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