Award-winning veterinary students head out to serve animals and communities

What does real excellence in shelter medicine look like? Meet two graduating students of the UF College of Veterinary Medicine class of 2022 who are being recognized for exceptional dedication to the field.

Jennifer Lane, class of 2022
Jennifer Lane, class of 2022

Both Jennifer Lane and Leslie Interlandi earned the Maddie’s Professional Certificate in Shelter Medicine. Lane was also recognized with the 2022 Maddie’s Award for Excellence in Shelter Medicine, given to a senior student for extraordinary commitment to the improvement of the lives of sheltered and homeless animals through the study and advancement of shelter medicine.

Interlandi received the Rosebud Shelter Medicine Award, given to students who demonstrate a desire to pursue a career in shelter medicine and have worked in a non-profit animal shelter or municipal animal facility.. Both of these honors recognize students for their extraordinary commitment to improving the lives of sheltered and homeless animals through the study and advancement of shelter medicine and are accompanied by a $1,000 scholarship.

The Maddie’s Professional Certificate in Shelter Medicine is earned by completion of a series of elective courses covering everything from individual shelter animal healthcare, population medicine, facility design, disease outbreak control, disaster response, veterinary forensics, cruelty investigations, community cat management, management consultations, and cutting-edge lifesaving innovations to assure that every shelter animal gets the right care for the best outcome.

Students in the program, which is made possible by a grant from Maddie’s Fund, receive extraordinary opportunities for hands-on practice and skills development. For example, both students performed numerous spays, neuters, and more advanced surgeries – more than 150 each – far exceeding the practical surgical experience of most graduates across the country. A longstanding partnership with local trap-neuter-return program Operation Catnip and externships at shelters and spay/neuter clinics provide unique access to this specialized training for day-one practice readiness.

“I’ve always been involved with shelter animals,” Lane said. “I started volunteering in kindergarten, doing whatever they would let underage people do. I went with my Girl Scout troop. And then as I got older, I would do volunteering in a more formal manner. I knew I wanted to be a veterinarian, and I knew I love shelters, so I wanted to combine the two.”

At first Lane thought she’d have to start out in general practice and then switch over. But the Maddie’s Shelter Medicine Program at UF changed all that. “The shelter medicine program is one of the main reasons I wanted to go to UF for vet school. And when I started the certificate program, I realized that I can actually go and do this right after graduation. I don’t have to wait.”

Leslie Interlandi, Class of 2022
Leslie Interlandi, Class of 2022

Interlandi came to shelter medicine through a slightly different path. “I’m an older student, so this is a midlife career change for me,” she said. “I got back into school and was volunteering at the Humane Society in Pinellas County. They had just brought on a veterinarian, and I started working with their medical team and realized I wanted to become a veterinarian.”

Like Lane, Interlandi chose the UF College of Veterinary Medicine because of the shelter medicine program. “You always question yourself: ‘Am I doing the right thing?’ But when I’m out doing shelter medicine I think, ‘Yes, I am doing the right thing.’ It’s my world. It’s where I feel comfortable. It’s about helping the animals and helping the community.”

Both students worked closely with the shelter medicine faculty as they earned their certificates. Dr. Julie Levy, Fran Marino Endowed Distinguished Professor of Shelter Medicine at UF, wasn’t surprised to see their achievements recognized. “We are all so honored to have spent the last four years with these students,” she said. “I can’t think of anyone more deserving of these awards.”

Shelter medicine training gave both Lane and Interlandi skills and experience they don’t feel they’d have gotten elsewhere. “I’ve done a lot of things throughout my time with the shelter program, and I think that it’s such an incredible program,” Lane said. “It’s helped me become a lot more comfortable as a graduating veterinarian. Without it,  I wouldn’t have been able to do the research and meet the doctors over at the Miami-Dade Animal Services Pet Adoption & Protection Center, or to be able to do an externship there this summer.”

Interlandi feels the same. “Going through the certificate program and all the core courses, taking a deeper dive into shelter medicine, gave me a broader view of the sheltering world than I had before, both in filling in details and making connections I hadn’t thought about before.”

So what does the future hold for the two new veterinarians?

Interlandi is heading north to Pennsylvania’s Indraloka Animal Sanctuary. “It’s a farm animal sanctuary,” she said. “There are some community cats on the property, so they will be part of my patient clientele as well. We’re also starting  the NEPA Rescue Veterinary Clinic for the Northeastern Pennsylvania area rescues, because there’s a shortage of veterinarians in that area. I’m also going to at the Griffin Pond Animal Shelter once or twice a week, helping them and other rescues in that area.”

Lane will be remaining in Florida and taking a job at the Miami-Dade Animal Services Pet Adoption & Protection Center, an achievement she attributes to her time at UF. “It’s unusual for somebody to be able to work at Miami-Dade right out of graduation, and I owe it to the Shelter Medicine Program,” she said. “I think it’s such an important program. I really appreciate that we have this at UF. The doctors that are part of it, Dr. Levy, Dr. Crawford, and all of them, they’re incredible.”