A VOICE for All

Diversity helps improve the workplace. This is something that is spoken as common knowledge and even taught in Doctor of Veterinary Medicine curriculum.

Dr. Brandy Duhon Speaking Despite knowing the benefits of diversity, the veterinary medicine profession is 94 percent white (a statistic taken from an email sent out by one of our vet school counselors earlier this week).

The need for more diversity and cultural education to further advance the field of veterinary medicine is what drove me to join organizations like the Council of Diversity and Professionalism (CDP) and Veterinarians as One Inclusive Community for Empowerment (VOICE).

Many of the vet school organizations, as one would expect, are related to animals; however, VOICE works to facilitate an inclusive environment through education and outreach about different cultures, religions, and abilities.

In the past, we have had many presentations and tables about different Picture of Dr. Duhon's Presentationcultures and religions, but I noticed we had never mentioned the role of people with disabilities in veterinary medicine.

Luckily, I was fortunate enough to find the perfect person to help speak about this topic two years ago. Dr. Brandy Duhon, a clinical instructor of shelter medicine and surgery at Louisiana State University, left a lasting impression on me, not only because she was the only veterinarian I have ever met who had no hands, but also because of her larger than life personality.

Bringing Dr. Duhon to Texas A&M was a huge feat that I could have not accomplished without the help of the rest of the VOICE officer team, but all of that hard work was totally worth it. The meeting was ultimately a success, drawing more than 100 attendees!

So many people after the meeting thanked me for bringing Dr. Duhon to Texas A&M.

Veterinarians are often told that their best diagnostic tools are their eyes and their hands, but that isn’t necessarily true!

Dr. Duhon’s willingness to be persistent and think outside of the box are what I believe to be her best tools as a veterinarian. Since her end result is the same, it doesn’t even matter that she does things different than the textbook.

Dr. Duhon mentioned that her success has been due to the support of her family, classmates, and mentors who were willing to let her experiment with different ways of doing things.

Picture with Dr. Brandy Duhon I really hope that this meeting contributes to eliminating any underlying bias and pushes my colleagues to realize that people with disabilities, just like anyone else, have so much potential to do good work and advance the profession.

Furthermore, I hope that the veterinary students with and without disabilities feel encouraged to keep trying to learn new things in the face of adversity, even if they don’t at first succeed.

Dr. Duhon could have easily given up when she lost her hands at a young age because of meningitis, but her positive attitude and love for learning helped her persevere and become the person she is today.

I encourage everyone to apply these messages to their own life and become a voice for all.

A ‘Disasterous’ Valentine’s Day

Each year, Texas A&M University hosts the nation’s largest student-led interprofessional emergency response simulation, known as Disaster Day.

 

This event allows students from the colleges of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, Pharmacy, Public Health, Nursing, and Medicine to

collaborate with the Corps of Cadets and the Texas State Guard to practice emergency response on a grand scale.

This year (on Friday, Feb. 14) was my second time attending Disaster Day.

Each year, there is a unique catastrophe presented for students to manage.

 

This year’s simulation was an earthquake that resulted in
building collapses and a train derailment; last year’s event was a research plant explosion that devastated the entire
neighborhood.

 

With actors covered in makeup and bandages, as well as first responders, hard-hats, and mock animal cases, this “disaster” teaches students the appropriate response skills needed for

such situations and allows them to learn the interprofessional channels of communication required when an entire community is affected by crisis.

The Texas A&M Veterinary Emergency Team (VET) provides some of their actual medical response units for day. These trucks are outfitted with medical equipment and supplies needed for stabilizing and treating animals in the field during a

crisis.

During Disaster Day, we had to triage animal cases according
to the severity of their wounds or diseases and then chose
treatment plans according to what supplies we had on hand. Sometimes these animals had diseases that were transmissible
to humans, requiring us to collaborate with the human medical 
doctors and public health
officials on the proper containment protocols as well as owner education or care.

 

As a third-year veterinary student, I am about to leap into my final clinical year before graduation.

I think it’s invaluable for veterinarians to receive training in emergency response and become better prepared to take leadership roles in the community when the unexpected happens.

 

Events like Disaster Day are fun and exciting ways for me to apply my knowledge and feel equipped to serve my community when it needs me most.

Countdown to Fourth Year

In less than six months, I will start my fourth year of veterinary school here at Texas A&M University!

As I look forward to jumping into the last, clinical phase of my education, I am also looking forward to the first experiential phase of my career. Very soon, I will be rotating through different specialized departments in our large and small animal hospitals for a full 12 months, taking on real cases from real clients who bring their cherished pets here for care.

In preparation for this, my classmates and I are making the final decisions about our tracks, or paths, we will complete during those rotations. I plan to choose the mixed animal track and split my time between the large and small animal hospital.

My hope is that this prepares me and gives me confidence to treat any animal that walks into my clinic, no matter if I become a rural mixed animal practitioner or suburban small animal practitioner.

I also must make decisions about which rotations I will participate in—there are exciting opportunities like emergency and critical care, cardiology, orthopedic surgery, equine sports medicine, or even oncology.

I feel I have learned so much during my first three years and am starting to feel competent during case discussions when forming diagnostic and treatment plans, but there is still so much to learn.

As I plan out this final stage of my time here, I worry about fitting in all of the information I need in order to be a competent veterinarian. I worry about my first year after graduation and feeling knowledgeable enough to treat animals while continuing to learn.

Very soon, I will be the doctor in charge of medical decisions, responsible for the life and health of my patients. That’s equally exciting and anxiety-inducing!

Another part of fourth year preparations is arranging a few externship experiences off-site. These externships can take place in private general practice, in a specialty hospital, at another university, or even at different animal refuges, as long as you are working alongside other veterinarians.

One way that the CVM provides opportunities for us to network and arrange these experiences is through their annual job and externship fair. This weekend, more than 130 practitioners will converge on our school in the hopes of setting up externships with veterinary students and finding new graduates to hire. (https://vetmed.tamu.edu/dvm-job-fair/ ) 

It’s quite possible that one of these practitioners or externships will flourish into a job opportunity after graduation!

As I edit my resume and look at all the practices that will be in attendance, I have been thinking about what I’m looking for in a veterinary practice. What kind of team do I want to be part of? What type of mentorship am I looking for? Do I want to do emergencies after hours or live near an emergency hospital I can refer my patients to?

There are so many possibilities that I’m excited to explore!

Looking Toward the Future

I am now about 10 weeks into my third year of veterinary school.

 

Although it has only been a few years, when I think back to when I was dreaming and praying that I’d get accepted into my dream veterinary school (Texas A&M, whoop!), it feels like a lifetime ago. Now, in a few short months, I will be entering my yearlong clinical rotations as a fourth-year student—and it feels surreal. It’s also a little scary because it’s a reminder that the future is fast approaching.

 

Since the beginning of this semester, our professors have felt the need to sprinkle in little reminders every once in a while by saying things like, “In about a year and seven months, you will be the doctor making the decision on this case. So, what will you do for this patient?”

 

Usually, one brave student will speak up and answer the professor’s question, while the rest of us stare at her with wide, caught-off-guard eyes all because she said the words “you will be the doctor.” It feels odd to be scared of the dream that I’ve been chasing and working toward for all of this time.

It really seems like just yesterday that I was buried deep in my anatomy book, and now all of the sudden, I’m spending hours working on my resume and looking up externships/post-graduation job opportunities. There has also been a dramatic shift in the types of courses we’re taking this semester. During the first two years of our curriculum, we focused on learning and memorizing the basics and the foundation of veterinary medicine. We took classes like anatomy, physiology, and pharmacology.

Now, in our classes—like Small Animal/Large Animal Diagnostics and Treatment—and our selected career-focused tracks, we have moved onto applying that foundational knowledge to recognize, diagnose, and treat diseases. In addition, now, we’re given with cases of how a patient might present, and we have to determine what diagnostics we might want to run or what our treatment plan might look like. Slowly, but surely, we’re learning how to think like doctors.

It’s a new kind of stress that makes me excited because I’m getting closer to becoming a veterinarian and caring for animals.Thinking about finally reaching that goal after years of hard work makes looking toward the future a little less frightening.

Finding a New Home

This summer, I went on an adventure. Really, I went on many adventures, but one of them was completely veterinary related and I loved it a lot.

To better understand my adventure, you should know that I would like to move to the mountains when I graduate. I love the mountains and snow, and I don’t like it being summer until October.

So, this summer, I decided that I should try to figure out where I want to live when I graduate.

The best thing about being a veterinarian is that the entire U.S. is open to you when you graduate—everywhere needs a vet.

The worst thing about being a veterinarian is that if you have no idea where you want to live, it is hard to narrow it down—the entire country is open to you. I had narrowed it to the mountains, but there are so many mountains, so I needed to figure out more.

On July 5, I loaded up my car and started my three-day solo road trip to Idaho. Solo road trips might not be everyone’s favorite thing, but I love them.

I downloaded some books on tape and drove through areas of the U.S. that I had never been to before, like Utah and northern New Mexico. It was quite an adventure, and I am grateful that my 21-year-old car made it to Idaho. I think I worried my parents, but I was having a great time.

In Idaho, I rode with a few dairy veterinarians in the area that I was in. I had never been exposed to dairy medicine, so it was quite a new experience.

I got to see the difference in working for an operation versus having many large dairies as clients. I also had the opportunity to work with pregnant cows and got to see what the role of the veterinarian was in large-scale operations. It was a great experience that opened my eyes to the different roles of vets in different industries.

I was only in Idaho for a week, so after that week was done, I packed up my car again and drove to Bozeman, Montana, where I spent two weeks at a clinic.

Let me tell you, Bozeman is gorgeous. I loved it there. I would wake up in the mornings, and it would be 45 degrees. To put that in perspective, it is the middle of October in Texas, and I don’t think that is has gotten into the 40s yet.

I really enjoyed the clinic in Bozeman. They were willing to teach me and give me opportunities to work with them.

I really appreciate the veterinary field as a whole because most vets are willing to teach; that means that as students, we have the unique opportunity to reinforce what we are learning in class and learn about what it will be like when we graduate.

My adventure ended with my dad flying to Bozeman and driving to Yellowstone with me. We camped and hiked and saw one of the most beautiful places that I have ever been. The bison that were on the side of the road were also great!

We stayed for three days, and I was sad when we had to leave. I hope to move somewhere that will allow more access to gorgeous outdoor scenery like that.

My adventure ended on July 31 when we got home. I drove 4,330 miles in 26 days on this trip. I had so much fun, and I am so grateful for the time that veterinary students get off during the summer, which allows us to have time to choose what we want to do, whether it is veterinary related or not.

This was my last summer off before I graduate because next summer, I will be in fourth year, when we spend an entire calendar year working through the different services in the Small and Large Animal Hospitals.

I will look back on this adventure fondly, and, thankfully, I think it helped serve the purpose of learning more about the veterinary field and about where I want to move.

 

Transitions

If you’ve been following along at home, you’ve likely noticed that as springtime hits the CVM, our ambassadors have lots to say about the upcoming summer and year ahead.

Chelsea and boots celebrate her receiving her Aggie Ring.
Chelsea and boots celebrate her receiving her Aggie Ring.

Our BIMS students are excited to attend study abroad and internship programs. Our first-year veterinary students (1VM) have their eyes set on some well-deserved rest and relaxation after enduring the most rigorous year of schooling of their lives. Many of our second-year veterinary students (2VM) will try out different clinical externships to help flesh out their career goals. And, finally, our third-year veterinary students (myself included) have a major space-occupying lesion in our mind—fourth-year clinics.

You’ve heard it before—this is our final year of veterinary school, during which we become immersed in the activity of A&M’s elite referral large and small animal hospitals.  If you’ve attended one of our tours, you’ve likely seen current fourth-year veterinary students (4VM) dashing about in white or green coats.  Our job in the fourth-year is to work alongside board-certified specialists to help guide clients through the diagnosis and treatment of their animals’ medical conditions.

I have several friends in the current 4VM class who are now solidifying job offers and planning their move from veterinary student to veterinary practitioner. This process also includes acquiring appropriate licenses and insurance policies necessary to practice.

As you can imagine, summer is a time of transitions, and we are all excited and anxious to step into our new roles.

Recently, I had the great honor to receive my Aggie Ring. Most veterinary students, if they didn’t attend A&M as an undergraduate, apply to receive their ring in the middle of our 2VM year, around the same time as our White Coat ceremony.

I waited until my third year because I decided that it would be nice to have another milestone right before I head into clinics and also because it was a great opportunity to see my parents, since it’s going to be several months before I return home.

Group making gig'em signs and showing their Aggie ring On Aggie Ring Day, we had a lovely dinner at Madden’s in Bryan (definitely recommend), and three of my close friends joined us for my ring ceremony. The evening was filled with love, support, and pride for all of the hard work that underscores the journey to receive one of these rings.

I received my first Balfour ring when I graduated Bucknell University in 2013, and it seems fitting to have a second one to commemorate my time as an Aggie veterinary student.  I’m not one for a ton of jewelry in the first place (it all has to come off for surgery!), but I do love what these rings represent and cherish the education I’ve received from both institutions.

Another important milestone to consider is that I have to say goodbye to my time as a CVM Ambassador.  I have worked in this program since 2015 and have held the position of lead ambassador for the past two years, managing the logistics of providing tours of the VBEC and our teaching hospitals.

It’s been a great honor to hold this leadership position—I’ve worked with some wonderful students with so much passion for the A&M community. Furthermore, with the incredible support of a dedicated supervisor, I have gained many skills in communication and team management.

Chelsea, as a child, with her mother and her horse Sparkle.
Chelsea, as a child, with her mother and her horse Sparkle. Horses have always been a big part of Chelsea’s life and are part of the reason she pursued veterinary medicine.

The next generation of this program is going to have so many exciting features for our future guests, and I can’t wait to see our new lead ambassador walking through the hospitals training new guides!

As I wrap up my swan song, I’m inclined to think about when I was about 8 years old, visiting Texas A&M for the first time—it was the first veterinary school I had ever seen.

While my pony was being treated for a soft tissue injury, my mom and I were given a tour of the newly built Large Animal Hospital, and, in only the way that a child can, I declared something of a premonition—this is where I would become a veterinarian.

Shortly after that time, my family moved to England, and I wasn’t sure when or if I would be returning to the States. I haven’t the space to thank everyone who has played a role in my journey back to this school, but as I transition into my final year as a veterinary student, I think of them daily and am so grateful to be here, watching my childhood ambitions mature into a promising career as a DVM.

Protecting Our Deer Population

Karly B.There have been so many things that I have learned throughout my three years in veterinary school. I am extremely grateful for all of the opportunities I have received to learn more than what our general curriculum contains.

Last week, I signed up for my certification to be able to do Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) testing in our community. CWD is a transmissible spongiform encephalopathy that affects cervids—or our white-tail deer, elk, mule deer, etc.—and has a lasting effect on our economy. The disease first came to Texas in 2012, and since then, we have been trying our best to contain it.

This certification is offered through the veterinary school, as well as the Texas Animal Health Commission. The class is part of a program of surveillance in the state of Texas to protect our wild cervid populations.

The certification course was provided to give us information and knowledge on the disease. It also served to train us on the proper ways to test deer antemortem (before they die) in an attempt to determine a cause of death and to survey the effects of CWD on our commercial herds.

We were taught by a veterinarian that is extremely passionate about protecting our Texas herds. We learned to properly collect and submit samples in order to be tested for CWD.

I took time outside of school to attend this certification, and I am so glad that I went because not only is it interesting to learn a real-world application of veterinary medicine that makes a huge impact in our community, but I was also reminded that veterinary medicine has many novel and important applications that are not necessarily just taking care of dogs and cats.

Celebrating Diversity

Kelly and her friends share at meal at the CVMBS International and Cultural Festival.
Kelly and her friends share at meal at the CVMBS International and Cultural Festival.

Every year, the College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences’ Graduate Student Association (CVMBS), VOICE (Veterinarians as One Inclusive Community for Empowerment), and the Council for Diversity and Professionalism get together and host a multicultural event.

The CVMBS International and Cultural Festival celebrates diversity on campus by sharing multicultural cuisine and watching traditional performances.

This year’s event was really fun; the weather was nice and I got to hang out with my friends while enjoying food and music.

There also was a photo booth and henna station, so I got henna tattooed on my hand.

I also learned a few fun facts about henna; it started as a cooling mechanism applied on the hands and feet, with each design carrying a special meaning.

At the festival, I got a flower, which symbolizes joy and happiness.

Kelly's HennaWith only four weeks left of my third year of veterinary school, and I hope this henna brings me in lots of joy and happiness!

Most of all, I appreciate how the college dedicates a day to celebrating diversity.

I believe events like this increase awareness and show students the importance of respecting our differences, here and throughout the Texas A&M campus.

Communication 101

Mary Margaret with her goat
Mary Margaret, goat whisperer (OK, it’s not really related to the story, but it’s cute…)

I opened the door and she was right in my face, spewing endless fears about her cat dying in the back room. She was a constant stream of worry and concern, pulling at her hair and filling my ears with the sounds of escalating panic. “Can I see her?” “Is she going to die?” “I don’t know what to do; she’s never been this bad before!”

 

It was like walking into a room with the living embodiment of pure anxiety.

We sat down and I calmly talked her off the cliff long enough to have a serious conversation about the care her cat was about to receive. Yeah, not so much. As we sat, she panicked externally while I panicked internally and tried to remember how to stave off an anxiety attack long enough to get a form signed and get out of there.

This was communication training for veterinary students. It is one of the most terrifying things we face in veterinary school, and one of the best opportunities we have to get ready for life as a veterinarian.

It starts off innocently enough in first year, with actors playing clients, and students working through a simple history-taking exercise, just trying to get the information needed to assess the patient. As we moved up in the curriculum, the scenarios get more challenging, with our third year putting us in front of enraged clients, anxious clients, clients whose pets have horrible diseases, clients who are determined to criticize everything the veterinarian says or does.

After we painfully work through each scenario, we have the opportunity to discuss the scenes with our classmates and professors, as well as the actor.

We receive feedback on our active-listening skills, how empathetic we were, whether we achieved our goal for the scenario, and how the client felt and what they heard. Our classmates offer constructive criticism, and we talk through other ways it could have played out.

Watching my classmates work through their scenarios, and completing my own, has given me more confidence going into our fourth year, where we are expected to be mini-doctors and handle all those tough talks.

Any panicky clients coming through the front door? I’ve got this.

Exercising My Knowledge

Paisley with cast
Paisley, being a good sport

One of the many incredible things about veterinary medicine and Texas A&M is that not all learning happens in a classroom! Now that I’m in my third year of veterinary school, I have come to truly appreciate any opportunity to learn beyond sitting in a chair listening to lecture.

As ready as I am to hit the clinic floor come my fourth year in May, I am a little apprehensive to find out exactly how much I have learned. I am thankfully reassured every time I get the chance to exercise my knowledge.

My pet Labrador Retriever, Paisley, also gets to participate from time to time. In exchange for staying still enough for me and my groupmates to practice casting her leg or running an ultrasound, Paisley gets more treats and attention than she could ever ask for. As almost any Lab would, she loves it!

Not every day can be “Bring Your Lab to Lab Day,” though. Thankfully, we have models that also serve as great learning tools.

Laine performing ultrasoundRecently, in Orthopedic Surgery, we practiced fixing fractures on synthetic plastic bones. Although they weren’t exactly like the real thing, it was good practice trying to align the bone and drive a pin through it to stabilize it.

By the end of the lab, I really got to admire how good I had gotten at twisting my wire tight.

I was surprised to find that something I never would have considered doing in normal practice two years ago—fixing a fracture with pins and wires—seemed totally feasible in the next year or two. What I had considered as a “specialty” procedure before, I now consider doing in the future if my patients need it all because I’m more comfortable performing it now.

It’s amazing how much a single lab can change your viewpoint!

One of my favorite hands-on opportunities is one that isn’t even specific to the veterinary college. Disaster Day is an annual disaster simulation that nursing, medicine, public health, and veterinary students all get to participate in.

I had opted not to participate in my previous two years of vet school and having finally taken the chance to try it out, I thoroughly regret not participating sooner!

Laine with her friendsThough the event is a simulation that utilizes actors, it was surprising how much I immersed myself in the moment and learned from working through the various cases that were presented. The actors were so convincing and would show up anywhere from calm and collected to crying to screaming in panic!

What was truly engaging and eye-opening to me was seeing the crossover between the veterinary and human medical fields as zoonotic diseases—diseases passed from animals to people—popped up over the course of the day. After the event, I found myself wrapped up in just replaying some of the day’s excitement over and over again in my head.

Just when I start to really grow tired of all those hours studying, some exciting opportunity pops up for me to practice what I’ve learned.

I’m three years in now and I can confidently say vet school is just exciting as it was on day one—if not more! Here’s looking to fourth year and all the exciting cases ahead of me.