Feb. 23, 2023

Vet med students get hands-on experience in the community

Partnership sees third-year DVM students practise professional and communication skills while helping disadvantaged Calgarians and their pets
The cat, John Snow, is examined by third year UCVM students
Third-year vet med students examine John Snow, the cat. Kirsten Glowa Kobe, University of Calgary Veterinary Medicine

Nine third-year University of Calgary Veterinary Medicine (UCVM) students were recently given the opportunity partner with CUPS Pet Health Clinics. 

This partnership allows students to practise professional and communication skills in a community-based environment through the provision of a wellness visit, pet health education, preventive medicine, and limited basic veterinary care to low-income or disadvantaged Calgarians and their pets.

The program has now taken place for nine years under the supervision of UCVM staff Dr. Serge Chalhoub, DVM, Dr. Jack Wilson, DVM, and Dr. Ross Duncan, DVM, along with a UCVM veterinary technician and CUPS staff.

Here's their day 

Students are set in three groups of three, all under the supervision of a UCVM faculty member. Each student has the chance to lead the conversation with a prospective client, while one takes notes, and the third student holds and comforts the animal. They then rotate as a new client arrives for their appointment. They are all a team and all there to support one another.

As the students learn how the next six hours will go, they look excited and a bit nervous all at once. They express that besides surgery rotations a few weeks ago, this is their first time seeing external clients. Their fears include not wanting to miss anything, and the weight of the animal diagnosis.

“Being able to help an animal and their owner means a lot to me. It feels like I am actually making a difference,” says UCVM student Seth Colby.

Fellow student Lynn Thiessen agrees: “This is such a cool program, and I am excited to be a part of it.”

What's wrong with John Snow?

Not long after, John Snow, an eight-year-old large mixed-colour cat arrives for his appointment. His owners explain that he has very itchy skin, he sometimes has trouble breathing and that his nails have gotten too long, and they would love to learn how to cut them.

The student group does a wonderful job of asking and re-asking questions on the cat’s diet, on his exercise level and soon enough they learn John Snow can sometimes be nervous around people.

After an exam and talking to his owners, the UCVM students diagnose John Snow with being a little overweight, plus he needs his teeth cleaned and an ear exam. They also demonstrate how to cut the feline's nails.

“John Snow has loved the attention! Coming here has been such a friendly interaction and much easier than a normal clinic. The students are really listening to us,” says John Snow’s owner, who prefers to remain nameless.

Besides John Snow, the students see eight other animals that day, including dogs and cats. 

Kudos all around

A big thank you to Purina, who donated pet food, which all clients were able to take home. And a big thank you to VCA Canada for donating all clinical space, as well as VCA Canada and the Horizon Veterinary Group for their time and resources for patients needing anything beyond vaccinations.

This program is facilitated six times a year and rotates through various CUPS programs. Different groups of third-year UCVM students will get a chance at their rotation on March 13 and April 13.

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