One of the unique experiences while attending veterinary school at the University of Illinois is the opportunity to engage with the Wildlife Medical Clinic (WMC). All of the patients presented to the WMC are cared for by approximately 110 dedicated volunteer veterinary students that are grouped into teams to help treat our patients. In addition to our veterinary students, each team has one to two undergraduate volunteers. Just like the veterinary students, these undergraduates take time out of their busy schedules to assist in caring for our multitude of patients. They are integral team members that contribute so much to our clinic.
The WMC undergraduate volunteers take on many roles throughout their tenure. One of the most noteworthy and hands-on opportunities these volunteers engage in is over the summer months. From May until August, while a majority of our veterinary student volunteers are away, a group of hardworking undergraduate volunteers stay on campus to help care for the heavy patient load that we experience during these months. The majority of patients we receive during this time are orphaned wildlife, whom require a devoted team of volunteers to ensure their health and optimize their nutrition. This is where our undergraduate volunteers come in! Students participating in our Summer Undergraduate Volunteer Program ensure that these orphaned wildlife patients are medicated, fed, and comfortable until they are ready for release.
With the oversight of our Wildlife Medical Clinic Managers and doctors, our undergraduate team is able to get great hands-on experience with a variety of species. Many of our undergraduate volunteers aim to attend veterinary school, and this experience is a great way to get unique exposure to a variety of species and conditions, gain practical experience, and inevitably to beef up their future veterinary school applications.
We asked Emily Graham, a previous summer and current academic year volunteer, about her experience in the Summer Undergraduate Volunteer Program.
- What inspired you to originally volunteer for the Summer Undergraduate Volunteer Program?
I wanted a hands-on experience with veterinary medicine. I also love snakes, and so I was interested in working with reptiles. Working with the Wildlife Medical Clinic sounded like a great opportunity for both of those reasons!
- What was your favorite part of volunteering in the Wildlife Medical Clinic over the summer?
I came into the program without any clinical experience, so I really enjoyed learning how to perform different treatments. All of the interns and managers were incredibly helpful and patient with me, and now I feel confident when administering medications and caring for delicate neonates.
- What was your favorite species that you were able to work with during the summer?
This is tough! The white-tail deer fawns that came through the clinic were probably my favorites just because they were so cute and sweet. I also loved the squirrel kits we had as patients. Before working in the WMC, I actually did not like squirrels very much, but I have a bit of a soft spot for them now.
- What advice would you give undergraduate students interested in applying for the summer program?
My advice to give to any undergraduate volunteers over the summer is to take any opportunities they can to see unique procedures be performed. Last summer, I got to watch a surgery be performed on a red-tailed hawk, learn how to take and interpret radiographs, and participate in an orthopedic surgery wet lab. You learn a lot during the day-to-day operations in the WMC, of course, but those extra opportunities are really educational and give you a more in-depth understanding of veterinary medicine!