Learning to Love Anesthesia

May 22, 2014
by Theresa Hubbell

This past spring break, I was lucky enough to spend a week volunteering at the HSVMA-RAVS White Mountain Apache wellness and spay/neuter clinic in Arizona. My main career focus is equine sports-medicine and I have a strong commitment to community service, so I figured volunteering with HSVMA-RAVS would be a wonderful way to gain companion animal skills while serving a community that sorely needs veterinary care. The experience exceeded my wildest expectations.

Stepping Out of My Comfort Zone

HSVMA-RAVS student volunteer, Theresa Hubbell, monitors a canine patient during surgery.
Theresa Hubbell

As a first year veterinary student I’m comfortable with the anatomy of most animals, but physiology, pharmacology, and surgery are still foreign to me, and anesthesia is terrifying. We aren’t able use all those machines in the field with horses, so it feels like a whole different procedure when anesthetizing dogs and cats. Naturally, I was assigned to anesthesia for my first day at the clinic! I was so nervous that it took me the entire day to realize that my patients could still breathe even when the endotracheal tube wasn’t hooked up to the machine (yup, I’m a genius)!

Even though I had read all of the RAVS training materials and studied for my pre-trip assessment, once at the clinic I felt tossed in the middle of a storm, and yet, I loved it. I thrive on being challenged, and since the RAVS staff is one encouraging, knowledgeable, approachable, well-oiled machine with checks and balances inherent in their teaching program I was constantly learning, but my patients were never in danger from my inexperience. I quickly grew to love anesthesia, or at least not fear it quite so much.

Between my anesthesia experiences and performing my first-ever solo cat and dog neuters (with a reassuring volunteer veterinarian mentoring across the table), I had some great stories to bring home with me. However, I feel the most valuable service I participated in was receiving. I grew up on a farm with dogs and cats that we kept vaccinated, but none ever had medical problems. After my first semester in veterinary school I could perform a basic physical exam, but was not familiar with standard small animal protocols. The RAVS system for assessment and intake is so systematic that it is now a reflex for me. When asking owners about pet history I find myself visualizing the RAVS intake form and using it as a basis for my assessment.

A Noticeable Change

Now that I am back in school, I’ve noticed a difference in my abilities. When I am asked to perform a new procedure, I do so with more confidence and authority than I did prior to my RAVS experience. Even though I am a "horse" girl, I never felt stupid at the clinic. So many times in my education—even when I am learning from brilliant minds who love to teach—I have found it easy to become demoralized from a lack of confidence, but with RAVS, students are given training, and then use that training all day with the RAVS staff supporting them every step of the way, until every animal is cared for and the exhausted team is excitedly discussing the day’s cases in rounds.

Beyond the training and experience, I met some wonderful veterinary professionals and other veterinary students from across the country. I enjoyed comparing notes and swapping stories with them, and they helped me realize what a great profession we share. I still hope to be an equine veterinarian, but I am going to make it a priority to complete at least one RAVS trip per year while in school because if vet school is like drinking out of a fire hose, then RAVS is like sipping at the base of Niagara Falls. The amount I learned in such a short period of time still amazes me, and I haven’t even scratched the surface of what is possible. Having experienced the thrill and reward that comes from helping a community and their animal companions live happier, healthier lives I know I will seek community service opportunities wherever my career takes me.

Theresa Hubbell is a first year veterinary student at Cornell University. She was raised on a small Shire-breeding and pasture-raised beef, pork, and chicken farm in Northern Michigan. She attended Otterbein University in central Ohio to earn a Bachelor of Science in Biochemistry/ Molecular Biology and Equine Pre-Veterinary Science. She is happily owned by a 16-year-old eventing Thoroughbred named Jack and a 10-month-old kitten named Sir Reginald.