SGU Vets Rank High in VIRMP Match 

With their degrees in hand, St. George’s University School of Veterinary Medicine graduates are set to take on even more specialized training beginning in the spring. Forty-nine SGU-trained veterinarians will continue their careers in internship and residency positions according to 2021 match data from the Veterinary Internship & Residency Matching Program (VIRMP). 

SGU students and grads achieved a match rate of 72.1 percent, the highest among Caribbean veterinary schools. It also compares favorably to the 53.5 percent match rate for all schools—including US schools—according to the VIRMP, a program sponsored by the American Association of Veterinary Clinicians (AAVC). 

“We couldn’t be happier for those who have decided to further strengthen their knowledge and skills through these postgraduate training opportunities,” said Dr. Neil Olson, dean of the SVM. “These programs are welcoming excellent veterinarians who are committed not only to providing quality care for their patients, but to continuing to learn and grow as professionals.” 

Beginning in June, the newly matched graduates will continue their training in fields such as diagnostic imaging, oncology, emergency medicine, and neurology/neurosurgeryamong others. These positions are situated at such prestigious institutions as Cornell University, the University of Pennsylvania, and several other universities within the SVM’s network of clinical affiliates.  

– Brett Mauser

3 SGU grads changing the face of veterinary medicine

Black, Hispanic/Latino, and Asian Americans have been historically underrepresented in the veterinary profession. In fact, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, these minority populations make up less than 13 percent of the 83,000 veterinarians in the US.

Aspiring vets, especially minorities, want to be able to see themselves in the profession through the faces of those who are already working in it. A lack of diversity in the profession also impacts the animals and pets being cared for. Many people from low-income areas may not have access to or can’t afford pet healthcare.

Acting on the need to make the profession a more inclusive and diverse field, the American Veterinary Medical Association and the Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges announced plans last year to create a new commission addressing diversity, equity, and inclusion in the veterinary profession.

To that end, three recent graduates of St. George’s University’s School of Veterinary Medicine shared their perspectives on the issue of diversity in the field and how they plan to make a difference by paying it forward.

Breaking Barriers as a Latina

Atalie Delgado, DVM ’20, an intern at Med Vet Chicago, fell in love with animals on her family’s ranch in Mexico and with becoming a veterinarian. However, she struggled to find support from Latina women who were pursuing degrees as veterinarians—a notion she aims to help fix. Dr. Delgado recently secured a residency position in small animal emergency and critical care at The Animal Medical Center in New York City that she will begin in July.

SGU: What inspired you to enter veterinary medicine?

Dr. Delgado: My strong desire to pursue a degree in veterinary medicine was built on a foundation of love for animals and a deep understanding of the intricate relationships that humans have with animals. The lack of Latinas in the sciences has motivated me and reaffirmed my desire to establish myself as a leader within the veterinary community and to mentor students of Latino origin who are just starting their veterinary medicine education.

SGU: What do you see as the biggest issue in vet medicine?

Dr. Delgado: The lack of open dialogue and support that minority students often face. The promotion of diversity starts with educating future veterinarians and creating safe spaces where students of color feel supported.

At SGU, I gained the confidence to advocate for minority students and women in veterinary medicine. I started the SGU Women’s Veterinary Leadership Development Initiative (WVLDI) student chapter during my second year of vet school with the help of my classmates, faculty, and staff at SGU. I am eternally grateful to have spent three years with supportive colleagues and faculty who encouraged our endeavors to promote diversity and leadership on the island and in the veterinary community.

SGU: What do you love about your job?

Dr. Delgado: Working at a busy specialty center in an urban area of Chicago allows me to practice my medical Spanish while also providing quality care to pets of clients who come from diverse socioeconomic backgrounds. It’s through these experiences that I continue to grow as a clinician and strengthen the aspirations I have as a veterinarian.

Obtaining board certification in emergency and critical care residency will help me to advance my career in veterinary medicine and support my desire to teach and advocate for diversity in the field.

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

Empowering African Americans to Become Veterinarians

Amber Shamburger, DVM ’19, is a small animal general practitioner in Gardner, MA. Originally from New York City, she became interested in veterinary medicine at a young age, becoming laser-focused on pursuing her dream once she entered high school.

Dr. Shamburger began volunteering at a veterinary hospital during her summer vacations, where she gained a mentor. “My mentor played a remarkable role in getting me to where I am today,” she said. “Not only did she teach me so much, but she also opened so many doors for me with the opportunities she offered.” Through her experiences, she hopes to inspire more African American and Hispanic vet students to follow their dreams.

SGU: What do you see as the biggest issue in vet medicine?

Dr. Shamburger: I never realized how much diversity was lacking in this profession until I started vet school. The lack of diversity was quite painful, in stark contrast to the very diverse education I was exposed to years prior. It is important that we strive for diversity in vet med because it will help our profession grow. It will help us relate to our patients more, offer different treatment protocols among different populations, and offer unique perspectives.

SGU: What does it mean to you to be an African American and Hispanic woman in the field?

Dr. Shamburger: To be an African American woman in this field is empowering. Being Hispanic breaks down even more barriers. Although veterinary medicine is dominated by women, it is true that I represent a statistical anomaly. I hope, however, that I may also represent an example to other African American women that may have never considered this profession, to pursue their passion with ease of knowing that it is attainable.

SGU: What do you love about your job?

Dr. Shamburger: I love that I have the ability to reassure an owner who is concerned about their pet, whether it’s through education or by offering a plan of action. I also love that there is never a dull day in this profession. I can always count on seeing an interesting case and having the opportunity to learn and grow from it.

Raising Awareness of Pet Care Outside the US

Growing up, Dr. Omar Khalaf found himself drawn to animals and their well-being, and that feeling only intensified when he would visit his family in Jordan. The lack of vet care available in the country, and education about the profession in general, motivated him to study veterinary medicine at SGU. Following his January graduation, Dr. Khalaf secured an emergency medicine/small animal rotating internship in Hollywood, FL.

SGU: How were you inspired to enter the field?

Dr. Khalaf: My defining moment was being in Jordan as a kid and seeing many uncared-for stray animals and the lack of education of how to care for them.

SGU: What do you see as the biggest issue in vet medicine?

Dr. Khalaf: The lack of education of the importance of veterinary medicine—and as a result a lack of priority placed on creating veterinarians—in non-American countries to ensure the health of animals there. However, this is beginning to change and as a result we are seeing vets from all different ethnicities and cultures.

I hope to be able to raise awareness of the importance of animal and pet care through education and through social media to people across the world.

SGU: What do you love about your job?

Dr. Khalaf: Being able to help sick and critically ill animals return to good health and live happy lives. The reward and smile of seeing people seeing their animals healthy is priceless.

— Laurie Chartorynsky

2012 DVM Grad and Self-Taught Artist Lands Cover of JAVMA

Traveling relief veterinarian and self-taught artist, Dr. Laura M. Boggs, is a 2012 cum laude graduate of St. George’s University School of Veterinary Medicine. Her painting titled “Cat Kneads a Friend,” was featured on the March cover of the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association (JAVMA). She shared with SGU News her motivations for submitting the painting to JAVMA and why she is grateful for her education at SGU.

St. George’s University: Is this the first painting that you have done for JAVMA?

Dr. Laura Boggs: Yes, this is the first painting for JAVMA, and I am hoping it is not the last.

SGU: What was the motivation for submitting the painting?

Dr. Boggs: I have always admired the artwork displayed on the cover of JAVMA. As soon as I receive my copy, I thumb through directly to the cover insert to see if the artist is also a veterinarian.  The majority of my paintings involve animals, of course, so I took a chance and submitted a few paintings for review. My grandfather would say, “You’ll never catch a fish if your hook is not in the water.” I use this bit of wisdom when I need to muster up bravery to put myself out there. I caught a big one this time.

 

SGU: How does it feel for one of your creations to be on the cover of a prestigious journal such as JAVMA?

Dr. Boggs: I was more than ecstatic when I was informed one of my paintings was accepted. I was also kind of baffled because it is not one of my more technically accurate paintings. It is always fun to see the diversity of preferences out there. This was an acrylic painting I created of my pets. I was practicing a mixed media technique of overlaying tissue paper on the background to create a sense of texture.

SGU: What are your responsibilities as a relief veterinarian and why did you choose this particular field?

Dr. Boggs: I’ve been a relief veterinarian for three years.  Previously, I owned a rural mixed animal clinic. I enjoyed the work but as a single mom I found my work-life balance challenging. Being a relief veterinarian allows me to choose my own schedule and more time to pursue painting as well.

I take my responsibilities as a relief veterinarian very seriously for each animal hospital I enter.  Sometimes I work in emergency medicine, spay/neuter clinics, high end urban clinics, and small low-income community clinics.  I enjoy the diversity of work.  I get to travel to places I never would have visited previously. It challenges me to be creative and adaptive.  Every hospital has their own protocols, pharmacy drug selection, and anesthetics. I do my best to stay current on drugs and procedures.

SGU: What was your experience at SGU?

Dr. Boggs: I am enormously proud to be a St. George’s University graduate. I am an excellent veterinarian, and I owe it to SGU for the opportunity for my education. Animal hospitals who hire my relief services know their patients, clients, and staff are in good hands. I have an adaptive personality, which is required in my position, but it was also a nice trait to have as a student away from home in Grenada. I had some wonderful classmates that I miss along with the island lifestyle.

 

— Laurie Chartorynsky

Coppola Becomes Second-Ever Vet Student To Serve As SGU SGA President

For only the second time in the history of St. George’s University, a veterinary student has been elected president of the Student Government Association. Maria Coppola, a Term 6 student from Pittsburgh, PA, will serve as a leader and voice for students from all schools within the University for the Spring 2021 term.

SGU seems to run in Ms. Coppola’s blood. Her parents met at the University as medical students and graduated in 1984. Her mother, Carmela, now specializes in neonatology at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, while her father, Matthew, practices internal medicine with a focus on geriatrics. The lineage continues with her brother, Matthew, a current SOM student who is expected to graduate in 2023.

Ms. Coppola is no newcomer to the SGA, having joined in her first term and joined the SVM executive board in Term 4. SGU News caught up with her as she began her tenure as the organization’s president.

St. George’s University: How does it feel to be only the second SVM student to be elected as SGA president?  

Maria Coppola: It is a great honor. I hope that SGA’s presidency becomes more diverse over the years and there will be more SAS and SVM presidents to come after me.

SGU: What are some of your top priorities in your new role? 

MC: As SGA president in this online environment, my goals are different than what they would be in person. I want SGA to be more than an outlet to voice school-related concerns, and to be an organization that is there for students. It is important to check in with students and help them with motivation and accountability throughout the term. Our executive board is holding weekly office hours, a daily virtual study hall, and an amazing study buddy locator resource. We hope to host some events throughout the term to promote wellness and boost morale.

SGU: How will you incorporate the concerns and issues of students of all schools? 

MC: Our executive board positions help me to incorporate the concerns and issues of all SGU students. I check in weekly with the presidents of each school’s affairs to make sure all concerns are being addressed. I also check in with our graduate school SGA representatives to help where I am needed.

SGU: What are the qualities you believe a student needs to have in order to be in this type of leadership position?  

MC: Passion, courage, and embracing teamwork. An SGA president must be passionate about student concerns and needs in order to succeed in this role. You must have the courage to speak with administration and professors to advocate for the student body in an effective and professional manner. Also, you need to be able to delegate tasks, and to work and communicate with SGA, your colleagues, and administration to make a positive change at SGU.

SGU: How did your prior SGA experience prepare you for the role?  

MC: I joined SGA my first term in SVM. I immediately joined committees to get involved, and later joined the executive board in my fourth term. My prior experience on the SGA executive board as vice president of SVM affairs enabled me to see what it took to be president. I was able to see the collaboration of all schools, and the areas that could be improved. I work really hard to make sure that all schools feel equally heard and appreciated.

SGU: What prompted you to pursue this position, and what influence do you hope to have? 

MC: I wanted to be a voice for students and to join an organization that encompasses all schools. I hope that I influence other SGA representatives to have a strong voice and to continue to work for positive change on campus.

SGU: What are your career aspirations?

MC: In May, I will start my clinical year at Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine, where I will track Small Animal Medicine. My expected graduation is June 2022. I plan to practice small animal medicine in Georgia or Florida after graduation.

SGU: How will being SGA president help you in your career?  

MC: My role as SGA president has helped me improve the leadership and interpersonal skills needed to be a successful veterinarian. Veterinarians are team leaders at the hospital and should possess these skills to lead a successful and encouraging team. As with many other careers, veterinarians rely on their team to efficiently get things done. I am thankful to be in this current leadership position to continue improving my skills.

– Laurie Chartorynsky

How Research Will Aid Vet Students in their Careers: Faculty Feature on Dr. Sonia Cheetham-Brow

Dr. Sonia Cheetham-Brow, SVM Associate Dean of Research

Dr. Sonia Cheetham-Brow, the School of Veterinary Medicine’s associate dean of research and a professor in the Department of Pathobiology, has dedicated her life to studying animal viruses and conducting veterinary research. Her work has appeared in several prestigious publications, including the British Journal of Cancer and the Journal of Virology.

As associate dean of research, Dr. Cheetham-Brow provides leadership on SVM’s development of research studies while also adding her expertise in research collaborations with the Schools of Medicine and Arts and Sciences, as well as global research efforts. She also helps to create and develop research-related programs and courses, ensures that all SVM research adheres to SGU’s standards and policies, helps new faculty find internal and external research opportunities, and serves on the Small Grant Research Initiative (SGRI) grant and policy committee. She currently teaches virology to Term 3 students as well as a selective in scientific article interpretation and electives in research.

In her discussion with SGU News, she talks about why research is important for veterinary students, how the study of veterinary virology applies to the current pandemic situation, and offers insight into how students can get involved in research studies at SGU.

St. George’s University: Why is understanding the role of research in veterinary medicine an important aspect for students to learn?

Dr. Cheetham-Brow: Veterinary medicine is based in science. Scientific findings occur through research. In order to advance in veterinary medicine, exposure to evidence-based veterinary medicine and research must be a critical part of the students’ curriculum. If students can appreciate the scientific method, they will be ready to differentiate amongst real and fake scientific advancements.

SGU: How does the study of veterinary virology apply to the current pandemic situation?

Cheetham-Brow: At SGU, SVM students are presented with virology based on the “One Health” disciplinary approach. The concept emphasizes not just veterinary viral diseases and current zoonotic viruses but also identifies potential viral families that can jump species, such as SARS Cov2, which was identified as a cause of COVID-19.

What students learn about virus transmission and intervention strategies in the absence of vaccines (which occurs in many instances) can be immediately translated to the current situation. The aim is to have our graduates ready to fight existing viral threats but also prepare them to apply what they know to new viruses that may come in the future.

SGU: What research are you currently involved in?

Cheetham-Brow: My main focus in research are viruses of zoonotic importance in bats and mosquitoes but I also collaborate with other faculty working on viruses in sea turtles, monkeys, and domestic animals.

SGU: How has your travels/background prepared you to teach the next generation of veterinarians?

Cheetham-Brow: My Doctor of Veterinary Medicine training began in Argentina and then I gained further expertise as a visiting scholar at Australia’s Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO).  I also completed my PhD at Ohio State University in the USA and my Postdoc at the University of British Columbia in Canada. Through my research training, I acquired a broad background of skills, techniques, hypothesis-based research design and data analysis. I also gained experience by working in research laboratories in both developed and developing countries, both of which have proven of invaluable to my career development.

SGU: How can students get involved in research studies while at SGU?

Cheetham-Brow: In addition to the information found on the SVM SGU website, I present all the different options to Term 1 students as part of their Evidence-Based Veterinary Medicine course. This includes introducing the faculty coordinating each program such as the IVSP (research summer program) VSRI (veterinary student research investigator) etc. Additionally, interested students can reach out and enquire about possibilities by contacting me via email and telephone number (474) 444 4175 ext. 3805.

SGU: What advice would you give to students currently pursuing veterinary medicine?

Cheetham-Brow: Everything we know and do in veterinary medicine is based on the research from people before us. Moving forward will depend on research by us. Even if students are certain that they want to be clinicians, there are types of research that they can participate in, such as clinical research. Also, case studies are of interest so if they find themselves with a new or unusual case, they should share it in the form of a case report which once published will be available to others around the globe.

 

 

– Tornia Charles

 

 

Impact of Veterinarians Underscored in Spring 2021 Virtual White Coat Ceremony

With the safety of its students, their families, and the Grenadian community as its highest priority, St. George’s University held its first-ever virtual White Coat Ceremony last week—formally welcoming aspiring veterinarians from its August 2020 and January 2021 incoming classes to the veterinary medical profession.

The future veterinarians are on the path to join over 1,900 other graduates of SGU’s School of Veterinary Medicine. The SVM also maintains partnerships with more than 30 universities and clinical facilities in the US, UK, Canada, Ireland, and Australia, where fourth-year students spend a year of clinical training at an affiliated veterinary school.

One alumna—Carolina Medina, DVM ’05, a certified veterinary pain practitioner—served as the day’s master of ceremonies. In her address, she counseled the veterinarians-in-training that becoming a DVM was going to be harder than they expected, but the harder they worked, the greater they would feel when they achieved it.

 

Watch August 2020 Ceremony

YouTube video

“Stay focused, seek help when you need it, and always remember why you started on this journey in the first place,” said Dr. Medina. “Working with animals is rewarding and fulfilling, and as a veterinarian you will have the ability to make an impact on the lives of animals and people, as well as service your community.”

St. George’s University President Dr. G. Richard Olds described last year’s coronavirus COVID-19 outbreak as a prime example of the interconnectivity of human and animal medicine. According to Dr. Olds, the pandemic will take the combined efforts of both human and veterinary medicine to combat, and it has also impacted the symbolism of the white coat.

“Patients and other individuals have often thought well of those in the health professions,” stated Dr. Olds. “However, I believe those in the health profession today have achieved a new status because of the personal risks that those individuals on the frontlines have exposed themselves to while serving those affected by the virus. They have gained a new status—these health professionals have attained ‘hero’ status more so now than ever before.”

Other speakers at the event included the chancellor of St. George’s University, Dr. Charles R. Modica, Provost Glen Jacobs, Dr. Neil C. Olson, dean of the School of Veterinary Medicine, and keynote speaker Dr. John Howe, the immediate past president of the American Veterinary Medical Association, who served in the role of president for 2019-2020. Dr. Howe congratulated the future vets on their success so far, recognizing how hard they’ve worked and knowing the new challenges they will now face.

Watch January 2021 Ceremony

YouTube video

“What will determine your relative success will be your ability to build relationships with your clients,” advised Dr. Howe. “Whatever your career path, it’s all about relationships. And perhaps most of all it’s about listening. As the saying goes… ’nobody cares how much you know, until they know how much you care.’”

Established in 1999, the School of Veterinary Medicine continues to add to its legacy of graduating top-notch veterinarians into the global healthcare system with its Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM) program recently receiving full accreditation from the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons (RCVS). As a result, St. George’s University is now one of the few veterinary schools in the world to be accredited by both the American Veterinary Medical Association Council on Education (AVMA COE) in the United States and Canada, as well as the RCVS in the UK.

– Ray-Donna Peters

3 SVM Grads Doing Mobile Vet Medicine

The COVID-19 pandemic has put mobile veterinary clinics in the spotlight. Veterinarians who are practicing in this fashion are busier than ever as plenty of new pet owners take the plunge in adopting a companion animal to care for while they stay at home. In the pandemic environment, pet owners, especially those who are immuno-compromised, are also reluctant to leave the house to take their pets to more traditional clinics for care. The convenience that offering these services is appealing to many clients.

This niche area of veterinary medicine offers many benefits to the veterinarian as well, including:

  • less stressed animals for more precise examinations;
  • a more accurate picture of the pet’s home environment;
  • flexibility for the vet, including the ability to make your own schedule and control the type of appointments accepted; and
  • more access and more time spent with clients to foster doctor-client relationships.

So, what is it like to work as a mobile veterinarian? SGU News spoke with three St. George’s University School of Veterinary Medicine graduates to learn about their experiences doing this type of medicine. Even with the extra precautions they say they take to protect themselves from COVID—these vets are loving every minute of it.

Micah Woods, DVM ’12
Ooltewah Veterinary Hospital
Chattanooga, TN

Micah Woods, DVM ’12, and his wife, Karla, opened their own veterinary hospital in October 2019. The COVID-19 pandemic sped up their plans to eventually offer ambulatory services to their community. Instead, they now initiate house calls with a fully functional ambulance where clients can stay safely in their homes and their pets are returned to them after their procedures. Ooltewah Veterinary Hospital is one of the only veterinary facilities in the region that also serves a variety of exotic animals ranging from pocket pets and reptiles to birds and zoological animals.

“By being mobile, our facility has unlimited access to the community to serve their needs however it is required,” Dr. Woods said. “This also enables us to reach those who otherwise might not have chosen our group to provide their care.

Through a fully functional ambulance, Dr. Woods and his team are able to offer wellness/vaccination visits, sick animal visits, in-home euthanasia, medical therapies for ill animals and medication dispensing as needed. Additionally, the team has the capability to perform general anesthesia for minor surgical procedures as well as basic bloodwork and laboratory diagnostics. Dr. Woods and his team at Ooltewah Veterinary Hospital were recently named “Best of the Best” veterinarian in Chattanooga.

“As veterinary medicine continues to evolve, the focus for all veterinarians should be on service and how they can differentiate themselves from their competition—how they can best reach current and future clients, meet their needs, and exceed their expectations. As more and more people move to working remotely, mobile veterinary practices will become more and more common,” Dr. Woods said.

Kim Springman, DVM ’10
Hometown Veterinary Clinic
Peoria, IL

A typical trip to the vet can be stressful for both pet owners and their beloved animals. Kim Springman, DVM ’10, owner of Hometown Veterinary Clinic, addresses those concerns with her mobile operation.

With the ability to examine, diagnose, and treat at client’s doorsteps, “mobile veterinary care eliminates the need for car rides with anxious pets, so we get a more accurate examination,” Dr. Springman said. “It also eliminates the clients from having to leave home. Many of our clients are elderly with compromised immune systems. Having veterinary care at their doorstep allows their pets to get the care they need.”

For Dr. Springman, having a mobile practice allows flexibility and get a complete picture of the pet’s home environment, which allows better care for the animals.

“I feel like every day is an adventure. I love seeing the differences in the way people live,” she said.

Dr. Springman’s bet on mobile medicine is paying off. Earlier this year, she added a second mobile vet truck and recently purchased a third truck to be used for mobile grooming. Furthermore, a local newspaper awarded Hometown Veterinary Clinic as her community’s pick for best veterinary clinic for the last three consecutive years.

“We are busier than ever as our clientele has grown to capacity,” she said. Mobile veterinary medicine is “the future of veterinary medicine. With the advent of online ordering, grocery delivery, and restaurant curbside pickup, people want a more personalized, convenient service.”

Tamara Hipp, DVM ’12
Twilight Meadows Mobile Veterinary Services
Raleigh, NC

Dr. Tamara Hipp, DVM ’12, originally started her mobile business, Twilight Meadows Mobile Veterinary Services, to perform end-of-life services for cats and dogs in their homes. However, she enjoyed doing home visits so much she expanded her offerings to include preventative care and minor illness needs, treating the most commonly seen non-emergency illnesses, including ear infections, skin issues, minor injuries, and urinary tract infections, for example.

Being able to make her own schedule and control the type of appointments she sees are her top two reasons for being a mobile vet; Dr. Hipp works out of her vehicle and often brings her pup, Maiya, along for the ride. But she also loves spending more time with her clients and their pets to build relationships.

“I find that the average wellness takes me about 30 to 45 minutes, but I am able to involve clients in their pet’s care and show them things like tartar and ear infections,” she said. “Clients appreciate being actively involved in their pet’s care and it is easier to get compliance.”

Her time is especially busy right now as more and more people become pet owners by adopting puppies and kittens during the pandemic. “In general, I think people are just becoming more aware of it as a service,” Dr. Hipp said, who also serves as a relief veterinarian for area hospitals. Offering mobile veterinary services “has given people an avenue to seek care for their pets if they didn’t want to get out.”

While she is taking extra precautions when she sees patients due to COVID, “as a whole, I feel a lot more connected to my clients. It’s not just a face; I remember people and what their job is, maybe a hobby, because you have time to talk about those things. That connection is important for trust,” Dr. Hipp said.

 

 

 

— Laurie Chartorynsky

 

 

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