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Zoo Faculty Position Expands Students’ Options
by Lianne Carr

The College of Veterinary Medicine recently added 216 acres of classroom space—located 150 miles north of Urbana.

Although we haven’t technically annexed Brookfield Zoo, we have expanded the options for students with the addition of Dr. Jennifer Langan, a visiting clinical assistant professor who directs the College’s program in zoo medicine and has a joint appointment at Brookfield.

Dr. Langan, a 1996 Illinois graduate, completed a small animal medicine and surgery internship at Angell Memorial Animal Hospital in Boston, Mass., and a residency in zoological and wildlife medicine at the University of Tennessee.

[Dr. Jennifer Langan and veterinary student Chris Dupuis conduct an examination] [Erin Dahill, right, assists with taking radiographs]
Left: A zookeeper keeps a walrus in check while Dr. Jennifer Langan and veterinary student Chris Dupuis conduct an examination. Right: Erin Dahill, right, assists with taking radiographs on a Galapagos tortoise.

In 1999 Dr. Langan started a two-year clinical residency at Brookfield Zoo with funding from the Conservation Medicine Center of Chicago, a collaborative program uniting the University of Illinois, Brookfield Zoo, and Loyola University. In the fall of 2001 this residency ended and Dr. Langan successfully completed board certification in the American College of Zoological Medicine. At the same time the College was interested in starting a zoo medicine program, and Dr. Langan was hired as the program director.

“I very much enjoyed my job and the people that I worked with at Brookfield, but I missed teaching in an academic setting,” she says. “So many students entering the field of veterinary medicine have an interest in zoo and wildlife, yet there are comparatively few training programs teaching conservation, eocosystem health, and comparative medicine.”

With the addition of Dr. Langan, Illinois now offers senior students a month-long clinical rotation in zoological medicine. Students actively participate in animal immobilizations and preventive medicine programs and assist with diagnoses and treatments of the nearly 3,000 animal residents at the Brookfield Zoo.

“The beauty of the zoo rotation is that it forces you to use medicine. You don’t see cases with preconceived diagnoses. You’re forced to think about the diagnoses since these are species you’ve never seen before,” says Joe Lyman, from the Class of 2003. “Dr. Langan’s enthusiasm for her work rubs off on you and causes you to strive to find the answers.”

Classmate Dana Varble agrees. “I was very excited to participate in the zoo rotation this year. It was really one of the best hands-on clinical rotations I had during senior year.”

In addition to gaining hands-on experience students work on a research project while at the zoo. “We hope to spur the scientist in every veterinarian,” notes Dr. Langan.

This new program has produced many high-quality student research projects in the past year. Among the Class of 2003, Lyman investigated the role of temperature change and hypothermia on baboon mortality and will present his findings at the American Association of Zoo Veterinarians conference later this year; Varble did a retrospective review of medical records to evaluate the efficacy of behavior-modifying drugs in zoo animals and is submitting her project for a student manuscript competition; and Rob Swinger evaluated the ocular health of penguins and dolphins and also hopes to publish his findings.

Student projects can be quite profound. Beth Ellen McNamara, also Class of 2003, conducted a retrospective study of Micronesian kingfishers that linked reproductive problems and obesity to morbidity and mortality. Her work led to a national recommendation for the kingfishers’ nutrition and diet.

Students in the earlier years of the veterinary program can opt for summer externships at the zoo. Mike Adkesson, Class of 2004, has spent two summers at Brookfield and has researched parasitism in tanager (avian) and callitrichid (small monkey) species. He presented his research at the American Association of Zoo Veterinarians conference, won first place in the student manuscript competition, and is submitting this manuscript to the Journal of Zoo and Wildlife Medicine.

“The opportunity to work on these projects has been a wonderful experience,” says Adkesson. “The chance to author two papers and present the research at a national conference is very inspiring and rewarding. The experience has reinforced what I have learned in the classroom and also served to enhance my clinical skills.”

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