Gator Vet Camp offers unique insights into veterinary medical profession

Gator Vet Camp 2018

Participants in the college’s first-ever Gator Vet Camp pose for a photo after participating in a suturing exercise with Dr. Alex Fox-Alvarez, during which they practiced suturing on Syndaver synthetic canine models.

During the week of July 15, a group of 20 high school students participated in the UF College of Veterinary Medicine’s first-ever Gator Vet Camp, a program designed to enhance interest in and knowledge of the veterinary medical profession among underrepresented groups within the state of Florida.

“Our goal was to enlighten, engage and empower these participants by creating unique opportunities for learning and hands-on knowledge, hence making them more likely to pursue careers in the veterinary field,” said Dr. Michael Bowie, a clinical assistant professor and director of community engagement and diversity outreach, who was also one of the program’s coordinators.

Bowie, Dr. Jaron Jones, an education coordinator and diversity and inclusion officer, and Dr. Lisa Farina, a clinical associate professor of anatomic pathology, worked closely together on a tight timeline to organize and plan the program, targeting specific areas of South Florida through school guidance counselors and other means, and coordinating the students’ schedule with a variety of individuals and groups.

Dr. Michael Bowie

Dr. Michael Bowie, a faculty member and director of community engagement and diversity outreach, was a camp coordinator.

The students’ itinerary was jam-packed from the first day, when participants met with current UF veterinary medical students and had the chance to ask questions ranging from how to prepare for veterinary school to the many challenges they would face as students themselves. The discussions were interactive and three of the current students who participated also served as camp counselors. Those students included Rachel Welch from the Class of 2019, Stephen Long from the Class of 2020 and Maria Grillo from the Class of 2021.

As the week unfolded, students were exposed to suturing techniques, proper ways to restrain dogs, how to do a physical exam and medication delivery to taking blood samples and viewing ultrasounds and radiographs, among other things. The college’s clinical skills laboratory provided participants with real-life opportunities to deal with live animals and models.  After learning how to properly gown and glove for surgery, the students were able to examine the Syndaver synthetic canine models, and gained practice suturing on the models’ “skin” under the direction of Dr. Alex Fox-Alvarez, an assistant professor of small animal surgery.

Dr. Lisa Farina

Dr. Lisa Farina, a faculty member, served as a camp coordinator.

“One student stated that this was a fun and engaging hands-on experience that provided a good feel for what working with animals would be like,” Bowie said.

Students also learned the function and importance of the diagnostic laboratories microbiology, parasitology and serology, as well as clinical pathology and anatomic pathology  and toured the UF small and large animal hospitals. Participants were also exposed to several clinical services, including wildlife and zoo medicine, aquatic and food animal medicine.  A trip to the White Oak Conservation Center allowed them to learn about husbandry and medical care for zoological species, including rhinos, giraffes, cheetahs, zebras and antelope.

Dr. Jessica Emerson, an associate veterinarian at White Oak, talked to the group about some of the center’s major activities and showed them the surgical operating room.

“Getting to see their vet hospital was amazing, and having one of their vets tell us about her work was, too,” one student said.

At the UF/IFAS Dairy Unit, Dr. Myriam Jimenez explained to students the procedures for caring for dairy calves.  The students then went to see the milking process for dairy cattle, followed by a visit to the barn. While there, a young cow gave birth to its first calf and one camp participant assisted Jimenez in moving the calf to a safe location.

The group also traveled to the UF Tropical Aquaculture Laboratory in Ruskin, Florida, where students not only learned about the aquaculture industry in Florida, but Dr. Roy Yanong, a UF extension veterinarian, taught them how to take samples from the skin, gills and fin and look for parasites and abnormalities through the microscope.  While the fish were anesthetized, campers also took blood samples from fish, using some of the skills learned in the clinical skills lab.  Students also watched the fish recover from anesthesia.  After lunch, the students went to Tampa to visit the Florida Aquarium, where they received a behind-the-scenes tour.

Dr. Jaron Jones

Dr. Jaron Jones, the college’s diversity and inclusion officer, was a camp coordinator.

From an understanding of the quarantine process for new animals to watching aquarium staff working with the shark exhibit, students were amazed by the many different specialties of the veterinary profession.

“In order to understand the various specialties of veterinary medicine, students were placed in groups to discuss what specializations they wanted to research. Internal medicine, emergency and critical care, and wildlife and zoo medicine were chosen,” Bowie said, adding that additional information about other specialties was provided through presentations made by Alex Avelino, pre-veterinary admissions adviser, and Katelyn Jerles, career counselor, from the college’s Office for Academic and Student Affairs.

But there was time built in for fun as well. Students were able to go bowling, watch the movie “Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom,” and to tour the main UF campus, including a visit to the bat houses at dusk. The week ended with a closing ceremony, in which family and friends of the students were able to learn more about the veterinary medical profession and watched a slide show of activities throughout the week.

Bowie said he had reviewed all of the students’ comments after the camp, and one that stood out especially for him was the following. It said: “Thank you so much for this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. This was definitely something I will never forget and helped me further consider my future in veterinary medicine.”

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