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Clinical Correlates—or, How to Restrain a Goat

Over the course of this semester, my classmates and I have had the opportunity to get hands-on experience practicing basic clinical skills with a variety of species in our weekly clinical correlates class.  Every Friday we have a different rotation, so by the end of the semester we will have handled birds, tortoises, goats, and cattle.  It has been nice to have a fun activity (with animals!) awaiting me at the end of each week.

My first rotation was a lecture on low-stress handling of cats, which was given by a technician who works in the Feline Internal Medicine ward our Small Animal Hospital.  Staff members in the hospital have committed to creating a calm environment for our feline patients and therefore practice handling techniques that are quiet and gentle.  The "old school" approach to handling cats for veterinary care was basically a one-size-fits-all approach that was overboard for the cats that weren't going to be difficult and yet was often ineffective with their not-so cooperative counterparts.  The new low-stress approach towards cat restraint in veterinary medicine has been proven very effective.  The technician taught us the basic principles she uses every day, most of which include big, fluffy towels for making "kitty burritos" as well as the use of Elizabethan collars (aka "cones") to ensure no one handling the cat gets bitten.  She showed us video footage of herself handling fractious patients and it was amazing to see her use her techniques with great success.  Our feline patients have positive experiences at our hospital, which not only makes their owners more likely to bring their cats in to see a veterinarian, but also maximizes the care the cats receive and promotes healing.

For our goat rotation, my classmates and I learned how to restrain goats, trim their hooves, draw blood, and collect a sample for fecal examination.  I had never handled goats before, so I was excited to learn.  Basically we just straddled the goats and held their horns so that we could control where they walked—kind of like steering a car.  It was surprisingly easy and my partner and I had fun interacting with our goat.

The exotic animal rotation gave us the chance to learn the basics of restraint and how to do a physical exam on both tortoises and birds.  I was completely out of my element, but that's the beauty of this class.  I was taught the basic skills and before long, I was restraining these exotic animals confidently.  Each of my classmates has had different experiences in veterinary medicine so this class levels the playing field, so to speak, giving each of us those experiences we haven't had yet.

My last rotation was the cattle rotation, in which we reviewed the bovine physical exam as well as learned the basics of rectal palpation, a skill used for evaluating both cows’ and bulls' reproductive statuses.  In this case, our cows were pregnant, which meant I got to palpate the fetus inside the cow!  It was truly awesome to get to feel the little feet and head of a cow fetus as it developed inside its mother.  Those are the kinds of moments that validate all of my hard work in vet school and remind me that I'm lucky enough to get to do this for the rest of my life.