‘Critter Fixers’-Hosted Day Camp Excites Future Aggies With Veterinary Interests

Story by Courtney Price, VMBS Communications

A student learns how to tie surgical knots
Vet for a Day participants learned how to tie surgical knots on models used by Aggie veterinary students.

Children from across Texas recently had an opportunity to learn about veterinary medicine from Nat Geo Wild’s “Critter Fixers” and faculty, staff, and students from the Texas A&M School of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences (VMBS).

The one-day camp, held at the VMBS, was part of veterinarians and “Critter Fixers” television stars Drs. Vernard Hodges and Terrence Ferguson’s series of Vet for a Day camps, which are designed to introduce youth ages 12-16 to various aspects of the veterinary profession.

“Critter Fixers” is a television show about Hodges and Ferguson’s bustling veterinary clinic in rural Georgia that treats animals of all shapes and sizes. Vet for a Day is a program that Hodges and Ferguson started to give kids and their parents an idea of what being a veterinarian is like and how to become one.

“We had parents asking us, ‘How can my kid become a veterinarian? What does it take?’” Ferguson said. “So, we decided to put something together to show them. We started doing the program at our clinic, and then it just blew up.”

Since starting the Vet for a Day program, Hodges and Ferguson have hosted camps all over the country, including at major zoos in St. Louis and Miami.

The pair met Dr. Karen Cornell, VMBS associate dean for professional programs, at the Vet for a Day camp they hosted last year at the Cy-Fair Animal Hospital, which is owned by Drs. Diarra Blue, Michael Lavigne, and Aubrey Ross II, who also star in a veterinary-centered TV show on Animal Planet called “The Vet Life.” During that event, Cornell encouraged Hodges and Ferguson to consider bringing Vet for a Day to the VMBS campus at Texas A&M.

“Partnering with Dr. Hodges, Dr. Ferguson, and their Critter Fixers team to provide young children from Texas the opportunity to experience veterinary medicine first-hand was fantastic,” Cornell said. “Our current DVM students and faculty worked with the participants to show them what veterinary medicine is all about. We hope this sparks an interest in veterinary medicine and that we will welcome each of the participants as veterinary students in the future.

“When I think of the key qualities of a veterinarian — kindness, caring, integrity, a willingness to serve as a role-model for others and lead by example — Drs. Ferguson and Hodges emulate them all,” she said.

Hosting the camp at Texas A&M turned out to be the perfect opportunity for Hodges and Ferguson to teach the kids at Vet for a Day those same values.

Drs. Hodges and Ferguson wearing Vet for a Day T-shirts in the VENI building
Drs. Terrence Ferguson and Vernard Hodges

“Even though we can give these kids hope and show them what being a vet is like, we don’t have a veterinary school,” Hodges said. “That’s why it’s so important to be here at the Texas A&M vet school — because if these kids actually see what a vet school experience is like, some of them may end up coming here.”

The Texas A&M event drew approximately 50 students from across the state to experience hands-on labs designed to teach veterinary skills, including some that Aggie veterinary students participate in as first-year students.

For example, in the VMBS’ clinical skills lab, camp participants and their parents learned to tie sutures and practiced using an ultrasound device on real training “phantoms,” which are made of jelly and contain objects inside that students must find by using the ultrasound.

Students also got to experience exotic animal care in a reptile lab, where they could learn about and touch snakes, lizards, and tortoises. They were also able to learn what makes reptile veterinary medicine different from traditional small animal and large animal care.

In the bovine rumen lab, participants learned about the importance of collecting fluid from the rumen, which is the first compartment in a cow’s stomach where food is partly broken down with help from symbiotic microorganisms, to assess bovine health. They also were able to study rumen samples under microscopes.

One thing that made this camp different from others was the presence of parents.

“When we have programs at our clinic, we have to separate the parents from the kids because of space,” Hodges said. “Here, the parents are able to follow their kids to each lab and see what it takes to become a veterinarian.”

Dr. Dusty Nagy points at a diagram in a book as two students watch
Dr. Dusty Nagy teaching two Vet for a Day participants

“At the end of the day, they have to be the ones to inspire their kids and show them the way,” Ferguson added. “If they know more about the process, it just helps everything.”

Participating in Vet for a Day can require a significant commitment from families, who often come from many miles away to let their kids participate.

Malinda Albritton is a parent who brought her daughter MaKhyla all the way from Anahuac, which is about two hours from College Station.

“The experience has definitely made her want to come to Texas A&M more,” Albritton said. “We especially wanted to hear what the Critter Fixers thought of the programs and facilities, since they’re amazing mentors. And we wanted MaKhyla to see how she would fit in with the students and faculty.”

For many parents and community leaders, the sacrifice is worth it.

“I think the kids are going to want to come to Texas A&M,” said Reggie Lewis, a principal from Waco who brought nine students to Vet for a Day. Lewis’s school had just started a 4-H club, which quickly became popular with the students.

“They’re already learning to care for animals,” he said. “We even have a project training dogs to be emotional support animals. But I brought the students here because it’s opportunity to do something different that will help them grow. If you don’t see examples, you don’t know what something is really like. Now, our students are going to be talking about going to vet school.”

In addition to participating in the lab rotations, students at Vet for a Day heard from VMBS faculty and students about their experiences and learned more about the process of applying to vet school.

Hodges and Ferguson; Dr. Dusty Nagy, a clinical associate professor in the VMBS Department of Large Animal Clinical Sciences; and Kayla Benton, a second-year veterinary student all shared their veterinary school experiences in the afternoon. In addition, Dr. John R. August, the Carl B. King Dean of Veterinary Medicine, also spoke with students in the morning to welcome them to the camp and encourage them to pursue the veterinary profession.

“We’re thrilled to have so many young people here today who are excited about veterinary medicine,” August told the crowd. “We hope that each one of them will return one day as Aggie veterinary students.”


For more information about the Texas A&M School of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, please visit our website at vetmed.tamu.edu or join us on FacebookInstagram, and Twitter.

Contact Information: Jennifer Gauntt, Director of VMBS Communications, Texas A&M School of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, jgauntt@cvm.tamu.edu, 979-862-4216

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