Enhancing Classroom Education with HSVMA-RAVS

October 24, 2011

By Katie Todd

My first two HSVMA-RAVS trips were in the spring and summer of my second year of vet school. I was still pretty green at the time, and those weeks taught me so much about interacting with clients, fellow veterinary students, and patients in addition to building on my classroom education. My experiences made the transition to my third year of vet school so much smoother, and also laid the foundation for a long-term relationship with HSVMA-RAVS and the rest of the organization.

I was lucky enough to be chosen as the HSVMA-RAVS summer intern 2011, the summer before my final year of vet school. This allowed me to spend over 6 weeks with the HSMVA-RAVS crew — honing my clinical skills, traveling to reservation communities i would never otherwise have the opportunity to visit, helping first-time volunteers through the experience, and making friendships and professional connections that will be with me for years to come.

The kind of animals and medical problems that I was able to see in the reservations were so different from what I usually deal with at an urban teaching hospital. Heartworm disease, mange, and old traumatic injuries are less common in the city population of pets that I’m used to. Also, many of the animals we deal with on the reservations are working dogs who spend all of their lives outside in the elements.

The experience went so much further than merely becoming a competent surgeon. I was actually learning all aspects of what it’s like to be a doctor working in the field.

A large part of why students apply to HSVMA-RAVS trips is for the surgical experience, which goes beyond the routine surgery lab instruction that we receive in school. I’m no different in that this is what drew me to the program initially. But as I neared the end of the summer, I realized that the experience that I was getting went so much further than merely becoming a competent surgeon. I was actually learning all aspects of what it’s like to be a doctor working in the field. While the standard of care we were able to give to the reservation animals rivals that offered in many private practices, there are still many limitations. Extensive follow-up care is rarely possible since we move locations so frequently and some owners are unable or unwilling to follow our best recommendations. Learning how to recognize these limitations and offer the best solution for each situation is a large part of practicing good field medicine.

The caliber of non-student volunteers on these trips is amazing. The veterinary technicians are not only some of the most skilled people that I’ve had the pleasure of working with, but they are also knowledgeable and patient teachers without whom the clinics wouldn’t be able to run. Most of the staff and volunteer veterinarians started out as student volunteers such as myself. They’re a dedicated group of people who take time out of their successful careers (as shelter vets, emergency room doctors, boarded surgeons, college professors, general practitioners) to get back out into the field and make a difference in so many lives—pet owners and student volunteers alike.

Katie Todd
Katie Todd

I think it’s safe to say that I’ll be volunteering as often as possible for here on out. As a volunteer veterinarian I’ll be able to give keep passing along all the learning that was given to me as a student volunteer. I’d like to give many thanks to the HSVMA for giving me such a wonderful summer experience.

Katie Todd was the 2011 HSVMA-RAVS Summer Intern and a student in the Class of 2012 at the University of Pennsylvania School of Veteirnary Medicine





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