Exploring Zoo Animal Medicine
Veterinary student Ava Redig feeds a baby giraffe from Como Zoo. The giraffe was a patient at the Veterinary Medical Center in 2009. Photo by Sue Kirchoff
One of the most exotic careers a veterinarian can have is to work with zoo animals. For six years now, CVM students have been able to try on a career in zoo animal medicine in their first year of veterinary school to see if it’s a profession they want to pursue. But this year, for the first time, students have also been able to see if they might be interested in any number of non-domestic specialties.
For the past six years, first-year veterinary students have had access to one of College’s most unique courses: Special Topics in Zoo Animal Medicine. This course, taught by Micky Trent, associate professor in the Veterinary Population Medicine Department, runs from second semester of freshman year through first semester of sophomore year. The course gives students with an interest in zoo animal medicine the chance to actually try on the profession early, giving them ample time to make a decision as to whether they want to pursue this hard-to-penetrate field.
“More often than not, I have more applicants than spaces,” says Trent, who limits enrollment to 20 students. Class participants work in four groups of five, with each group choosing one of six species groups found at Como Zoo: birds, cats and canids, aquatic mammals, reptiles and amphibians, hoof stock, or primates. Each student group focuses in-depth on their species area and completes a project that is medically relevant to an animal within their species area.
Examples of past projects include chronic wasting disease in giraffes, eye problems in captive sea lions, and iron storage disease in birds. At the end of the course, they present their project to each other as well as to the zookeepers at Como Zoo, a partner in the course. In an effort to reach out to the community, Trent’s students also present their species group to an elementary school classroom.
During the yearlong course, students learn about the zoonotic diseases relative to their species group, as well as the safety precautions needed when handling these animals. They also accompany Trent on rounds to Como Zoo, observe scheduled procedures on zoo animals, and enjoy a field trip to another zoo.
It should come as no surprise that Trent, having developed such an innovative course, also has a unique way of grading her students. They receive evaluations from Trent, their peers, themselves, and the zookeepers, with each evaluation accounting for one-fourth of their grade. Her innovative teaching style and course have been highly successful. Four graduates from the first three classes are now finishing residencies in the zoo field.
Special Topics in Zoo Animal Medicine has been so popular that last year Trent began teaching Introduction to Non-Domestic Veterinary Medicine, offered to first-semester, first-year students. This course is more general than the zoo animal course and focuses on the options students have available to them other than working with domestic animals, including wildlife rehabilitation, conservation, and public health. Guest presenters include veterinarians from the University’s Ecosystem Health Program and The Raptor Center.
During the course, students learn about the challenges and opportunities particular to working in non-domestic veterinary careers and what working in these fields might feel like. “They get to see how these careers might fit with their personalities,” says Trent.