Students’ Skills Grow Along with Shelter Medicine Opportunities

Jul 15, 2015 / Message from the Dean

[mobile surgical unit in July 4 parade]
This message appeared in the August-September 2015 issue of the Chicago Veterinary Medical Association Bulletin.

For decades, Illinois veterinary students have benefited from spay/neuter rotations at The Anti-Cruelty Society in Chicago.

Every other Monday, a fourth-year student arrives at the institution on Grand Avenue and LaSalle Street; two weeks later, that student leaves a more proficient surgeon, while 30 to 40 dogs and cats are on a faster track to finding a “forever home.”

Almost 20 years ago, Dr. Stephanie Belding was an Illinois student who completed The Anti-Cruelty Society rotation. She was “hooked.”

“I loved the blend of community practice and shelter medicine that was possible at The Anti-Cruelty Society,” recalls the 1997 Illinois graduate.

She accepted a position with The Anti-Cruelty Society right out of veterinary school and has practiced there ever since. Six veterinarians and about 20 veterinary technicians staff the clinic within the shelter.

Today, Dr. Belding oversees the Illinois students on rotation there.

“We really enjoy the enthusiasm and fresh faces of the students. They work so hard and take great care of the animals,” she says.

The shelter medicine specialty field has developed rapidly over the past 15 years. The first-ever certification examination for this newly recognized field is scheduled for this November at the annual meeting of the American Board of Veterinary Practitioners.

The opportunities for Illinois veterinary students to delve into this new field have also grown recently. While our students have engaged in spay-neuter rotations at both The Anti-Cruelty Society and the Champaign County Humane Society (CCHS) for many years, Dr. G. Robert “Bob” Weedon began building a more formal program when he became the CCHS staff veterinarian in 2011 and officially joined our faculty in 2013.

Dr. Weedon teaches two elective courses. “The introductory course uses the Association of Shelter Veterinarians Guidelines for Standards of Care in Animal Shelters as the textbook. The advanced course takes a more in-depth look at infectious disease prevention and control, pediatric sterilization, and high-quality/high-volume sterilization,” he says.

As for hands-on experience, “first- and second-year Illinois students may participate in weeklong shelter medicine rotations,” adds Dr. Weedon. “Fourth-year rotations split the students’ time between the Champaign County facility, which represents a gold standard for animal shelter practices, and a number of small, rural facilities with limited resources.”

Students on the senior rotation typically complete 50 to 60 surgeries in two weeks. The acquisition earlier this year of a mobile surgical unit, thanks to a grant from PetSmart Charities, has greatly enhanced efficiency of surgical procedures performed at rescue organizations with limited or no facilities. The trailer is outfitted with two surgery stations and two prep/recovery stations.

[In the photo above, the new mobile surgical unit passes Memorial Stadium on the route of the community Fourth of July parade, following a float built by the Wildlife Medical Clinic.]

As adviser to the college’s large and active shelter medicine club, Dr. Weedon supervises numerous weekend spay/neuter activities. The club arranges educational and volunteer opportunities throughout the year.

“The shelter medicine program sterilized more than 4,000 animals in the 2014-15 school year,” says Dr. Weedon with pride. “While not all the students who participate will enter the shelter medicine field, the skills they gain through this program will be applicable in a private practice setting, and many may decide to give back to their community by volunteering at their local shelter.”

—Dean Peter Constable