The Wildlife Medical Clinic has over 100 student volunteers that are responsible for all aspects of patient care and treatments. Many of these students have off-campus externships and research projects over the summer, thus much of the Clinic operations are manned by our two student managers, two veterinary students interns, and final year veterinary students rotating through for clinical experience. One of the interns this summer was Stephanie Heniff, a current second year veterinary student. We asked her about her professional aspirations, her internship, and one of her favorite cases.
Having started volunteering with the Wildlife Medical Clinic when she was an undergraduate student at the University of Illinois, Stephanie has been a Clinic volunteer for more than two years. In fact, the Wildlife Medical Clinic served as Stephanie’s first hands-on experience in veterinary medicine. Stephanie’s interest in zoological species as a whole began by caring for her pet ball python, Agave. As an intern at the Clinic, Stephanie spent her summer triaging new patients as they were brought in to the clinic by community members. During this time, Stephanie also shared her passion for wildlife medicine with fourth year veterinary students and undergraduate volunteers who gained experience working with wildlife this summer. One of the primary responsibilities for our interns is to teach these students about wildlife medicine and assist them with managing cases.
One of Stephanie’s favorite patients to care for was a fox snake that had become stuck to a glue trap. These traps are placed on the ground to catch “pests” such as mice or bugs. These traps can also capture predators, who are attracted to the pest but get stuck trying to reach them. Other times, unintended species may simply wander onto the trap inadvertently, getting stuck to the trap in the process. Regardless of the method of entrapment, animals often get more and more trapped as they struggle to escape. While it was impossible to predict how long the snake had been stuck, Stephanie suspected it had been some time as the snake was dehydrated and stressed. Stephanie and the Clinic team sedated the snake to reduce his stress and prevent him from further injuring himself while they worked on freeing him from the glue trap. They were able to meticulously remove the trap without damaging any of his scales. However, he didn’t come out totally unscathed; the areas where the trap had adhered were inflamed. Stephanie developed a treatment plan to treat his dehydration and skin lesions and was able to successfully release him a few days later!
Stephanie is excited to continue working in the Clinic as a team leader this school year, when she will mentor her team of twenty veterinary and undergraduate student volunteers. A large part of this commitment is managing the medical cases of patients assigned to her team. This includes planning diagnostic tests, interpreting those results, devising treatment plans, and assessing the patients’ recovery and health status at every step along the way. This experience will prepare Stephanie for her future career as a veterinarian working with peers in with a focus on zoologic species.
The Wildlife Medical Clinic appreciates and depends on the dedication and hard work of students, like Stephanie, who ensure patient care is our main priority year-round. Without help from the veterinary and undergrad students at the University of Illinois, the Wildlife Medical Clinic would not be able to fulfill its mission to serve the wildlife of Illinois. If you’d like to learn more about our Clinic and how you can help us care for these animals, please visit our website: https://vetmed.illinois.edu/wildlife/
By Monika Liszka, College of Veterinary Medicine Class of 2022