New program gives students
experience in equine practice
By Sarah Carey
Many hands may make light work, but in barns and stalls of equine veterinary practices throughout the state, active learning takes a new twist and could be life-changing, say students and veterinarians who are participating in the University of Florida College of Veterinary Medicine’s practice-based equine clerkship.
In its first calendar year, from January 2011 to January 2012, 79 UF veterinary students had rotated through the clerkship, seeing an average of 56 cases during the two-week rotation.
The total number of cases seen in that period was 4,424, said Dr. Amanda House, clinical assistant professor and director of the practice-based equine clerkship program. Thirty-nine students completed the clerkship this past spring, and some 70 are enrolled in it through this summer and the upcoming fall term.
“With university caseloads on a decrease throughout the country, I believe a hands-on void is being helped by exposure to private practice,” said Dr. Liz Yelvington Steele, president of Three Oaks Equine Reproductive Facility near Wauchula. “One of the most common comments I hear from the students is that they are so thankful for the opportunity to put their hands on many horses in a short period of time. I feel honored to be a part of helping them gain confidence in this area.”
Steele is one of 47 equine practitioners who are participating in the program. She said her small herd of recipient mares – horses that receive embryos transferred from the uterus of donor mares – offered a great learning opportunity for students.
“I usually ask each student at the beginning of the rotation what procedure intimidates them the most. Their answers range from simple passing of the naso-gastric tube all the way to intra-articular injections,” Steele said. “They are then provided an opportunity to practice that procedure on my recipient mares. They love it.”
Other examples of procedures students have requested to perform include trans-tracheal washes, guiding a horse down during induction of field anesthesia and pre-purchase examinations, Steele said.
House spearheaded the program and created the framework for the practice-based equine clerkship after the college administration and faculty approved the endeavor in 2009. The program is modeled after the practice-based ambulatory program in place at Michigan State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine.
“It’s enormously gratifying to hear the feedback I get about the clerkship from students and veterinarians throughout the state,” House said. “Like any program, there are always aspects that need to be monitored and managed, but it has been inspiring to hear all of the enthusiasm from students, who are enrolling in increasing numbers, and from practitioners, many of whom tell me they can’t wait for the next round of students. We are so grateful for such a wonderful group of veterinarians who are willing to provide student instruction, and are continuing to enroll additional practices.”
Dr. Luis Castro, a veterinarian with Tiegland, Franklin and Brokken in Wellington, jumped at the idea when House approached him, telling her he thought it would be positive for all involved.
“I thought it would provide a way to expose the veterinary students to ‘real-life medicine’ as well as allow a glimpse into the business of veterinary medicine,” Castro said.
Like Steele, he saw the program as a way to offset the college’s academic concerns relating to the reduced equine caseload, which threatened to keep students from obtaining the clinical skill set they are expected to have when they graduate.
As a 1988 graduate of the UF veterinary college, he also relished the opportunity to give back to his alma mater.
“I thought the greatest impact would be with us, the practitioners,” Castro said. “Personally, teaching is something I’ve always enjoyed. To be able to combine that with exposing students to a profession and an industry that I still love and find incredibly exciting…well, that was an irresistible combination.”
D. Stacey West, a 2012 graduate of the UF veterinary college, worked closely with Castro during her equine clerkship rotation in the last semester of her senior year.
Although West doesn’t plan a career in equine medicine, she was thrilled at the opportunity the clerkship provided her to become more comfortable working with horses — and at having had the chance to work with this year’s Kentucky Derby contender and Belmont Stakes winner, Union Rags, and to have met world-renowned trainer, Michael Matz.
“I absolutely loved the clerkship,” West said. “I’m not an equine-oriented student, but it was such an unbelievable experience to see what goes on in the racetrack industry. Dr. Castro knew I didn’t plan to pursue equine veterinary medicine, but he embraced that and made my time at his practice extremely enjoyable.”
West added, “Everyone wanted to teach me, because they knew I knew nothing about the racetrack world.”
She was able to review radiographs with Castro and to meet Union Rags, a colt that ran and finished seventh in the Kentucky Derby in May this year, but went on to win the Belmont Stakes in June.
West’s classmate, Dr. Alisa Corser, spent two weeks working alongside Dr. Jordan Lewis, an associate at Palm Beach Equine Clinic in Wellington.
“Dr. Lewis included me in every aspect of each case, from the initial physical exam to advanced diagnostics and treatment,” Corser said. “The clinic serves as both a primary and secondary care facility and offers both ambulatory and in-hospital care. I visited during the height of the Winter Equestrian Festival and had the privilege of working with and around Olympic caliber equine athletes, including a previous Kentucky Derby winner and a current member of the Canadian Olympic team, as well as beloved family pets.”
With Palm Beach Equine Clinic serving as the primary on-site veterinarians for the festival, Corser was able to watch various equestrian events, including the 2012 USEF show-jumping Olympic trials.
“The days were long, but the knowledge and experience I gained during that time was invaluable,” Corser said. “Dr. Lewis was an excellent mentor; she welcomed academic discussion and offered real-life insight on nearly every case we saw. I was treated as a colleague, and my thoughts and opinions were frequently sought.”
Corser added that Lewis also provided counsel on many aspects of equine practice management, “an incredibly important subject in which I had little experience and minimal knowledge.”
“I would encourage every student, regardless of small or large animal interest, to take advantage of the opportunity the practice-based equine clerkship offers,” Corser said. “Not only does it provide exposure to equine and large animal care, it allows the students to become a member of a veterinary team and a local community for two weeks.”