The News Stories that Defined the School of Veterinary Medicine in 2020

top vet stories of 2020

From being on the front lines of animal care during the COVID pandemic to discussions on diversity and equality within the veterinary field, St. George’s University School of Veterinary Medicine students, faculty, and alumni made their mark in 2020.

In early June, 180 SVM graduates joined the network of more than 1,900 Doctors of Veterinary Medicine making an impact through veterinary medicine around the world. Many of these graduates took the next step in their careers as aspiring veterinarians by matching into highly competitive postgraduate positions.

When it comes to the ongoing COVID pandemic, it’s not just human healthcare that has been dramatically impacted—animal medicine had its own challenges and some surprising opportunities for veterinarians, including in zoos and aquariums. In Grenada, School of Veterinary Medicine also sprung into action as the country’s national testing site at the onset of the pandemic.

It was also a year in which diversity and equality was brought to the limelight. The University had frank discussions with its entire community about the importance of listening, learning, and supporting, not only in the current climate but going forward.

These are the stories that underscore the School of Veterinary Medicine’s strengths and define us as a University as we aim to enhance student success and grow the number of animal health professionals around the world. Read on to see the top SVM news stories of 2020 on SGU.edu.

SVM Commencement 2020

The School of Veterinary Medicine celebrated its 17th annual commencement on June 6, with 180 students from nine countries and 39 US states graduating from the school. For the first time in history, the ceremony was held virtually, due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Many SVM alums began highly competitive postgraduate positions in a variety of clinical specialty areas such as orthopedics, cardiology, ophthalmology, anesthesiology, immunology, diagnostic imaging, and pathology, matching into positions at reputable veterinary hospitals throughout the US and Canada.

 

Dr. Heather Douglas, DVM ’06

How COVID Impacted Veterinarians

It’s not just human healthcare that has been dramatically impacted as a result of the COVID pandemic—animal medicine had its own challenges and some surprising opportunities for veterinarians.

Heather Douglas, DVM ’06, for example, discussed how the disease is changing the way that small animal veterinarians treat patients and interact with pet owners.

“Initially, businesses like my own were slow when lockdowns were in place,” said Heather Douglas, DVM ’06, owner of Douglas Animal Hospital in Osseo, MN. “Then in mid- to late-April the floodgates opened. This influx was due to clients waiting to bring their pets in during lockdown, clients paying more attention to their pets while at home for extended periods so that illnesses were being detected much sooner, and people adopting new pets to decrease loneliness and feelings of isolation at home. … I’ve had to become more efficient and spend more time communicating with owners.”

 

SGU's Large Animal Resource Facility

A Look Inside SVM’s Large Animal Resource Facility

SGU’s Large Animal Resource Facility (LARF) is a one-acre farm that is home to the equine and bovine teaching herds that students of the School of Veterinary Medicine use to gain crucial large animal clinical skills prior to their fourth year.

Dr. Inga Karasek, director of the Large Animal Resource Facility, was one of a handful of SGU staff who remained on the island to care for the animals during the early days of the global pandemic. In this video, she shared why the farm’s ecosystem—even while students are learning remotely—is important to studying veterinary medicine at SGU.

 

The Laboratory Personnel Behind SGU’s COVID Testing Site

Even before the coronavirus disease reached the shores of Grenada, the School of Veterinary Medicine, together with the Government of Grenada and the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), were prepared for it. With the proper equipment and a team led by two staff members—both SGU graduates—in the SVM’s molecular virology lab, served as Grenada’s national testing site at the onset of the pandemic.

The effort facilitated testing for more than 2,000 SGU students, faculty, and staff, over 1,200 members of the Grenadian community, as well as individuals arriving in Grenada via plane or cruise ship.

 

VOICE SGU chapter

VOICE Seeks to Champion Veterinarian Diversity at The Student Level

It’s no secret that Black and Hispanic Americans are underrepresented in the veterinary profession. Veterinarians as One Inclusive Community for Empowerment, or VOICE, a national organization with student chapters across US and Caribbean veterinary schools, seeks to increase “awareness, respect, and sensitivity to differences among all individuals and communities in the field of veterinary medicine.”

VOICE SGU chapter and its current president, Antonia Nickleberry, MBA, a Term 2 student in the School of Veterinary Medicine, discussed with SGU News why diversity in the field matters and how SVM students can get involved.

“The world around is us diversifying rapidly,” Ms. Nickleberry said. “Veterinary medicine seems to have a delayed response to this diversification and therefore, those within the profession are not as aware as they should be. This can lead to major sensitivity issues between classmates and colleagues that can be avoided by educating and empowering those in this profession, starting with the students.”

VOICE: Championing Diversity in the Veterinary Profession at the Student Level

VOICE SGU chapter

It’s no secret that Black and Hispanic Americans are underrepresented in the veterinary profession. According to data from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, of the 104,000 veterinarians in the US in 2019, 89.8 percent were white, 6.1 percent were Asian, while just 1.6 percent were Hispanic or Latino, and virtually none were Black or African American.

Veterinarians as One Inclusive Community for Empowerment, or VOICE, seeks to increase “awareness, respect, and sensitivity to differences among all individuals and communities in the field of veterinary medicine.” The national organization has nearly two dozen student chapters across US and Caribbean veterinary schools.

Veterinary students at St. George’s University created the VOICE SGU chapter in 2018 and currently has more than 280 members, according to its Facebook group.

SGU News reached out the VOICE SGU’s current president, Antonia Nickleberry, MBA, a Term 2 student in the School of Veterinary Medicine, to hear more about why diversity in the field matters and how SVM students can get involved.VOICE SGU 2020-2021 president, Antonia Nickleberry, MBA, a Term 2 student in the School of Veterinary Medicine

St. George’s University: What is the overall mission of VOICE SGU?

Antonia Nickleberry: The overall mission of VOICE can be best described by the following excerpt on the national website: The organization aims to “celebrate diversity within our profession, to encourage campus environments that embrace diversity and promote the success of all students, and to emphasize the importance of cross-cultural awareness in veterinary medicine in order to meet the needs of our diversifying clientele. Lastly, in order to ensure a more diverse future for veterinary medicine, VOICE chapters provide leadership and mentorship to youth, particularly those from underrepresented backgrounds, who are interested in careers as veterinarians.”

SGU: Why is it important to raise awareness of and encourage diversity in vet medicine?

Antonia Nickleberry: The world around is us diversifying rapidly. Veterinary medicine seems to have a delayed response to this diversification and therefore, those within the profession are not as aware as they should be. This can lead to major sensitivity issues between classmates and colleagues that can be avoided by educating and empowering those in this profession, starting with the students.

SGU: How does the organization champion equality and diversity in veterinary medicine at the student level?

Antonia Nickleberry: The organization brings awareness to our classmates. It is important that we begin, and continue to understand, that diversity is more than just race; it is also age, gender, nationality, disability, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, etc. These differences commonly separate us. However, by acknowledging and being aware of those differences, we can make a large impact not only within veterinary medicine, but across the world.

SGU: What kinds of activities/events are you holding, especially as students are virtual, to bring the group together?

Antonia Nickleberry: The pandemic has made it fairly difficult to host events, but we hosted our first virtual diversity trivia night via Zoom on November 17. It was a huge success! We had about 22 attendees and we were able to have fun and open dialogue about overall diversity as well as diversity specific to veterinary medicine. There were first, second, and third place winners who won $100, $60, $30 electronic visa gift cards, respectively.

Additionally, every month, we feature a “DVM of the Month” on our Facebook page, which highlights veterinarians of all backgrounds to shatter the image of who and what a veterinarian looks like. Being that the field was dominated by white men for many years before shifting to white women, we believe it is important to display those who can identify in different genders, races, nationalities, etc. Diversity is cloaked in this profession and this is our way of removing that cloak.

In addition, when we are on campus, we also visit children at the orphanages in Grenada. While visiting, we spend time with the children and teach them how to handle animals as well as inform them on what veterinarians do and what the field of veterinary medicine consists of. This event allows us to impact these children and hopefully influence the future racial demographic of veterinary medicine.

SGU: How has SGU’s overall student/faculty diversity contributed to the mission of VOICE SGU? And how will it help students in their overall careers as veterinarians?

Antonia Nickleberry: The diverse student and faculty population encourages diverse relationships and fosters an environment that is comfortable for students from all walks of life. This will better prepare students to interact with diverse clientele once they begin practicing.

SGU: Who should join VOICE SGU? How can they join?

Antonia Nickleberry: Anyone who desires a diverse, aware, educated, and empowering experience in veterinary medicine should join VOICE SGU—no matter what race, age, gender, disability, sexual orientation, or socioeconomic status they represent. Being that VOICE is a sub-organization of Student American Veterinary Medical Association, there are no dues and students are able to join by attending our general body meetings, following us on Facebook, and participating in our events.

SGU: What are your personal career aspirations and why did you choose vet medicine as your career?

Antonia Nickleberry: I am originally from Texarkana, TX. I am interested in specializing in radiology, surgery, or emergency medicine, and starting my own private practice. Additionally, I aspire to continue to give back to the veterinary community by providing resources, scholarships, and mentorship to Black pre-veterinary and veterinary students through my newly founded online resource platform, TwoPointOne.

 

– Laurie Chartorynsky

 

SVM Faculty Spotlight: Dr. Lauren Nicki Wise Dishes on Crucial Communication Skills for Veterinarians

Vet telehealth

At the heart of any relationship, including doctor-to-patient, and whether that patient is human or animal, is good communication.

Dr. Lauren Nicki Wise, assistant dean of fourth-year clinical training for the School of Veterinary Medicine and professor in the Department of Large Animal Medicine and Surgery, explained why it is important that vet students receive ample training and preparation of effective client communication skills, including a focus on the growing practice of telehealth within vet medicine.

St. George’s University: How are communication topics taught to vet students?

Dr. Lauren Nicki Wise, assistant dean of fourth-year clinical training for the School of Veterinary Medicine

Dr. Lauren Nicki Wise

Dr. Lauren Nicki Wise: Students are required to take client communication labs as part of SVM’s Professional Development Curriculum, which is a set of six courses that occur in Terms 1-6. The curriculum focuses on the “non-technical competencies” that successful veterinarian’s practice on a daily basis. These competencies include, but are not limited to:

  • leadership
  • communication
  • ethics
  • wellness
  • business/financial literacy
  • evidence-based practice

Part of the communication curriculum includes laboratory sessions where students practice client communication with simulated clients (SCs), or actors who have been trained extensively to fill this role in the curriculum. Through these simulations, students gain invaluable experience before being placed into a real exam room with a real client. These labs are mandatory and occur in Terms 5 and 6.

SGU: How did the curriculum translate to virtual learning once the pandemic hit?

Dr. Wise: Before COVID, these labs occurred in person but when the pandemic forced campus closure, we adapted the labs to an online format over Zoom. Working with our collaborators in the Washington State University CVM Clinical Communication Program, for the Fall 2020 term we have altered these labs to focus on telehealth and the role that this plays in the lives of veterinarians all over the world due to the pandemic. Aside from the SCs, the labs are team taught by SVM faculty who are passionate about this topic and have been trained to coach the students through these experiences.

SGU: Do the labs include both small and large animal cases?

Dr. Wise: For the Fall 2020 term we only focused on small animal cases, but for the Spring 2021 term we will be adding large animal as well. But the beauty of communication skills is that it really has nothing to do with the species or the details of the case. You can connect with your client in the same way, using the same skills, whether you are examining a kitten or a chicken.

SGU: What are the key takeaways that students should know after taking the course?

Dr. Wise: First, it is important that students realize these skills are learned just like learning to spay a dog. You are not born being a good communicator. It takes work and practice—yet mastering these skills is extremely important to be a successful veterinarian.

Secondly, everyone’s communication style is different. It takes lots of practice to find what works for you and your clients. And these labs give them the tools and experience to continue their growth in clinical year and once in practice.

SGU: Why is telemedicine is an increasingly important practice in vet medicine?

Dr. Wise: The pandemic has created a situation where many veterinarians are reducing their contact with the public to protect themselves and their staff. As such, many client interactions are being done over the phone or on Zoom. We felt it was very important to use these labs as a platform for students to be exposed to this type of communication since many of them will likely need to feel comfortable with it in the future.

SGU: Why will it be important for students to know these skills as they enter their careers?

Dr. Wise: Being able to effectively communicate with your clients is one of the main skills that most veterinarians will use on a daily basis. Research shows us that effective communication reduces client complaints, increases client compliance (which results in healthier pets), and enhances veterinary job satisfaction (and thus wellness).

– Laurie Chartorynsky

The Surprising Impact of COVID on Small Animal Veterinarians

Dr. Heather Douglas, DVM ’06

It’s not just human healthcare that has been dramatically impacted as a result of the COVID pandemic—animal medicine had its own challenges and some surprising opportunities for small animal veterinarians.

Dr. Heather Douglas, DVM ’06, owns and operates Douglas Animal Hospital in Osseo, MN. Douglas Animal Hospital treats a wide variety of animals from cats and dogs to geckos, snakes, potbellied pigs, and hamsters. She is also heavily involved in community services—both in the states as well as Grenada. Dr. Douglas founded the non-profit veterinary service, GrenVet, which provides free care to animals in Grenada.

Last month, Dr. Douglas presented a continuing education webinar to SVM alumni titled, “The Surprising Impact of the Pandemic on Veterinary Care.” She recently spoke with SGU News to explain how COVID is changing the way that veterinarians treat patients and interact with pet owners.

St. George’s University: What are the top concerns of pet owners about their pets in this environment?

Dr. Douglas: There has been an increase in cases of pets with behavioral changes which is most likely a result of the increased amount of time the owner is spending at home. This can escalate when owners return to work and patients have decreased contact time with them.

SGU: How have you had to adapt your clinical skills during the pandemic to care for your patients?

Dr. Douglas: I’ve had to become more efficient and spend more time communicating with owners. With new owners, it is harder to establish trust, so we gained their trust during what were essentially “curbside services,” by talking to clients on the phone when they can physically see you or performing physical exams in exam rooms with windows so clients can observe and support their pet.

SGU: Has the pandemic presented opportunity to small animal veterinarians? In what way?

Dr. Douglas: Yes, in the most surprising way. Initially, businesses like my own were slow when lockdowns were in place. We, along with other veterinary practices across the US affected by the downturn, received funding via the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) and Economic Injury Disaster Loans (EIDL) to help keep us going. Then in mid- to late-April the floodgates opened. Some veterinary practices became so busy they were put in a tough position of choosing not to accept new clients or referrals. This influx was due to clients waiting to bring their pets in during lockdown, clients paying more attention to their pets while at home for extended periods so that illnesses were being detected much sooner, and people adopting new pets to decrease loneliness and feelings of isolation at home.

“I’ve had to become more efficient and spend more time communicating with owners.”

 

SGU: What are some additional ways the pandemic has affected veterinarians?

Dr. Douglas: Veterinarians are working longer hours to be there for our patients. But we’ve learned to value our emotional well-being and spend more time caring for our mental and physical health. Many veterinarians are hiring more staff to handle the increased number of patients, which is an unusual response considering the national unemployment rate.

SGU: How have technology and mobile care played an increased role in vet care, especially as a result of the pandemic?

Dr. Douglas: Telemedicine has been a valuable piece of technology to allow us to see our patients without a physical point of contact. This is especially important for those clients who are at higher risk of COVID-19 and complications.

SGU: What lessons can vet students take away from the global epidemic and how it affects them as future veterinarians?

Dr. Douglas: Vet students should learn to be adaptable. Going forward, there will be more opportunities in the veterinary field with increased hiring rates as well as opportunities in public health. Students will also have the upper hand compared to older veterinarians when it comes to technology and innovation.

– Laurie Chartorynsky

SGU and Grenada: A Strong Partnership to Address the COVID-19 Pandemic

For more than 40 years, St. George’s University in collaboration with the Government of Grenada have worked hand in hand to confront challenges both big and small. Their partnership may have never been more stalwart, their mission more resolute, than in 2020, when the country and the world have grappled, and continue to grapple with, the ramifications of a widespread and persistent coronavirus pandemic due to SARS-CoV-2. 

Close collaboration on the development of lifesaving testing capabilities and the donation of critical medical equipment has been a crucial outcome of the partnership between SGU and Government of Grenada. The University and the Grenadian government have upheld their commitment to the nation—to ensure that its residents remain, above all else, safe and healthy. 

“We applaud and thank those with the Government of Grenada for their vision, diligence, and resolve in these unprecedented times in healthcare,” said Dr. Charles Modica, Chancellor of St. George’s University. “When faced with the myriad of challenges that the COVID-19 pandemic presented, we worked collaboratively and in the best interest of the entire Grenadian community, including the alumni, faculty, and staff at St. George’s University.”  

This public private partnership is an exemplar of cooperation,” said the Hon. Nickolas Steele, Grenada’s Minister of Health and Social Security, and member of the Executive Council of the World Health Organization. “Remarkable results have been achieved through this partnership, and we will continue to work together in this fight. 

St. George’s University was the national testing site for Grenada during the spring, testing Grenadian citizens as well as University faculty, staff, and students.

Partnership Aces the Test 

This spring, COVID-19 outbreaks around the world forced government and university officials to act decisively. The Government of Grenada, the Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA), the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), and the Windward Islands Research and Education Foundation (WINDREF), a research and education foundation based at SGU, worked to establish one of the first diagnostic testing facilities in the Caribbean and was established on the lower campus. 

Under the leadership of Dr. Calum Macpherson, Dean of the School of Graduate Studies and SGU’s Director of Research, qPCR testing operations at St. George’s University have so far resulted in more than 3,000 individuals (with and without symptoms) receiving safe and prompt COVID-19 diagnostic tests, with results received within eight hours.  

Crucial to its success was the Minister of Health’s procurement of the necessary primers, probes, and reagents through PAHO, as well as an ample supply of personal protective equipment (PPE) from the onset of testing. Results were shared each night by Dr. Trevor Noel, SGU’s Director of Field Research, with the Ministry of Health, as well as PAHO and University officials. These outcomes helped guide government COVID-19 policies, including at airports and ports of entry, during the peak weeks and months of the pandemic. 

“Because there was a global shortage of reagents, we couldn’t have had the testing capacity if not for the extraordinary efforts of the Minister of Health,” said Dr. Macpherson. “We have one home—Grenada—and our common agenda was to diagnose the virus, implement a test, trace, and isolate policy from early on in the epidemic, which has served us well.”  

This testing was administered by the University’s School of Veterinary Medicine, which had the necessary equipment in place due to its ongoing influenza research efforts, as well as qualified personnel to administer the tests. The campus-based site served as the national testing service into the summer months, and still operates as one of approximately 250 quality control labs around the world overseen by the WHO. Results from SGU’s lab have been in 100 percent concordance with the expected test results from WHO. 

“SGU was one of the first vet schools to do COVID-19 testing. In April, we began testing the community in Grenada and helped the Government of Grenada test repatriating Grenadians who returned home by ship and by air,” said Dr. Neil Olson, dean of SGU’s School of Veterinary Medicine. “We were so happy to have had the equipment and the expertise—including lab and technician expertise—to take this on.” 

According to the WHO, Grenada has reported 27 COVID-19 cases and zero COVID-19 related deaths to date. SGU’s testing site has since been a beacon of excellence for the entire region. SGU’s diagnostic team helped design and set up the Ministry of Health’s testing site at Grenada General Hospital, including training of lab staff and troubleshooting with initial qPCR lab testing. 

 

Since breaking ground more than 40 years ago, all the way to present day, we truly believe that we couldn’t have chosen a better partner for this university.”

 

Equipped for the Challenge 

Grenada General Hospital is responsible for the great majority of emergency healthcare services throughout the islandUpon the arrival of COVID-19 in the global conversation, it braced for a surge of patients like other facilities around the world. 

Its primary need: ventilators. The hospital had just two ventilators, designed to mechanically assist patients with breathing, for the entire population of more than 100,000 people. Responding to that need, St. George’s University tapped into its international consortium of resources to facilitate the acquisition and delivery of 18 additional ventilators.  

“The substantial support from SGU served to bolster our efforts to tackle COVID-19,” said Dr. Carol McIntosh, Director of Hospital Services. “Their acquisition and donation of critical medical resources such as ventilators and PPE for health workers helped to ensure that we were better prepared to deal with any potential outbreak of the disease here in Grenada.”  

SGU also secured tens of thousands of pieces of personal protection equipment, ranging from gloves and gowns to goggles and facemasks, for medical personnel as well as members of the community. In addition, SGU was able to bring in 18 combination defibrillator monitors, two handheld ultrasound machines, two portable X-ray machines, as well as blood gas analyzers and supplies.  

The equipment has been crucial to providing critical care to patients throughout the pandemic. The fight with COVID-19 is still ongoing, both in Grenada and around the world, and St. George’s University and the Government of Grenada are committed to continuing to collaborate and innovate, with the health and safety of its citizens in mind. 

“Since breaking ground more than 40 years ago, all the way to present day, we truly believe that we couldn’t have chosen a better partner for this university,” said Dr. Modica. “Our mission has always been to improve healthcare on a national, regional, and global levels, and we are thrilled to have had the support of the government—and the people—of Grenada throughout this journey.” 

– Brett Mauser

The Laboratory Personnel Behind SGU’s COVID Testing Site

Even before the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) reached the shores of Grenada, St. George’s University’s School of Veterinary Medicine, together with the Government of Grenada and the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), were prepared for it. With the proper equipment and a team led by two staff members—both SGU graduates—in the SVM’s molecular virology lab, the virus has had minimal impact on the island, with just 27 cases and zero deaths reported.

“We are grateful for all the individuals, volunteers, and organizations whose commitment to a common cause has helped minimize the effects of the virus in Grenada,” said Dr. Calum Macpherson, dean of the School Graduate Studies and SGU’s director of research. “It has been a complex operation, from the team of nurses and physicians that completed the nasopharyngeal swabs led by Dr. Kathy Yearwood, director of the University Health Services, to the School of Veterinary Medicine team led by Dean Neil Olson. They have done a tremendous job, navigating the university and the country through a very difficult time with a testing operation that was accessible, accurate, and efficient.”

SGU’s lab served as Grenada’s national testing site at the onset of the pandemic. The effort has been facilitated by a number of staff members. In particular, SGU graduates Trevor Noel, MPH ’03, PhD ’17, Bhumika Sharma, PhD ’20, Vanessa Matthew-Belmar, MSc ’16, have tested more than 2,000 St. George’s University students, faculty, and staff, over 1,200 members of the Grenadian community, as well as individuals arriving in Grenada via plane or cruise ship.

“In the beginning, we knew we had an equipped laboratory and the personnel with specific molecular biology training who could step in during this emergency to take on COVID testing,” said Dr. Melinda Wilkerson, chair of pathobiology in the SVM.

In addition to Dr. Sharma and Ms. Matthew, Dr. Wilkerson praised the efforts of Associate Dean of Research Dr. Sonia Cheetham-Brow, molecular virologist Dr. Mercedes Abeya, and faculty members Dr. Andy Alhassan and Mr. Dan Fitzpatrick, as well as the leadership provided by Drs. Macpherson, Olson, and Noel, the field research director for SGU and deputy director of the campus-based Windward Islands Research and Education Foundation (WINDREF) who was instrumental in coordinating with the Ministry of Health, Government Cabinet Ministers and the SGU testing team regarding sample collection, on-time delivery of samples to the lab, and the reporting of results and discussion with the Ministry of Health, Grenada Government Cabinet of Ministers and PAHO.

“We couldn’t be prouder of the professional work that our entire team has done in the face of a daunting challenge,” Dr. Olson said. “There has been plenty of uncertainty around the coronavirus, and the thorough diagnostic testing has provided not only answers but peace of mind for so many people in Grenada.”

In the early stages of the pandemic, Dr. Sharma and Ms. Matthew-Belmar extracted and processed 30-70 samples each day working up to eight hours, seven days a week, for three months. COVID testing required the use of similar techniques and materials, such as primers and probes, used for RNA extraction in a standard PCR test. Results were received within eight hours.

“To find out if COVID is present, we would exponentially amplify, using PCR, any virus gene sequences in the sample,” said Dr. Sharma, an instructor in the SVM’s Department of Pathobiology. “If the virus is there, the primers and probes would adhere to it and produce multiple copies of the RNA.”

Their work continued into the summer months and now into the fall, not only as an on-campus but in helping the Grenada Ministry of Health develop its own testing facility, training the new facility’s lab staff and troubleshooting initial qPCR testing. The campus-based site still operates as one of approximately 250 quality control labs around the world overseen by the World Health Organization (WHO). Results from SGU’s lab have been in 100 percent concordance with the expected test results from WHO.

“It gives me a sense of pride to give back to the country what I have learned,” said Ms. Matthew-Belmar, the head laboratory technician in the SVM. “I’m grateful for SGU, where I have learned many different testing techniques.”

“When there’s a pandemic, everyone has to come together, regardless of whether you’re working under medicine or are in the veterinary field,” Dr. Sharma added. “I feel so proud to be able to do something helpful for this community. It has been a great experience.”

– Brett Mauser

School of Veterinary Medicine Spotlight: A Look Inside the Large Animal Resource Facility

St. George’s University’s Large Animal Resource Facility (LARF) is a one-acre farm located just outside of its True Blue campus in Grenada. The facility is home to the equine and bovine teaching herds that students of the School of Veterinary Medicine use to gain crucial large animal clinical skills prior to their fourth year.

Dr. Inga Karasek, director of the Large Animal Resource Facility and an assistant professor in the School of Veterinary Medicine, is one of a dozen SGU faculty and staff members, including technicians, clerks, and veterinarians, who care for the animals living on the LARF. She was also one of a handful of SGU staff who remained on the island to care for the animals during the early days of the global pandemic. Dr. Karasek shared why the farm’s ecosystem—even while students are learning remotely—is important to studying veterinary medicine at SGU.

St. George’s University: Why is the facility important for students who are learning veterinary medicine?

Inga Karasek: The majority of today’s students come from cities or heavily populated areas. Gone are the days where most veterinary students came from rural counties. This means that the average veterinary student has had no or minimal exposure to large animals. Veterinary students are expected to become proficient in dealing with all species by the time they are finished with their curriculum. It is important for them to acquire the skills and the confidence of handling large animals prior to their clinical year.

SGU: What type of hands-on experience do students receive through the LARF?

IK: Students learn to complete physical examinations on the cows, horses, and donkeys with more specialized examinations in upper terms, e.g. lameness examinations and neurologic examinations in horses. In their last year, they are also able to perform reproductive examinations on the bovine herd.

SGU: How has the LARF incorporated distance learning while students are away from campus?

IK: We recently did a live zoom session for SGU’s large animal society where we looked at a couple of lame horses on the yard. Our large animal professors are also incorporating live physical examination sessions for their courses as well. In addition, there are a handful of term 6 students on island and they came to the LARF to cover their clinical skills externship requirements for the term. We also allow a small number of students to come and help at the weekends if they so wish. All, of course, following COVID protocols.

SGU: How do you protect the animals?

IK: Animals are vaccinated against endemic diseases and have 24/7 veterinary care. Every time an animal is used in a lab with students, it is noted in their “Animal Use” files to ensure that animals are not being overused. This is also a mandate of the Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee (IACUC), which every institution that uses live animals for teaching or research purposes must have in place. (The IACUC reviews the practices on the LARF and other areas at SGU where live animals are to ensure that animals are always treated fairly.)

SGU: During the height of the COVID pandemic, who took care of the animals? What precautions were put in place and continue to be practiced for safe veterinary care?

IK: The farm staff, myself, and Drs. Janicke and Nigito took care of the animals. During the early days of the pandemic, we implemented an initiative where only two staff members and one veterinarian were allowed to be on the farm at a time. This allowed us to practice social distancing, even if it did make some jobs more challenging accomplish. Today, masks must be worn if persons are working in close proximity with each other, while handwashing/sanitizing is to be done prior to entering the LARF and on leaving. There is a boot wash to walk through on entering and leaving. As mandated by SGU, all staff and faculty are PCR tested as well.

SGU: What is one thing you would like the SGU community to know about the LARF?

IK: Students really enjoy spending time on the LARF, and many have made the point that they were surprised by how much they enjoyed working with the horses and cows. These experiences really open their eyes to the possibility of working in mixed animal or large animal practices upon graduation. This is a great thing—as North America is lacking large animal veterinarians, especially in very rural areas, and this will affect the care of the production of animals in those regions (cattle, pigs, chickens, etc.).

The veterinarians that work here are also those involved in the One Health, One Medicine clinics and go out to local farms with students to take care of the community’s large animals.

SGU: Anything else about the SGU community should know about the LARF?

IK: I believe one of the strengths of the program at SGU is that because of the relatively basic setup of our facility, students get multiple opportunities to practice real-life general practitioner’s difficulties that need creative solutions. This makes our students (and faculty) become more flexible and resourceful people, and able to find solutions with minimal resources.

We are proud of the work that the LARF does and its contributions to making SGU students’ excellent veterinarians.

 

— Laurie Chartorynsky

School of Veterinary Medicine Hosts Virtual Wellness Event for Students

More than 50 veterinary students attended a virtual wellness event on Saturday, October 17, hosted by St. George’s University’s School of Veterinary Medicine and the SVM Affairs group.

The Zoom presentation featured Dr. Melanie Goble, vice president and a founding board member of Not One More Vet, a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping veterinarians in need of mental health support. Dr. Goble’s presentation was titled “Finding Motivation, Setting Boundaries, and Life During COVID.”

Following Dr. Goble’s speech, there was a question-and-answer panel consisting of Dr. Goble; Dr. Barbara Landon, director of SGU’s Psychological Services Center; Dr. Adria Rodriguez, SVM’s wellbeing, diversity, and inclusion officer and the faculty advisor the SVM Wellness Committee; as well as Drs. India Paharsingh, Arend Werners, and Anne Marie Corrigan. The Q&A consisted of questions submitted by the students of the SVM community.

“We are thrilled with the turnout for our virtual mental health event,” said Jennifer Kirk, DVM ’22 (expected), SGA’s president of SVM Affairs. “Mental health is a very serious issue in the field of veterinary medicine, particularly during this unprecedented time due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Our goal was to provide students with resources and an opportunity to ask questions and provide a sense of community and support that we are all in this together.”

Dr. Corrigan, SVM’s associate dean of academic programs and professor of small animal medicine and Surgery, echoed Ms. Kirk’s sentiment: “Dr. Goble provided a very engaging discussion about the necessity of self-care. We plan to host more of these events for our students.”

Emotional and Psychological Support  

To acknowledge World Mental Health Day, SGU reminded students of the free mental health support resources provided by the school.

If you or one of your colleagues needs help, there are several options:

  • Email PSCscheduling@sgu.edu to set up an appointment with a psychologist. Crisis appointments are available 24/7 by phoning the Psychological Services Center at (473) 439-2277 during business hours, or after 5pm and on weekends through the University Health Clinic at (473) 444-4671.
  • To receive 24/7 counseling services, register with Brooklyn Counseling Service at SGU-BCS Counseling or call (877) 328-0993.
  • Visit our self-help resources page or our Instagram page for tips about managing stress and isolation related to COVID-19.
  • Visit the Well on the SGU portal for a collection of health and wellness activities and resources from SGU designed to help your mind, body, and soul.
  • Use the self-help therapy app WellTrack for self-help. WellTrack will track your mood, and contains quick recorded lessons for managing depression, anxiety, and stress.

Additional Mental Health Resources

Dr. Landon hosts a weekly Mindfulness Workshop on Thursdays at 12pm AST. All are invited to join (https://sgu.zoom.us/j/97007160217; Meeting ID: 970 0716 0217).

Students are encouraged to take advantage of these services and to review the resources available from the Psychological Services Center.

 

— Laurie Chartorynsky

SVM Research Findings: First-Year Clinical Exposure Benefits Students

 

Four St. George’s University School of Veterinary Medicine graduates, two current students, and SVM Professor Dr. Anne Marie Corrigan were among the 10 authors of a paper recently published in the Journal of Veterinary Medical Education.

The research paper, “Introducing Clinical Behavior Medicine to Veterinary Students with Real Clients and Pets: A Required Class Activity and an Optional Workshop,” focuses on how behavior problems in clinical practice requires diagnostic expertise as well as excellent client skills in communication, gained by experience. The research addressed the issue by introducing small animal clinical behavior to first-year veterinary students at St. George’s University.

 

What Is It Like to Be a Vet Radiologist? Faculty Spotlight on SVM Professor, Dr. Thomas Hanson

Ever wonder what it is like to be a veterinary radiologist?

Thomas Hanson, DVM ’11, a former radiologist at the Wisconsin Veterinary Referral Center in Waukesha, WI, has returned to St. George’s University to teach diagnostic imaging to School of Veterinary Medicine students in Terms 1, 2, 5, and 6.

Thomas Hanson, DVM '11, SVM professor of Diagnostic Imaging

He shared some recent developments in the field of vet radiology and why the occupation can be a gratifying specialty for aspiring veterinarians.

St. George’s University: What types of cases do veterinary radiologists typically see? 

Thomas Hanson: Although veterinary radiologists primarily interpret images of small animal and equine patients, we do occasionally get involved in food animal and zoo animal patient imaging.

SGU: What are some recent developments in the field that is on your radar?

TH: The continued expanded use of CT (computed tomography) as well as developments in MRI and PET/CT (positron emission/computed tomography). Similar to human medicine, these imaging techniques help us to diagnose cancer at an earlier stage.

SGU: You recently presented a case discussion to SGU’s Radiology and Diagnostic Imaging Club. Can you share information about the case you presented to the group? How often do you present cases to student clubs?

TH: I held case rounds for the DI Club students for the first time in September. At the students’ request, we covered approximately seven musculoskeletal cases of dogs and cats. My goal for case rounds is to have students experience clinical radiology—versus academic radiology that is taught in lectures. Case rounds give students an opportunity to apply what they have learned in lectures to a true clinical case and based on their imaging findings discuss what the next step(s) should be in the treatment of the patient. It was very well received by the students and a second session has already been scheduled.

SGU: Why did you choose this specialty?

TH: I had a previous career in diagnostic imaging in human medicine (as a technologist, radiology department manager) and several years working at GE Healthcare as a customer training specialist and on product development teams.

Like a lot of people in this field, I had the desire to become a veterinarian at an early age and reached a point where I decided to pursue that career. I enjoy the ability to image an animal, often with very hi-tech equipment, and provide diagnostic information to the clinician. Radiographs and advanced imaging are a big piece of the puzzle to help determine the cause of a patient’s illness.

SGU: Why is vet radiology a gratifying specialty?

TH: We oversee the acquisition of many types of imaging procedures on animals and we interpret the information of the images for the clinicians in charge of the case. It is a highly technical process to acquire the images, but the interpretation remains human dependent. Clinicians rely on us to provide accurate assessments of the images so that they can properly treat the animal in need.

SGU: What is one thing students may not know about the field of veterinary radiology?

TH: Students should know that the specialty is very competitive, yet there is a lot of flexibility and opportunity to use these skills in different work environments.

 

– Laurie Chartorynsky