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

A Peek Inside the School of Veterinary Medicine’s Distance Learning Program

Distance Learning at SGU

Learning how to do an ultrasound on an animal is never easy yet it is an important component of practicing veterinary medicine. Learning how to do one virtually is even harder, yet the faculty at St. George’s University School of Veterinary Medicine have been able to successfully make the transition to a distance learning curriculum.

With classes conducted online for the Fall 2020 term, SVM administrators have shared how they were able to make the school’s virtual curriculum an engaging and stimulating experience for students.

“Our distance learning curriculum was developed with the student focus in mind,” said Dr. Neil Olson, DVM, PhD, dean of SGU’s School of Veterinary Medicine. “By working with the SVM Student Government Association and polling students multiple times throughout the spring, we were able to make sure that student input about programs and courses led our conversations about how to implement our virtual curriculum.”

First Steps in Creating SVM’s Virtual Curriculum

“The first thing we did was create a Distance Education Team,” said Dr. Anne Corrigan, associate dean of SVM’s academic programs and professor of small animal medicine and surgery.

Chaired by Brian Butler, DVM­­/MPH ’05, assistant dean of the SVM academic programs for the School of Veterinary Medicine and a pathology professor, the group identified online needs and worked closely with the Department of Educational Services (DES), IT, and the Enterprise Teaching departments to develop the courses needed.

The SVM also polled students to flag concerns and issues and included valuable input from the Student Government Association’s SVM Affairs class representatives in the schedule and syllabi review for the fall term, Dr. Corrigan said.

One such concern: making sure students had access to all the materials needed. “We know that not everyone has a conducive workspace in their home, especially with WiFi issues,” said Jennifer Kirk, DVM ’22 (expected), president of the SVM Affairs. “We have been advocating for these students and, as a result, SVM made recordings downloadable so that students can stay on track despite these problems.”

The SVM Affairs group continues to communicate regularly with its Executive Board, its faculty advisor, Dr. Arend Werners, as well as University and SVM leadership.

Faculty Training

To prepare for the term, SVM faculty has been involved in intensive training on the new educational tools with the help of SGU’s IT team, Dr. Corrigan said.

The Distance Education Team also developed a best practices document for faculty to more appropriately choose the tools that will be of most benefit for their courses. SVM faculty also developed instructional clinical skills videos for students to promote muscle memory and develop the skills to perform certain procedures.

“Because we are delivering curriculum with a blended approach, which includes real-time content delivery and asynchronous programs, it’s really helping us become adaptive to use multiple types of technologies,” Dr. Corrigan said.

Hands-On Learning

One of the biggest challenges SVM faces is how to teach and train students hands-on clinical skills virtually. However, it has turned this challenge into some early successes.

Last term, students sent videos of themselves completing a skill, such as suturing, to faculty, who would then play each recording back during a live interactive session so that all students can watch their peers learning the same skills simultaneously. Students were then graded on how well they were able to master the skill, and received peer reviews from other students, helping all to address common mistakes.

“The key here is they gained confidence,” Dr. Corrigan said. “If we can still give them that confidence, even if they are not doing the skill directly in front of us, it will go a long way to helping them as future veterinarians.”

In addition, wetlabs allow students to attend a demonstration of a specific clinical skills performed by an SVM faculty member—this semester they will be done virtually.

“Even though students will not be able to use their own hands, the 3D demonstration will simulate as if they were really there,” Dr. Corrigan said. “They will be able to see a kidney in longitudinal and cross-section views. They will be able to see my hand moving on the screen. It’s another example of how we’re teaching hands-on clinical skills through online simulations.”

Some skills still must be taught in person, and SVM also developed a large group of private practitioners—more than 100 practices and counting across North America—willing to be clinical mentors for sixth-term students. In this scenario, students are paired with local veterinarians practitioners, including some SGU alumni, to establish professional relationships and receive instructional training.

Staying Connected in a Virtual World

Not lost in all the academia was the need for the interaction aspect of learning, especially since students can’t be together on campus.

“I think it’s especially important to provide the incoming Term 1 students with that inclusive aspect as they are not able to be in Grenada, and they don’t get to facilitate vital in-person relationships with their professors and peers,” Ms. Kirk said.

Dr. Corrigan acknowledged that what students want most within the distance learning platform is to feel connected—to other students, to faculty, and to the school overall. On the first day of classes, 90 students showed up for office hours.

“They were not there for office hours,” Dr. Corrigan said. “They were there looking for a way to connect with the SGU family.”

This term, with the help and guidance of faculty advisors, vet-centered student clubs will be looking at further ways to offer students a sense of community by hosting virtual events. In addition, SVM is also looking to put together virtual mentoring relationships between lower- and upper-class students.

“We want students to stay engaged and stay in communication with us, because we’re here for them, even though we are not physically together,” Dr. Corrigan said.

— Laurie Chartorynsky

Advocating for Vet Students: Spotlight on the SGA’s SVM Affairs Group

Jennifer Kirk (left), DVM ’22 (expected), SGA’s president of SVM Affairs, and Maria Coppola (right), DVM ’22 (expected), SGA’s vice president of SVM Affairs, shared the importance of the group’s mission and how students can get involved.

The School of Veterinary Medicine (SVM) Affairs group is a part of the St. George’s University Student Government Association (SGA), working primarily to address student issues and concerns related to the School of Veterinary Medicine.

SGU News spoke with Jennifer Kirk, DVM ’22 (expected), SGA’s president of SVM Affairs, and Maria Coppola, DVM ’22 (expected), SGA’s vice president of SVM Affairs, who shared the importance of the group’s mission, how it was crucial in helping to formulate SVM’s distance learning curriculum, and how students can get involved.

SGU: How do you advocate for SVM students at SGU?

Jennifer Kirk: We have four main priorities that we focus on. They include:

  • Communications between the SGA SVM representatives and the student body;
  • Facilitating effective communication between students and professors;
  • Advocating for the SVM student organizations and clubs; and
  • Addressing both nonacademic and academic concerns with the SVM and University leadership teams.

SGU: SVM Affairs was very involved in helping vet students navigate the early days of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. Can you share some key instances where you were able to help students in Grenada?

JK: We played a significant role in assisting students during the evacuation. We made sure to work with the administration to figure out logistics to allow all pets to evacuate with their owner and helped coordinate that. We advocated for the students that still had mid-term exams to take during the evacuation. We had multiple SVM students at the airport and at Modica Hall making sure that the process to get everyone home safely went smoothly.

We also made sure to constantly update students via the VetMed and SGA Facebook pages.

SGU: As the School of Veterinary Medicine ramped up its distance learning program, how did SVM Affairs contribute to the process?

JK: We were in many meetings during the evacuation to ease the transition from in-person to online learning. We gathered feedback for the SVM crisis team that was crucial in implementing new protocols for the best online learning experience.

One such concern we had was making sure students had access to all the materials needed. We know that not everyone has a conducive workspace in their home, especially with WiFi issues. We advocated for these students and, as a result, SVM made recordings downloadable so that students can stay on track despite these problems.

We continue to communicate regularly with our Executive Board, faculty advisor, Dr. Arend Werners, as well as University and SVM leadership.

SGU: What is the most important aspect that students are looking for as part of distance learning education?

JK: Students really need the interaction aspect of learning. I think it’s especially important to provide the incoming Term 1 students with that inclusive aspect as they are not able to be in Grenada, and they don’t get to facilitate vital in-person relationships with their professors and peers.

SGU: Can you name some initiatives that the group will be working on for students this term?

JK: I would say mental health. As taboo as it is to talk about it in society, I do think it is imperative—especially now that we are all isolated at home—to talk openly about how we are dealing with the pandemic. The SGA will be hosting a virtual movie night on September 11 to talk about burnout in the medical and veterinary fields, but I would like to include more mental health awareness initiatives for SVM students this semester.

Maria Coppola: My answer would be increased communications to vet students, which is even more important now that we’re not all together. It’s important that we check in with students and that students check in with us. We try to make ourselves available as often as possible throughout the day, whether that be on Facebook Messenger, iMessage, WhatsApp, etc. You name it, we are most likely available on it!

SGU: How can other students get involved?

MC: At the beginning of every semester, we send out a call for representatives. Students can easily join by filling out the application and sending in a headshot. If there are numerous applicants, we then hold an election and each term will vote for who they would like to represent their class.

In addition, the Student Government Association has launched its own website and it has a public Facebook page. Don’t hesitate to reach out to us at any time! We are ready and willing to help.

Students are welcome to contact Jennifer Kirk at jkirk@sgu.edu or Maria Coppola at mcoppola@sgu.edu.

 

 

— Laurie Chartorynsky

 

VIDEO: SGU Veterinary Grad Describes How She is “Making a Difference”

Dr. Kendra Baker, a 2015 graduate of St. George’s University School of Veterinary Medicine, describes what it’s like treating an array of aquatic animals, of all shapes and sizes, as a veterinary fellow at the National Aquarium in Baltimore, MD.

“One characteristic [zoo/aquarium veterinarians] all share is the ability to innovate,” Dr. Baker said. “You might have one of the few remaining endangered species in your collection that’s doing something that has never been seen before. And you have to figure it out and treat it. But you have to use tools that weren’t made with this specific animal in mind.”

 

USDA Field Veterinarian Finds Dream Career Through Ensuring Animal Welfare

Autumn Unck, DVM '15

As a veterinary medical officer with the Animal Care unit of the US Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, St. George’s University graduate Autumn Unck, DVM ’15, has a wide range of responsibilities that affect both humans and animals. And she loves what she does.

“My job is so diverse—every day is different—and that really helps satisfy my passion for public service,” Dr. Unck said. “That’s what got me into this. I have a passion for animals, public service, and giving back. The job incorporates everything I love.”

The Animal Care unit employs around 200 civil servants located around the US, including veterinary medical officers and specialists who have expertise with marine mammals, exotic cats, and primates. The unit conducts inspections of approximately 8,000 licensed or registered facilities annually under the Animal Welfare Act and each year it inspects over 1,500 horses at shows and other events for compliance with the Horse Protection Act.

As a field veterinarian, Dr. Unck performs inspections and assessments of the overall treatment of animals at various research facilities, zoos, licensed breeding facilities, and educational exhibitors, among other places, in her territory of Nebraska, Iowa, and Missouri. She is also responsible for evaluating the qualifications of facility professionals and to review protocols to ensure proper use and care of animals in research facilities.

“When it comes to research facilities and zoos—some of that is very controversial in the public’s eyes because they don’t understand what’s going on there. By being present and speaking to the teams that work there, I know these facilities have phenomenal vets and caretakers,” Dr. Unck said. “The biggest misconception is that the animals aren’t being taken care of. That couldn’t be further from the truth. We are really an advocate of making sure that that public is educated when it comes to these facilities.”

Dr. Unck’s other responsibilities include assisting with the implementation of the Horse Protection Act, by ensuring that horse shows safeguard against unfair competition. She is also part of the team that travels across the country to help out when there is a natural disaster or disease outbreak, such as the Newcastle Disease outbreak in 2016 in several counties in Southern California.

Following a natural disaster or outbreak, “being able to step in and provide some type of comfort or relief [to farmers], by letting them know that someone cares in their time of need” is particularly gratifying, she said.

BEING A VET DURING COVID-19

 

Dr. Unck acknowledged that while travel for her job has been temporarily curtailed as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, maintaining relationships, such as with the regulated facilities and horse owners/exhibitors is imperative.

“We are constantly checking in to see if they have the support they need, or if they have questions or concerns,” she said.

PATHWAY TO VET MEDICINE

 

Dr. Unck grew in up Southern California and fell in love with animals at an early age. She clearly remembers visiting San Diego’s Sea World, at which she was invited to pet the famous killer whale, Shamu. “To see the huge massive animal diving and being entertaining, yet so delicate and graceful in front of me—at one point he looked at me and we locked eyes and that’s when I became hooked,” said Dr. Unck, who is the proud fur mom of three rescue dogs, and a donkey she brought back from the Caribbean.

Yet before setting her career sights on vet medicine, Dr. Unck said she considered entering the military or public service. “I couldn’t figure out what I wanted to do. I was graduating from undergrad and vet school when the US was sending people overseas,” she said.

Although Dr. Unck ultimately ended up in a career she enjoys, her path there was a bit winding. She transferred to SGU after initially starting her veterinary education at a different Caribbean school. It proved to be a positive move. Dr. Unck fondly recalls her interactions with SGU instructors and noted the advantages to leaving the US, including the ability to gain exposure to different experiences they wouldn’t normally have. Despite Grenada’s small size, she had the chance to work closely with a variety of animals and farmers, particularly when it came to receiving experience in large animal medicine.

Dr. Unck was also sure to get involved in a myriad of student-led clubs and organizations and to put in time at the University’s Large Animal Research Facility.

“Going to SGU was best of both worlds,” she said. “With veterinary schools in the states, you just stay at one school throughout your education. I had amazing didactic lessons in Grenada and then another year of clinical education at Cornell University.”

Finding a career opportunity within the USDA serves her desire to go into public service.

“I’m helping the helpless. Animals can’t tell you what’s wrong and many animal caretakers are not trained veterinarians, so they reach out to us for help,” she said. “It’s an awesome and humbling position to be in and I wouldn’t change it for the world. SGU made that happen.”

 

–Laurie Chartorynsky