Aug. 12, 2011

Veterinary Exploration Through Science: UPenn's Summer VETS

by Ally Ruchman

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By Ally Ruchman, Rumson-Fair Haven Regional High School

The prospect of choosing an occupation is scary to most. What if I choose the wrong one or I become unhappy with my choice? These fears plague college graduates and others who will soon join the workforce. This week I had the opportunity to try out life as a veterinary student and explore if veterinary medicine is a profession I would like to pursue.

I arrived with 17 other high school students at the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Veterinary Medicine. Immediately, we were given a tour of the impressive facilities. We saw classrooms, exam rooms, and even the old weigh scale that was used in the early 1900s for the cows and horses. After the tour, we received a lesson in handling lab animals. Although I was apprehensive at first, within minutes I was holding mice and rats. I was surprised to learn that there’s even a subspecialty of veterinary science dealing exclusively with lab animals!

Adelaide Paul, who led the Anatomy lab/lecture

The same day, we attended an anatomy lecture by Adelaide Paul. She showed us the skeletons of different animals and where our body parts (like knees and wrists) are on animals like cats and goats. We were also shown the digestive tracts of various animals. Cows do not actually have four stomachs, but instead have one stomach with four chambers.

The next day, we started rotations. Shadowing fourth year vet students, we witnessed surgeries and ultrasounds. My rotation was Medicine. A vet showed me a dog with a mega esophagus, and another vet was trying to diagnose a dog and suspected Cushing’s disease. Vets take their love of animals, medicine, and science, and are able to turn it into an extremely rewarding career. Every vet student that I spoke with said that they couldn’t imagine doing anything else. We went on rotations again, two days later, and this time I was assigned to Cardiology. I watched as the vets did a belly tap, which removes fluid from the abdomen, on a Boston terrier. The dog lost a kilogram of weight from all of the fluid that was removed!

On the third day, we left the city behind and headed out to New Bolton Center, or NBC. NBC is Penn’s campus for large animals like horses, cows, and llamas. It is located in Kennett Square, PA. Touring NBC, we saw a horse in surgery. It was definitely one of the most memorable experiences. It is amazing how much technology is involved in moving and maneuvering these graceful giants. The recovery pool was fascinating. Horses are lowered into a horse-shaped raft into a 14 foot deep pool where a constant warm temperature is maintained. The pool allows them the ability to thrash around in the water and prevents the horse from breaking bones after major surgery.

A newborn calf in its pen. The calves are kept in individual pens so that if one becomes ill, the infection or disease won't spread

Out at NBC, we also toured their Marshak Dairy. I saw my first cow up-close and realized just how big they are! They looked as if they were six or seven times my size. We witnessed the milking process and saw where the calves are kept. They were adorable! Calves are removed from their mothers a few hours after birth to cut down on separation problems that will occur if they are together for longer. The calves are then taken to individual pens, where they will be kept until they are old enough to join the older cows. Touring the dairy made me realized how removed we are from the sources of products, like milk, that we drink every day, and how important veterinary oversight is in protecting our food supply.

During the week, we were shown a dog blood donation, how to give dogs and cats a physical exam, a developmental biology lab, how to tie knots for sutures, a pathology lab, and demonstration by a police dog and its handler. There were also lectures on public health and zoonotic diseases, careers in veterinary medicine, clinical trials involving dogs, and veterinary toxicology.

After the week was over, I realized how much I wanted to be a vet. My love and respect for animals grew immensely. Becoming a vet is a long process (four years of college and four years of vet school) but I believe that the end result will be tremendously rewarding and satisfying.

Learn more about this summer program at: VETS (Veterinary Exploration Through Science)
Ally Ruchman is a junior at Rumson-Fair Haven Regional High School in Rumson, NJ. She loves animals, reading, science, and traveling.

About Ally Ruchman

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