Learning Outside of the Classroom

Last week, I participated in a really unique event hosted by two of our student organizations—the Internal Medicine Club and the Veterinary Imaging Club. It was an after-school lab in which I got learn how to do ultrasound scans on dogs!

Ultrasound is an imaging technique used to look at soft tissue structures like kidneys, intestines, and liver. It’s an incredibly important diagnostic tool that veterinarians commonly use, and so I am grateful for the opportunity to get extra practice.

My fellow peers volunteered their own dogs—who were so well-behaved and sweet—and we spent two hours practicing our techniques and learning how to search for specific organs. We got a lot of practice in and, of course, the dogs got an abundant amount of love and treats from the students!

It was a particularly fulfilling experience for me because learning how to do an ultrasound scan has been a big focus in our “Professional and Clinical Skills” class.

I have been learning ultrasound techniques and practicing on models since my first semester in veterinary school, and it was very exciting for me to have the chance to apply what I had practiced on models to an actual animal.

I am quickly realizing that during my time in veterinary school, there will be many more opportunities to learn new things outside of a traditional classroom. I need to make the most of my four years here, so I am constantly looking forward to seeing what other doors will open next.

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.

A Glimpse into the Vet School Curriculum

Mary W.As the new curriculum is implemented here at Texas A&M’s College of Veterinary Medicine, more and more courses are designed to be fully clinically relevant. For the students, this means we get to play doctor from day one, as overwhelming as that may be. Here are some examples of what my fellow second-year veterinary students and I have seen among some of our classes this semester.

“Charlie is a 6-year-old MC Boston Terrier who presented to your clinic with a one-month history of seizures that have been increasing in frequency and duration. After reviewing the following complete history and introductory blood work, write a prescription for an appropriate drug for Charlie.”

Thus begins another pharmacology lab.

My classmates are split into groups of five or so, each with a different case profile. For this lab, the groups are paired, with one acting as the emergency service and the other as the neurologists.

While every case is different, they all have seizures, as we are focusing on anti-convulsants in lecture. We will spend about half an hour combing resources and notes trying to come up with an appropriate treatment plan before going over all of the cases with the clinician who is presiding over the lab.

We discuss why certain drugs must not be given to certain patients and why one option may be marginally better than another. The clinicians also try to emphasize that sometimes there is no one correct choice; sometimes they are all bad and you may just have to choose the one that is least offensive.

Every pharmacology lab unrolls in much the same way, covering most of the cases we are likely to see in practice and emphasizing those where the decision-making process is not easy.

Parasitology is fairly similar to pharmacology lab.

The beginning of the semester felt like we were studying an entomologist’s encyclopedia: “Here are a dozen ticks (or mites, or lice, or fleas, or nematodes); figure out the best way to tell them apart under a microscope.”

Fortunately, after deciding we had successfully jammed all of that information into our brains, we were able to move on to clinically relevant discussions. Different professors discussed the parasites we were likely to find on the most commonly treated species, emphasizing those that are very common or very detrimental to the animal or the producer’s wallet.

Most of the time, this meant working through a case: “A commercial dairy-goat producer has been having issues with her goats not keeping weight on, and a few have died. She deworms the whole herd with Ivermectin every two months and didn’t have any problems until the rains started a few weeks ago, etc.” Your job as the student is to correctly determine the parasite, treat the parasite, and then educate the client on the best method of prevention for her herd (hint—it’s not “deworm every two months with Ivermectin”).

Throughout this exercise, common parasites of the affected animal are available on slides or in specimen jars, and clinicians are there to answer any questions that may come up. We were also able to do several important clinical diagnostic tests, things vets do every day, like fecal flotation and heartworm tests.

Pathology lab is for those who like getting your hands dirty and staring at gross things; it’s the study of how disease affects tissue, so there’s nothing normal in pathology lab. You’ll see abscesses and cancer, pneumonia and partially healed wounds, nasal cavities that have lost all structure and mineralized vessels.

The best part about path lab is that all of the pathologists love making lesions “relatable” and easy to remember. So, it’s not a lymph node filled with caseous exudate; it’s a ball of your favorite cheese. It’s not chronic passive hypertension of the liver; it’s a “nutmeg liver.” This is made extra fun when they schedule pathology lab right after lunch.

You may get to put your hands on some necrotic intestines and pull fibrin off of a cow heart (wearing gloves, of course), but you will be learning while its happening. Pathology lab is designed as a hands-on, practical workthrough of the disease discussed in class, and we are expected to identify lesions that are placed in front of us.

That can be a lot to ask of a stressed out second-year, but it closely resembles what we will see in practice one day, so we persevere. I appreciate having these labs so that we can hear cases that are actually seen in the hospitals and work through them ourselves with samples and specimens beside us, even if we get it wrong; they’re bringing us one step closer to the dream of doing it all again one day as Doctors of Veterinary Medicine.

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!