advice floating from mentor to student, but I also felt good about the gesture that each volunteer instructor had made by participating that night. They volunteered because the bond that is created on RAVS clinics runs deep and because they know first-hand the difference a supportive mentor can make. I appreciated that each one of the talented veterinary professionals in the room would choose to spend their free time giving to RAVS and to the students because they are passionate about the program and our work. But more than that, I appreciated that we have become friends united by a passion for helping animals in need and a vision to foster veterinarians who will continue the same high quality work and mentorship in the future.

HSVMA thanks the following veterinarians for volunteering their time at these labs:

  • Western University of Health Sciences volunteer instructors
  • David Forster, DVM, MRCVS
  • Leslie Sklena, DVM
  • Wayne Smith, VMD
  • University of California, Davis volunteer instructors
  • Eric Davis, DVM, DAVCS, DAVCIM
  • Jean Goh, DVM
  • Elizabeth Roberts, DVM
  • Erin Updegrove, DVM
  • Kelby Weaver, DVM

These suture dry labs are available to HSVMA student chapters. For more information, contact us at