Recently, students from the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine organized their third annual pet vaccination clinic in partnership with the Worcester Housing Authority (WHA).
Jessica Brown V’13 and Alexis Messler V’13 were the lead organizers of the program, which has been supported in part by Tisch College’s Civic Engagement Fund since its founding.
Dr. Emily McCobb, DVM MS DACVA served as the program’s mentor while Daniela Gilbert V’13 and Melissa Doolin V’13 also assisted with organization and Katie Holmes V’13 and Deborah Thomsom V’12 served as team leaders.
“The clinic provides basic veterinary care and vaccines to the pets of the elderly, low income, and disabled residents living in the WHA buildings,” said Brown. “But it provides so much more than that for everyone involved.”
“The residents have a day to show off their beloved pets to people they know genuinely care about the health and well being of animals and the animals are provided with care that they may not otherwise receive,” Brown continued. “Additionally, student volunteers have an opportunity to interact with animals and clients – which we aren’t able to do very often when starting out with our veterinary studies.”
During the clinic, pets are given thorough physical exams and vaccinations against important diseases – some of which are transmissible to humans. State law requires that all Housing Authority pets be vaccinated, especially for rabies, but there is no mechanism beyond the Tufts-led clinic for ensuring that pets are properly up to date.
“For many of our residents, their pet is a vitally important member of their family,” said Raymond V. Mariano, Executive Director of the Worcester Housing Authority. “Unfortunately, because many of our residents have very limited resources, they can not provide their beloved pet with the care that it needs. Once again, Tufts staff and students came to the rescue.”
Each year, the program becomes more successful.
“The first year we were based at one WHA site, then last year we expanded to six WHA sites, but each team had to cover two locations,” Messler explained. “This year, we were able to recruit enough students to make six teams to station themselves at one WHA site for the entire day.”
“Rather than rushing to vaccinate as many pets as possible before time was up, this allowed the students to be more thorough in their physical exams and to take the time to learn more from the experience,” Messler continued. “In addition, we were able to spend more time educating the pet owners, and treating every animal brought to the clinic.”
The organizers also spent time in advance of the clinic assessing the skills of the Tufts student volunteers in order to ensure that all of the animals were examined thoroughly and to provide a valuable teaching experience to Tufts students.
“Veterinary students start at Tufts with a wide range of expertise regarding veterinary medicine,” Messler explained. “Some come to Tufts without having handled any animals, while others have worked as veterinary technicians for a number of years. We paired volunteers who had less experience with more experienced volunteers. Students were also encouraged to alter who they worked with throughout the day, so that they could benefit from the varied techniques and advice of each partner.”
This year, the program also increased its partnership with Becker College, a Worcester school with a Veterinary Technician program.
“Each team of two Tufts students were also paired with a Becker student, preparing for a career as a veterinary technician,” said Brown. “This gave the lead veterinary student more opportunity to focus more on the patient while the other Tufts student could focus on learning. Meanwhile, the Becker students gained hands on experience restraining animals and interacting with someone in the position of a veterinarian.”
Additionally, two Becker veterinarians and three Becker technicians joined Tufts faculty members in serving as supervising veterinarians for the sites.
“The feedback we’ve gotten about integrating Becker’s technician program has been wonderful,” said Brown. “The Tufts students had a great time interacting with the Becker students and learning tricks of the trade as far as proper restraint goes – and the Becker students had nothing but great things to say about their experiences at the clinic. We look forward to nurturing this relationship with future clinics.”
“Planning and preparing for the WHA clinic was a valuable exercise in collaboration, organization, and attending to detail,” said Messler. “As someone who has not worked in a veterinary clinic before, discovering exactly what supplies are needed for the basic care that we were providing at the WHA clinic was eye opening.”
“Additionally, participating the day of the event gave me the type of hands on practice that many veterinary students crave,” Messler added. “The first two years of veterinary school are spent almost exclusively in the classroom. Having the chance to practice communicating with clients, performing physical exams, and putting to use the knowledge that we have gained thus far in our education was invaluable. When the stress of school becomes overpowering, it is not uncommon to let your passion for veterinary medicine wane. However, one of the highlights of my day at the WHA clinic was overhearing one of the Tufts students say, ‘Wow, so that’s what it’s going to feel like to be a vet. I can’t wait!’”
Originally published April 2011