A cause for paws: K-State veterinarians bring care to animal shelters

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Fourth-year Kansas State University veterinary students, from left, Megan McLaughlin, Hunter Like and Gina Callari take part in a trip on the College of Veterinary Medicine's Mobile Surgery Unit. (Courtesy photo | College of Veterinary Medicine)

In April 2015, Kansas State’s College of Veterinary Medicine started a program to benefit the hundreds of shelter animals living around the Manhattan community.

The Shelter Medicine Mobile Surgery Unit, staffed by a rotation of fourth-year veterinary medicine students, is a program that allows teams of three students to receive on-site training for two weeks to better prepare them for the field of veterinary care.

The unit travels to shelters in Manhattan, Junction City, Lawrence, Emporia and several other cities in the region to provide vaccines, sterilization surgeries and disease control.

Funded mostly by grants from PetSmart Charities and local donors Cheryl Mellenthin and the late Mark Chapman, the unit travels to 16 organizations regularly, successfully providing hands-on training to more than 150 veterinary students in the rotation. According to K-State News, the students have provided more than 10,000 spay/neuter procedures in total.

Dr. Bonnie Rush, interim dean of the College of Veterinary Medicine, said it is important to recognize that without gifts and grants, this program would not exist.

“It’s a win for everybody,” Rush said. “It’s a great experience for the students, it helps the shelters and the animals are now more adoptable. The students have the opportunity to do about 50 surgeries in that two-week period of time, and without this program, they would graduate with maybe having done five. It has a huge impact on their technical skills.”

Rush said that the overarching goal of the program is to not only create more adoptable pets, but also create more marketable students.

“My hope is that, for students who didn’t have any previous experience, when they take a job somewhere, they will be … better equipped to help shelters in their area,” Rush said. “There’s all sorts of things that happen at shelters that they would not be exposed to in a teaching hospital.”

Megan Terry, fourth-year veterinary medicine student who has previously served on the Mobile Unit, said her favorite part was how she was able to learn while giving back to the community in such a meaningful way.

“What I think is unique about the program here is that you get to travel around to a lot of different shelters and communities and see what they have to work with and their limitations,” Terry said. “I think that shelter medicine is really important and I think [the program] really helps prepare you.”

Dr. Beth Davis, department head of clinical sciences and professor of equine internal medicine, said she believes the most important part of the program is the way it opens an incredible number of doors for the students.

“Regardless of what the students are going to do following graduation … some may have a predetermined path that they would like to follow,” Davis said. “This program introduces them to the world of shelter medicine.”

Davis said she has hope for an expansion of the program in the future.

“We would like to have two full-time faculty members so that this can be a rotation for all veterinary students … to maximize the impact on the students and [the] impact students are going to have after graduation,” Davis said.

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