UF veterinary students gain shelter medicine skills through clerkship

Guest Post by Sarah Carey, Video by Chris Bilowich

Thanks to a collaboration between the University of Florida College of Veterinary Medicine and Alachua County, students at the college have gained an opportunity for hands-on learning in the field of shelter medicine and the college has enhanced the offerings of its shelter program to better serve the local community.

College administrators approached the county in the spring of 2020 about the possibility of creating a student clerkship at the Animal Resources & Care, or ARC, shelter after the rotation that had been in operation for five years at Miami-Dade Animal Services was paused due to COVID-19.

Simone Guerios, D.V.M., a clinical assistant professor of shelter medicine who had led the Miami-Dade clerkship, was also interested in relocating to the Alachua County area, said Christopher Adin, D.V.M., a professor of veterinary surgery and chair of the college’s department of small animal clinical sciences, so the UF team reached out to county shelter administrators to ask if they would be willing to house the rotation there.

The county was receptive, and the new rotation began in June 2020.

“Very shortly after the rotation was resumed, all students who had previously been scheduled for (Miami-Dade) instead reported to the Alachua County shelter, where they were able to get an excellent education experience,” Adin said.

In 2021, 116 students trained at the Alachua County shelter.

Student Hira Basit with dog at Alachua shelter
UF veterinary student Hira Basit with a dog at the Alachua County Animal Resources & Care shelter.

“Under my supervision, these students performed 1,100 spays and neuters, including 635 dogs and 475 cats, and performed an average of three medical exams per day,” Guerios said. “In addition, they participated in many special surgeries to treat animals with a variety of medical conditions, including eye surgeries, mass removals, hernia repairs, mastectomies and more.”

Students also handled medical examinations, skin scrapes, heartworm tests and treatments, cytology, neonatal care, ophthalmology exams and radiographs, expanding the care that can be provided to ill and injured animals at the shelter.

Guerios said working with the veterinary students and shelter staff at ARC was rewarding, and that four students who previously took the rotation as third-year students returned as seniors to take it again.

“They did a great job the first time they were on this rotation, but I was impressed with how amazing they were in the second round,” Guerios said.

Ed Williams, ARC’s director, said the shelter staff loved having the students’ help, and that the county valued its continuing partnership with UF.

“The whole shelter program at the university and the clerkship specifically have allowed us to enhance the level of care we are able to provide to our shelter pets, while helping to train the next generation of veterinarians,” he said.

Veterinary students are thrilled with the opportunity to serve the local community and its unowned animals in Alachua County, Adin added.

“We are also pleased that our Miami-Dade rotation resumed in January,” he said. “Between those two programs and our Veterinary Community Outreach Program, which provide veterinary care to animals from shelters in outlying counties, our college employs five full-time veterinarians who work solely to support the care of unowned animals while they are training veterinary students.”

Through these three programs, the college provides a huge community service, Adin said.

“With three opportunities students can pick from, we offer one of the most robust combined training opportunities in the country to veterinary students interested in shelter medicine,” Adin said. “All of these programs represent a ‘win-win’ where students get hands-on experience and animals receive high-quality care under the guidance of experts in their field.”