Increasing diversity in veterinary medicine and inspiring students with shelter medicine

How can veterinary schools make veterinary medicine more diverse? That is the goal of the Summer Health Professions Education Program (SHPEP), a free summer enrichment program focused on improving access to information and resources for college students interested in the health professions. The 6-week program took place on the University of Florida campus this summer, with the Maddie’s Shelter Medicine Program at UF providing a day-long exploration of a career as a veterinary surgeon.

“We’re thrilled to have the opportunity of recruiting diverse and under-represented UF freshman and sophomores into the health professions, especially veterinary medicine,” said the Maddie’s Shelter Medicine Program’s Dr. Julie Levy.

One such student was Isis West, who plans to become a veterinary pathologist. “Veterinary pathologists specialize in the diagnosis of diseases through the examination of animal tissue and body fluids,” she said. ” I’ve learned through this program that there is a serious problem with homeless pets…. Overall my goal is to lower zoonoses and a first step could be getting homeless animals into better living situations.”

Dhara Richardson also saw her career goals advanced by participation in the program. “The shelter medicine experience allowed me to practice techniques important to veterinary practice, such as preparing vaccinations, suturing, and properly donning and utilizing sterile equipment,” she said “Simply learning these protocols, and also being taught the reasoning behind them, has increased my confidence in my future ability to provide superior care to my patients.”

Like West, Richardson plans on using her skills to help pets in need. “When I become a veterinarian, I would be more than happy to work in a shelter. If not, within my practice, I would provide a bi-monthly free clinic to community members who may not be able to afford the best care. I would offer examinations, and provide the owners with coupons and free advice to help prevent any health issues that may increase the cost of care for their animal.”

Local veterinarian Dr. Tracie Daniels of Suwannee PAWS, Inc. in Live Oak, Florida, supported the program by teaching the section on surgical gowning and instrument use. “It was a great learning experience for the SHPEP students to see the various animal models and demonstrations that were presented by the instructors,” she said. “Some of the hands-on experiences were great and interactive. Also, they heard personal perspectives from different instructors by asking questions after the labs, which may have given valuable insight into the profession as a whole.”

“The approach we took was showing students what it would be like to work as a veterinary surgeon,” said Dr. Levy. “They had a hands-on experience under the guidance of experienced veterinary surgeons, and a time-lapse video tour of a spay/neuter clinic that routinely spays and neuters 200 cats in a single day.”

One of the highlights of the day: Dr. Brian DiGangi leading the students through a video of a spay procedure and then helping them learn how to place sutures in bananas.

The event wrapped up with a conversation about career opportunities in the new specialty field of shelter medicine, including an opportunity for students to chat with the veterinarians and veterinary students who volunteer at the spay/neuter clinic, work in animal shelters, and learn through helping homeless animals.

“It was a lot of fun connecting with young professionals and remembering how I was at that point in my career,” said Dr. Daniels. “It was really refreshing to work with them and see how they responded, and it reminded me of why I started this career. Also, it was fun to actually see the full potential many of them have. I wish them all the best choosing their career paths!”