From Cow Stomachs to Microscope Slides: Local Youth Get a Hands-on Look at Veterinary Medicine

From Cow Stomachs to Microscope Slides: Local Youth Get a Hands-on Look at Veterinary Medicine
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Listening to a cow’s stomach rumbles with a stethoscope or taking an up-close look at animals’ hearts isn’t how some teenagers envision spending an average summer day. But that’s exactly what two groups of high school students experienced during a recent visit to the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Veterinary Medicine.

UW-Madison’s Precollege Enrichment Opportunity Program for Learning Excellence (PEOPLE) and the Madison-based organization Maydm visited the School of Veterinary Medicine (SVM) in July to help answer the question: what can you do as a veterinarian? The answer: a whole lot.

PEOPLE’s cohort of 18 teenagers, mostly rising high school seniors from Madison and Milwaukee, spent two weeks at the university exploring different professional fields and paths of study. PEOPLE is designed to serve traditionally underrepresented and overlooked groups, specifically low-income and first-generation college students. Should any PEOPLE students apply and enroll at UW-Madison, their participation in the program may result in a four-year tuition scholarship.

Members of UW-Madison's Precollege Enrichment Opportunity Program for Learning Excellence (PEOPLE) examine slides under microscopes while at the School of Veterinary Medicine
Members of UW-Madison’s Precollege Enrichment Opportunity Program for Learning Excellence (PEOPLE) examine slides under microscopes while at the School of Veterinary Medicine.

Over three days at the SVM, PEOPLE participants learned about both the path to becoming a veterinarian and the types of careers possible with a doctorate in veterinary medicine, from research to teaching to clinical work with animals.

“It’s a lot different than I thought,” one student said during the program. “There’s a lot more in veterinary medicine than I thought there would be.”

The students gained hands-on experience with animals and laboratory equipment. This included listening to the heartbeat and stomach sounds of cows with certified veterinary technician Katie Harmelink at the UW Dairy Cattle Center and using microscopes to check for parasites in patient blood smears with clinical instructor Allison Dusick. They also learned about wildlife medicine with Barry Hartup, an alumnus of the school who serves as a clinical instructor with the SVM and director of conservation medicine for the International Crane Foundation.

“It was amazing to see the kids show up and not know what diagnostic work looked like or how to perform a physical exam, to by the end of the week, wanting to take home samples they prepared and stick around to ask new questions,” says Keegan Lim, a third-year DVM student at UW and PEOPLE experiential coordinator.

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Maydm participant Ashley practices intubation (inserting a tube into the trachea for ventilation) with a dog model during a visit to the School of Veterinary Medicine in July
Maydm participant Ashley practices intubation (inserting a tube into the trachea for ventilation) with a dog model during a visit to the School of Veterinary Medicine in July.

Maydm students also got firsthand experience with various aspects of veterinary medicine. The local nonprofit hosts summer immersion and internship programs for girls and youth of color in 6th through 12th grade to demystify career paths in science and technology while providing skill-based training.

During their day at the SVM, Maydm participants spent time in the school’s clinical skills lab working on sutures, physical exams and intubation with animal models alongside SVM doctors, second-year doctoral students and one happy-go-lucky pup.

A significant emphasis of PEOPLE and Maydm is increasing diversity and inclusion in STEM fields. Richard Barajas, assistant dean for diversity, equity and inclusion at the SVM, discussed with participants the importance of inclusion and diversity across all professions, particularly veterinary medicine.

“The veterinary profession is the whitest profession in America,” Barajas noted. Myriad efforts are underway to increase the representation of minority and disadvantaged groups in the school and veterinary profession to reflect society and support diversity, but much work remains. Barajas applauded programs like PEOPLE and Maydm that help not only teach about the many opportunities in veterinary medicine but also make it more accessible.

  Karen Hershberger-Braker, a lecturer in comparative biosciences and pathobiological sciences, demonstrates and discusses suture methods during the Maydm event
Lecturer Karen Hershberger-Braker DVM’10, left, demonstrates and discusses suture techniques during the Maydm event at the School of Veterinary Medicine.

Lim was excited to help coordinate these experiences because of the opportunity they offer the students. He expressed that often with diversity initiatives, “it can be hard to push that needle. But these programs presented themselves as a pre-existing infrastructure through which we can make a real impact in diversity, equity and inclusion.”

No matter what educational or professional path students choose to enter, participation in programs such as Maydm and PEOPLE still opens doors to what college entails.

“Even for those not interested in veterinary medicine, it helps show what college looks like,” Lim says. “It offers a chance to ask questions about what higher education is or what it looks like to be and operate in this space as a community.”

Britta Wellenstein

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