Future veterinarians put science first

pet rehabilitation

Vet Med campers try out their pet rehabilitation skills with a canine patient. Photo: Melissa Cavanagh.

Giggles fill the basement of the Western College of Veterinary Medicine’s Veterinary Medical Centre (VMC) as young students cluster together to get the chance to run on an underwater treadmill that’s normally reserved for cats and dogs.

Today the clinical team that’s working in the VMC’s pet rehabilitation centre have an unusual task ahead of them: they’re showing students how rehabilitation exercises can help pets overcome injuries or treat chronic conditions such as arthritis.

These students are part of SCI-FI, the University of Saskatchewan’s summer day camp program. SCI-FI — short for Science First — is a program dedicated to teaching young people the importance of science and getting them excited about the vast opportunities that a career in science can offer.

SCI-FI was created in 1989 by a group of U of S engineering students. Since then, it has grown into a year-round program with camps in July and August as well as classroom workshops and other activities during the regular school year.

Students can now participate in programs that focus on general sciences, technology, health science, computer science and veterinary medicine.

The veterinary medicine camps take place in the WCVM and are available to students in Grades 5 to 9. The “Vet Med” campers participate in a wide range of activities throughout the week-long day camp that’s designed to showcase the veterinary profession and the many different types of careers available for veterinarians.

WCVM technician Brent Wagner shows VetMed campers how to conduct a fecal flotation. Photo: Melissa Cavanagh.

WCVM technician Brent Wagner shows Vet Med campers how to perform a fecal flotation. Photo: Melissa Cavanagh.

The campers get a chance to tour through U of S buildings including the veterinary college and the dairy barn. They perform fecal flotations in the veterinary microbiology laboratory in search of parasites. They meet Jasmine, the WCVM’s resident Swainson’s hawk. They learn basic first aid and animal handling techniques, plus they even participate in a variety of dissections including a bovine heart and limb.

Fourteen-year old Elianna Pyle travelled from North Battleford, Sask. to attend the camp. Pyle says her favourite parts of the camp were the heart dissection and when she had the chance to perform a mock surgery on a giant teddy bear.

“We got to go through all the steps . . . we got to wear our [lab] coats and everything,” says Pyle. “It’s not something you get to experience every day.”

Fellow participant Logan Friesen, a 13-year-old student from Saskatoon, agrees that the mock surgery – during which students had to identify all the internal organs, perform a caeserean section and remove a foreign body – was the highlight of the week. But he also enjoyed the unique chance to insert his hand into a live cow’s rumen (stomach) through a surgical device called a fistula.

“Putting my hand in the cow was pretty cool – it was mushy and warm,” says Friesen.

SCI-FI hires WCVM veterinary students to organize and run the activities for the Vet Med camps along with the support of SCI-FI employees who are students in other U of S colleges. As well, numerous WCVM interns, residents, faculty and technical staff lend their time to the veterinary camp and share their knowledge with the young participants.

This was the second summer that Tara Westworth, a third-year veterinary student, was involved with the program.

“I absolutely love doing the Vet Med camps, getting to work with professors in the veterinary college and helping inspire the young students to consider veterinary careers.”

Westworth spent her entire summer last year with SCI-FI, travelling to Saskatchewan schools in May and June to give presentations and working at the day camps in July and August. But this year she spent the first two months of her school break in Africa working with Global Vets before returning to teach at the veterinary camps for the final seven weeks of her break. Westworth worked alongside Hilary Whiting, a second-year veterinary student and SCI-FI counsellor for the Vet Med camps.

Westworth says one of the main goals of the Vet Med camps is to increase participants’ knowledge about the veterinary profession.

“I think the big thing about the Vet Med camp is to broaden the student’s outlook so they see all the different aspects of veterinary medicine – so they don’t just think it’s working with pets or livestock in a veterinary clinic,” explains Westworth.

Veterinary student and SCI-FI counsellor Hilary Whiting introduces Jasmine the Swainson's hawk to VetMed campers. Photo: Melissa Cavanagh.

Veterinary student and SCI-FI counsellor Hilary Whiting introduces Jasmine the Swainson’s hawk to Vet Med campers. Photo: Melissa Cavanagh.

Both Pyle and Friesen enrolled in the camp because they plan to pursue careers as veterinarians and wanted to get a glimpse into the life of a veterinarian. But neither participant expected the career field to be so dynamic.

“I thought there were only two types of vets,” says Friesen. “But there’s a lot.”

Pyle agrees: “I have learned a lot . . .There’s so much you can get into – parasites, anatomy – there’s just so much you can do as a vet.”

Friesen says the camps have definitely opened his eyes to all of the opportunities that are available in the field of veterinary medicine, and now he’s not sure what type of veterinarian he’ll become.

“I would just like to help any type of animal,” says Friesen. “Next summer I’ll be back.”

Visit the U of S SCI-FI website for more information about the Vet Med Camps and other year-round learning opportunities.

Melissa Cavanagh of Winnipeg, Man., is a second-year veterinary student and was the WCVM’s research communications intern for the summer of 2013.

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