Food Animal Fun

Catherine T.In February, Texas A&M hosted its annual Food Animal Wet Lab, an event designed to give students exposure to all sorts of food animal medicine techniques and topics we don’t always cover in enough detail in class.

Because my main career focus is working with beef cattle and other livestock after graduation, this event is always a great time for me! I learned about castrating calves, giving epidurals, and performing C-sections, all of which can be the bread-and-butter of a food animal vet’s practice.

Even though I’ve known I want to practice in this field of veterinary medicine for a long time, it’s fun to see my classmates from all walks of life getting involved, too. Even if you plan to be a bird vet or a radiologist, who doesn’t love to play around with animals and learn from our knowledgeable and entertaining professors? Plus, you never know when a great experience may change your career goals for the better (and, yes, that is a shameless plug for food animal medicine).

While I had a lot of fun participating in the different wet labs, one of the most interesting parts of the day was meeting other students from different schools and even different states. I was able to work with and help teach several pre-vet students from West Texas and was excited to see their passion for this kind of work so early in their school careers.

I also got to learn alongside veterinary students from Oklahoma and Kansas and share interesting tidbits about how our curriculum and veterinary experiences differ. I also got to learn some things that make me grateful that I go to Texas A&M, such as the fact that it was 8 degrees in Manhattan, Kansas, the day before the wet lab.

In my upcoming fourth year of vet school, I’ll have the opportunity to travel around Texas and to California and Colorado on externships. I’m excited for the opportunity to venture out from College Station and meet other students and veterinarians from different backgrounds.

The great diversity of veterinary medicine, and everyone’s unique experiences and perspective, is just one of the things that I love so much about this profession!

My Dog Timmy

Michelle's Dog: TimmyThis is my family dog, Timmy.

Every time I visit my parents’ home in Hurst, I can always rely on him to greet me as if I have been gone for a century when it’s really only been a week. It’s definitely cold days like these when I miss his warm dog cuddles and appreciate how my furry companion has improved my life!

Timmy somehow stumbled into my life when I was just 13 years old. A close friend of my family’s had just had a baby and were uncertain about how the puppy would do around a newborn, so they decided to surrender Timmy and offered him to our family. Worried about the time constraints and responsibilities of raising a puppy, my parents, of course, said “No!”

But, somehow, Timmy still managed to get into my duffel bag and made it home with us that same night. It took a lot of dedication and puppy-training classes for Timmy to be the good dog that he is today, but I loved growing up with him and every challenge along the way!

The thing I value the most about raising a dog is that they teach you responsibility and empathy. Caring for Timmy forced me into a position where I had to consider the needs of another living being over my own. Pets, obviously, cannot vocalize their wants and needs, and, therefore, owners must rely on their pet’s nonverbal cues to determine what to do. Growing up with Timmy, I was able to discover the importance of human-animal bond, and his existence in my life solidified my passion to become a veterinarian.

Timmy is now 15 years old and still going strong. He enjoys staying healthy with my parents through their daily walks. He has definitely lived an adventurous life and has managed to put a smile on our faces every step of the way!

Tracking Food Animal

Michelle M.Now that Christmas break has come and gone and we are now back at school this week for spring semester, I am finally in the homestretch of my path of becoming a veterinarian. After my spring semester finals, I will be going straight into my clinical year this May. During our clinical year, each student takes a core set of rotations in both the small and large animal hospitals, since as veterinarians we are licensed to work on all species.

But for the remaining rotations, we get to pick a track that most closely follows what we are interested in doing once we graduate. I want to work primarily with dairy cattle, so before break I chose the food animal track. I will spend several rotations in the Food Animal Department, where they treat food and fiber animals such as cattle, sheep, goats, llamas, alpacas, pigs, and even the occasional camel. I then have the opportunity to conduct externships that will give me more experience in my chosen field.

Because I am hoping to get a job as a dairy veterinarian when I graduate, last summer I spent time in the Texas Panhandle working with dairy veterinarians. There, I worked to develop skills in areas such as diagnosing a cow as pregnant, hoof care, drawing blood for testing, and surgical techniques. I also participated in an externship back near my home in Pennsylvania, where I got more dairy and small ruminant experience.

My externships this next year will be across the country so that I hopefully will gain a better idea of how dairy medicine is done throughout the United States.  I will be going to California, Oregon, Minnesota, Pennsylvania, and the Panhandle again to get more experience under different veterinarians.  I’m looking forward to what the next year and a half will hold for me. It’s hard to believe how soon I will be making medical decisions and helping patients, and I can’t wait to see what I will learn!

Looking Back and Ahead

Sydney M.Wow! This semester has just flown by! It seems like I just started classes again, but, instead, I just completed my finals.

In my last block for the semester, I took two electives, “Clinical Pathology” and “Emergency Medicine.” Clinical pathology is understanding disease processes and how they commonly present themselves using diagnostic tests such as blood work or cytology. Knowing how often veterinarians in practice read bloodwork, I was excited to be able to practice those skills and increase my confidence level before my fourth year. Emergency medicine was great because it helped me create a plan for the worst outcome, in hopes of saving lives. Having a basic idea of what to do in emergency situations helps give you a framework and the confidence to face those challenging cases head on. I have really enjoyed my electives this semester because I love how clinically relevant they are and how much they are preparing me for not only fourth year, but when I am out in a regular, practice setting.

Also during my last block was the Veterinary Job and Externship Fair. The Dean’s Office is great at making sure we are given a ton of opportunities to meet veterinarians and find great places to work for summer jobs, fourth-year externships, or even potential future employment! The fourth year of vet school is the clinical year, which means you work at the Small and Large Animal Hospitals to get tons of on-the-job training from the clinicians who work there full time. However, we are not confined to just one hospital for training; we also do externships for two weeks at a time at other veterinary clinics. I found one externship in New Braunfels, but I need to find another clinic to work during my fourth year, so this job and externship fair was a great way for me to do it.

While I have been able to do some hands-on and exciting things this semester, I still have a lot to look forward to during winter break, not only because I get to see my family and get some much needed rest, but also because I have an elective over the break at a clinic in Seguin, where I will focus on the client-communication aspects of veterinary medicine, as well as hone some basic veterinary skills. A veterinarian will be my mentor and will help me work through cases and put all of my lecture knowledge to good use. This winter break elective counts toward the total amount of elective hours I need to fulfill my veterinary degree, so the veterinarian at the clinic will evaluate my progress and send it back to Texas A&M.

There were so many fun and important things happening at the end of this semester and more that will happen over winter break. I am excited to be a part of it all!

Finals, Coffee, and Bears—Oh my!

Finals week is upon us!

Ali C.There is truly nothing like a finals week in veterinary school, where it seems you learn an entire semester in one night! There is so much to remember and never enough time, so you are forced to learn as much as you can, do your best, and still be satisfied with never knowing all of the information.

Third-year vet students are lucky and only have three finals this year—but they are all worth a LOT of points, so they cannot be taken lightly. The first final exam is in “Large Animal Medicine,” over 29 hours worth of lectures. No pressure, right?! Our second exam is in “Small Animal Medicine” and ranges from placing external fixators on bones to how to tell if a female dog is pregnant. Our third exam is over “Radiology,” and since it is cumulative, we have to study things from all the way back in August.

Finals week and veterinary students are like hibernating bears and winter. We stock up on food and supplies, wear our comfiest clothes, and lock ourselves in our rooms/library for a week straight, only emerging from the cave for refrigerated items and the scheduled cup of coffee at 6 a.m., noon, and 5 p.m. Our hair always seems to be disheveled, no matter how much we comb it down. We may be sensitive to sunlight and show signs of aggression. Every now and then a friend or family member will check in to make sure we are still eating and sleeping an acceptable amount.

The end of the semester is when we really appreciate those gift cards for Starbucks and Chick-Fil-A that we get in our stockings every year (hint hint, Santa). While it is OK to cry during finals week, I encourage relieving stress in ways like yoga, running, singing Adele songs unapologetically loud in your car, or studying
outside in your favorite park. Resist your innate hibernating instincts. The good thing about December in Texas is the low temperature is usually around 65 degrees and sunny; you basically have no excuse NOT to go outside. It is also important to find a reliable friend who will share their dog with you; hugging a dog will increase study motivation by 200 percent. I have tested and proven this scientific fact my entire life. You also may want to keep the TV playing in the background while you study to stay minimally connected to the outside world.

One thing I have noticed about vet school is that every finals week seems to get better:

  • First year was the hardest: between anatomy, immunology, and histology, there’s a lot of nuances to learn, and you’ve never done it before—therefore, it is completely intimidating and foreign.
  • Second year gets easier: the material is quicker to master and you also have gained the confidence that “if I survived first year, I can get through anything.”
  • Third year we are barely even phased: we have done this MULTIPLE TIMES before, and there is also the hope lingering in the air that this is the second to last finals weeks we will ever have for the rest of our lives!

It’s amazing that another semester of vet school has flown by so quickly; nevertheless, I do not yet wish for it to slow down. Although we may emerge from our caves on Dec. 8 sleep-deprived and wired on caffeine, we also emerge smarter, more resilient, and one step closer to being the veterinarians we were born to be.

Wish us all good luck!

Terra, the ‘Service Dog’

Mikaela and Terra
Mikaela and Terra

Recently, I was able to bring my dog, Terra, to school! That is one of the perks of being a veterinary student—sometimes we get to all bring our pets to class.

We needed her for our orthopedics laboratory, in which we were learning to do a proper orthopedic exam and how to apply a splint. Nothing beats the real thing when it comes to practicing, and Terra was a willing patient (for a lot of treats).

We started out by just watching her walk in a straight line from the front, back, and sides to see her gait and how she moves. This can help you identify if there is a lame leg and which one it could be. Then you do the same thing at a jog. After that, we do a standing exam and you feel over all the joints for anything that is out of the ordinary. It is important to feel both sides at the same time to compare the two sides.

Following the standing exam, Terra got to lay down and we went through all the ranges of motion on each joint to make sure she had full movement in each without pain. Through this whole thing, she was just getting pets and treats and thought it was the best thing. Turns out, she is a pretty good patient.

After the ortho exam we went to the bandaging lab! But, first, we needed to give all the pups a chance to relax, so we went outside for a puppy party! Terra played with a 6-month-old Whippet named Goose, and they are now best friends. We also played fetch for a while so she would be tired and lay still for the bandage.

When we went inside, each of my group members got to practice making a splint and securing it to the body. We did Terra’s front legs, one at a time. There is a lot of padding and you need to make sure the placement of everything is correct so that there is no way for the animal to get hurt from the bandage that is supposed to be helping heal.

Once we wrapped the leg she was allowed to stand to see how she would move in it. At first, she tried to go backward; apparently all dogs do this to try and walk out of the bandage, but once I showed her some treats in front of her, she was basically running to get them. The splint was not going to slow her down. We took it off after a couple minutes and then the other leg was done.

All in all, we had a great day of learning, and it’s always fun to bring your dog to school. Because we are veterinary students, many of our animals are used to being handled, having their hearts listened to, and being our models. We love them so much, and they are willing to help us with our education.

So, really, for Terra, this lab was just another day as a veterinary student’s dog.

Looking Forward to my Last Break

Michelle C.This upcoming Christmas break will be my last as a student, as my peers and I will be entering clinics immediately after the conclusion of the third-year veterinary curriculum. I have been meticulously planning to get the most out of the four-week break, during which I will be spending two weeks doing a veterinary externship in Dallas and the remaining time traveling with family and friends.

Externships offer students an exciting opportunity to spend two to six weeks under a direct doctor mentorship to apply the clinical skills obtained during the first three years of veterinary school and ease the transition from classroom to clinical practice. I am really looking forward to the externship experience, as I feel more confident interpreting blood work and other laboratory data than I have ever been.

Needless to say, I am also very excited to travel! My advice to all future students is that you should use your free time to travel spontaneously. Whether it is visiting distant families out of state or going on a road trip with your significant other, it will greatly enhance your soul! I definitely plan on spending a lot of time with my family this winter break, since I wont be able to visit them very often during my fourth year.

But until then, everyone is buckling down and preparing for our final exams. Stress is high, but I am grateful to have such great, supportive classmates and faculty members who are always there to help us succeed. Good luck on finals, everybody!

Learning through Labs

Michelle M.After the gauntlet of the first two years of veterinary school, it really is nice to experience some of the perks of third year. We get to put a lot of what we learned our first two years of school into use, especially during our lab periods. Just this past week, our Small Animal Medicine class had us practicing a procedure called a pericardiocentesis, a procedure that involves inserting a needle through the body wall and into the pericardium, the sac that surrounds the heart, so that the fluid can be drained. This may be necessary in certain patients to remove excess fluid to make them feel better and also so that the fluid can be tested to determine what may be causing the patient’s problem. My class was able to practice this on some pretty cool models that simulate how it will feel to perform the procedure in a live patient one day.

We previously had several large-animal labs. My favorite was the ophthalmology lab, which gave us practice in procedures with the equine eye. We were able to use live horses and do a full ophthalmic exam. We also practiced performing auriculopalpebral nerve blocks; these blocks involve injecting a small amount of lidocaine near the auriculopalpebral nerve, which will temporarily prevent the horse from blinking. Since we can’t ask the horse to hold his eye open for us like human doctors can, this nerve block is a very useful technique to learn, as it makes the exam more pleasant for the horse and also much quicker for everyone. We were then able to use an ophthalmoscope to perform a fundic exam to determine if the eye is healthy or if there are any problems.

In addition to our medicine labs, I also had a large-animal skills lab this semester, during which we were able to help improve our large animal-handling skills with cattle, pigs, goats, and horses and perform some of the routine procedures we will do as vets one day, such as trimming feet and drawing blood for testing. It was always the highlight of my week to work with these animals, as I plan on becoming a large-animal vet after I graduate. I even got to learn how to shoe a horse using a horse leg model that was more realistic than I ever could have anticipated. While farriers are often the ones who put shoes on horses, it was fascinating to learn how the process is done and important to understand so that we can properly care for horses who injure their hooves. Next semester I will have small-animal skills labs and I am looking forward to seeing what I will learn there. It’s really encouraging learning some of the skills I will be using on a daily basis when I am on clinics full-time next year. I can’t wait to see what I will learn next!

Being Selective About Third-Year Electives

Mikaela StanislavAs a third-year veterinary student, I have been
able to choose the electives that I take; after two years of taking
a pre-selected curriculum, this is an amazing experience! I get to
pick what I want to learn, which makes learning all the more

This semester, I have completed an oncology elective. Oncology
is a big part of veterinary medicine because 50 percent of dogs
over the age of 10 years will develop cancer. Through this
elective, I was able to learn about current research being done
that correlates human cancers and cancer in dogs, because it is
very similar and advances in each field can help each other.

The elective I just finished is dermatology. This is also a
large part of veterinary medicine, as many pets have issues with
skin or allergies, especially living in Texas. In dermatology, we
learned how to identify different infections, causes, and how to
treat common dermatologic problems. Did you know that dogs can have
food allergies, too? It’s a lot harder to find out if dogs have a
food issue because they can’t tell you they feel bad after eating
something or if they eat something that causes them to itch.

The next elective I will be taking is clinical pathology, in
which I will learn all about how to interpret blood work and
understand what the values mean. I’ll be able to tell if a dog is
anemic, if it has liver issues, or even if it’s a diabetic.
Clinical pathology is a skill that we will be using every day in
practice. Interpreting blood and urine are common practices and
taking this elective will hopefully help me feel more comfortable
with this aspect of veterinary medicine.

Overall, all of my classes have been good, but it’s even more
exciting to get to decide what you learn!

Piecing Together the Puzzle

Ali C.We are now over a quarter of the way done with the semester! Whoop! Veterinary School is really good at keeping our minds and bodies busy, so even though it feels like the clock is barely ticking during some class days, it’s actually FLYING by! I can feel the jittery excitement in the air, because all of my third-year classmates can finally see a glimmer of light at the end of the vet school tunnel. We are gaining confidence, skills, and wisdom; we finally feel closer to being doctors and further from students.

We third-year students have gotten more comfortable with basic surgical procedures so far this semester; nevertheless, I still sweat bullets the entire time. Putting non-powdered surgical gloves onto sweaty hands should be an Olympic sport. Gold medal goes to me for my hilarious and laborious struggle with such a menial task! This week, AFTER I took 10 minutes to get my gloves on, I proceeded to accidentally poke a hole in the glove on my left index finger with a stray towel clamp, which meant I had to stop what I was doing, remove my poked glove, and start the whole gloving process over again. It’s definitely a learning curve.

Luckily for me, sweating doesn’t interfere with my paper test-taking skills! 3VM students had a BIG Small Animal Medicine test this week covering a month and a half of oncology and endocrinology material. These are probably some of the most common diseases I will be dealing with as a small-animal veterinarian once I graduate. Unfortunately, at least 50 percent of dogs over the age of 10 will get some form of cancer, which is why it is so important for us to learn how to treat and manage cancer patients. It may be surprising to you, but dogs and cats are candidates for chemotherapies and radiation, just like humans! Our professor, Dr. Claudia Barton, made sure to emphasize the fact that cancer is indiscriminate of species; therefore, observations from cancer in our domestic animals can be studied and incorporated into human oncologic research.

For endocrinology, we are taught by Dr. Audrey Cook, who has a wonderful European accent and a remarkable passion for the diseases she presents. I actually printed out all of her notes, put it in a binder, and labeled it my “Cook Book,” since I plan on keeping it on my shelf in my veterinary practice in the near future. My favorite disease she has talked about is feline hyperthyroidism. I like it because it is a disease that likes to hide behind the façade of just “old cat syndrome,” but when correctly diagnosed and treated it can really improve the lives of our aging kitties. It is nerve-wracking to learn all of these common, everyday diseases while having aging animals of your own. I find myself wondering which diseases my own cat will get someday—and hoping I will be sharp enough to spot them early and treat them!

This upcoming Monday is one of the few Mondays that we don’t have an exam. To take advantage of my lessened weekend stressors, I am headed back to my hometown of Boerne to visit my parents, my 103-year-old great-uncle, and my three brothers. I haven’t seen any of them since summer and am starting to feel the homesickness. I try to make time during the week to reach out to all of them, but sometimes it just doesn’t happen with everything else going on. Hopefully they can get my head out of my textbooks, help me to relax, and have a little fun before diving back on Monday.

What I have found to be so incredible and different about our third year of vet school is that we are finally putting all the pieces together and understanding veterinary medicine on a different level. Our veterinary puzzle is actually starting to come together, and it is SO EXCITING!