Why I love RAVS

by Emily Aslesen

December 12, 2013

Emily Aslesen

This August I participated in my second Rural Area Veterinary Services trip and, similar to my trip last summer, I found the experience humbling and deeply rewarding. HSVMA-RAVS clinics have a unique dual mission of teaching veterinary students and promoting animal wellness in underserved areas, particularly on Native American reservations. As a student, I found my RAVS experiences gratifying not only because I had so many opportunities to learn from volunteer professionals and RAVS staff but because I could see the direct results of our work and the profound impact of RAVS on the communities it serves.

Both years I traveled to Washington to volunteer at clinics on the Colville and Quinault Reservations. It was an honor to be welcomed to these reservations, where we were given a glimpse of Native American culture and the history of both regions we visited. At all four clinic locations clients lined up in the morning long before our doors opened, often bringing multiple pets for wellness checks and surgery. Every day I was moved by the stories I heard and the simple gestures of gratitude we received from clients. People were eager to get advice on pet nutrition, parasite control, basic care, and the benefits of spaying and neutering; one woman I met during my "Receiving" rotation came with a three-ring binder partitioned with separate tabs for each one of her many pets. During our physical exam and wellness appointment she took notes on our findings and our advice on exercise and weight management for her dogs. At the end she thanked us profusely and told us that she planned to type up her notes to add to the binder as soon as she returned home. She had been bringing her pets to RAVS clinics for several years and had always relied on RAVS for preventive care and wellness advice.

There is no question that RAVS makes a difference in the communities it serves. The animal control officer for the Quinault Reservation emphasized both years that he has seen a marked decline in the population of free-roaming animals since RAVS began serving that region. It was heartwarming to see people's commitment to spaying and neutering their pets, and clients amazed me with their knowledge of vaccination protocols and appropriate flea and tick treatments. Returning clients were careful to bring their vaccination paperwork from the previous year, and most people were very receptive to our advice.

I feel personally indebted to RAVS for providing me with so many learning opportunities. RAVS puts a lot of responsibility on students' shoulders, and with plenty of guidance, it allows us to practice our client communication skills and gain experience in anesthesia monitoring and basic surgical techniques. Through RAVS I have gained confidence in my professional skills and have had the opportunity to work with veterinarians and technicians from across the country. I have also formed deep friendships through my experiences with RAVS, and for all of these reasons I hope to return to the program as a volunteer veterinarian in the future. I fully support the mission of this program and feel compelled to 'pay it forward' by continuing to work at RAVS clinics for as long as they will accept me!


Emily Aslesen is a third-year veterinary student at the University of Wisconsin School of Veterinary Medicine. She is interested in shelter medicine and working with underserved populations once she graduates in 2015. She lives in Madison with her husband, two dogs, and three cats.