Tufts Veterinary Students Coordinate No-Cost Veterinary Clinic

April 26, 2010

By Chumkee Aziz

Chumkee with client and dog
Tufts student and coordinator of the event, Chumkee Aziz, speaks with a pet owner about veterinary care.
Tom Keppeler/Tufts

As a second-year veterinary student, I spend an average of 7-8 hours a day in a classroom, after which I head home and continue studying into the night. I understood going into vet school that this would be my routine for four years, but I looked forward to the education I would receive in return.

However, I could not anticipate everything I would learn outside of the classroom—particularly the importance of reaching out to my both my peers and community members to advance pet wellness and animal welfare—two issues that cannot be solved alone or in a classroom, but ones that must be addressed and solved by the community as a whole.

Riding on this realization, I was more than eager to take on coordinating Tufts Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine (TCSVM) 2nd Annual No-Cost Vaccination Clinic for the Worcester Housing Authority (WHA). Last year's student coordinators had identified an underserved pet owner community in our neighboring city of Worcester, Massachusetts, and knew that providing basic veterinary care to these pets would be an ideal way for our veterinary students to gain hands-on clinical experience.

Veterinary care and education needed

WHA is a subsidized housing community with many elderly pet-owning residents who—due to financial or transportation limitations—cannot access veterinary care. The residents love their pets and, in many cases, their pets might be their only companions, but we found that many were often unaware of the proper veterinary care their pet needed.

Man with his dog
WHA resident waits patiently with his dog for veterinary care.
Tom Keppeler/Tufts

With the help of three other TCSVM student coordinators—Matt Gordon, Colin Basler, and Jessica Martinez—21 TCSVM student volunteers, 3 supervising TCSVM veterinarians and 1 TCSVM veterinary technician, we held our 2nd annual no-cost clinic on March 27, 2010 at 6 WHA locations.

At the end of the day, our student volunteers provided veterinary care—which included thorough physical exams, rabies and distemper vaccinations, basic grooming, and Worcester city rabies licensing—for 144 pets. And, of equal importance, we discussed the basics of pet health and welfare with their owners. Pets were cared for, pet owners were able to ask questions, and our student volunteers gained valuable clinical and communication skills.

Pet sterilization is a priority

One significant concern recognized at the clinic was the number of unsterilized, or intact, pets. Massachusetts has a state-wide pet sterilization rate of nearly 86%, but only 47% of the pets at the WHA complexes were sterilized. While we were able to provide some aspects of veterinary care, these numbers conveyed to us that other services are clearly needed for WHA pets. Our hope is to coordinate a spay/neuter service where WHA pets are transported to TCSVM, so that veterinary students, under veterinary supervision, can sterilize them.

This experience revealed one reality of pet ownership in America: People love their pets, but cannot always obtain veterinary care for their pets. This is where compassionate veterinary students can really make a difference—supporting the community and advancing pet welfare at the same time.

Many organizations supported this student-driven endeavor: Funding came from Tufts' Tisch College's Civic Engagement Fund and TCSVM Shelter Medicine Program; vaccines were donated by Merial; our Tufts Humane Society Veterinary Medical Association Student Chapter provided financial support; and give-aways and further support were provided by Worcester Animal Rescue League, World Rabies Day Alliance, Becker Veterinary Technician College, DermaPet, Hill's Pet Nutrition, Purina, Nutromax, Royal Canin USA, and Iams.

Chumkee Aziz is a veterinary student at Tufts Cummings Veterinary Medical School and HSVMA student member. She will graduate in 2012.