Shelter Training Better Prepares Veterinary Students
by Marcia Hill Gossard '99, '04
Like many veterinary students in their final year of school, Kirsten Ronngren (’15 DVM) was eager to get more surgical experience before graduation. So when she got the opportunity to spend two weeks at Seattle Humane as one of her fourth-year rotations, she jumped at the chance.
“Repetition is what makes you better and more confident,” says Ronngren, who performed nearly 10 times the number of surgeries at Seattle Humane than she would have during her last year of veterinary school before the WSU Humane Society Alliance Education Program began.
The WSU College of Veterinary Medicine started the program in 2013 by partnering with regional humane societies. Students can elect to spend two weeks during their final year of veterinary school at either Seattle Humane in Bellevue, Wash. or the Idaho Humane Society in Boise, Idaho. The college now also partners with other regional and local shelters to bring animals to WSU for spaying and neutering. The animals are then returned to the shelters for adoption.
“I’m thrilled with the program,” says alumnus Gary Marshall (’89 DVM) who hired Ronngren right after graduation. Marshall owns Island Cats Veterinary Hospital on Mercer Island, Wash., just a few miles from Seattle Humane. Because of the training, Marshall says students like Ronngren are able to do more on their own right out of school.
For Ronngren, part of what made the experience so valuable were the opportunities to critically think about each case, how it might be different from other cases she had seen, and to decide the best way to approach a particular surgery. If she had questions, the veterinarians on staff were there to help her.
“Medicine is a puzzle and no two cases are the same,” she says. “They pushed me to think on my own and to think creatively.”
Ronngren also wanted the experience of working in shelter medicine because it would give her the opportunity to treat more patients with common conditions such as respiratory problems in cats or kennel cough in dogs. Today, she says she not only feels more confident when diagnosing patients with these illnesses, but also has a better idea of what will help an animal feel its best.
Working at the practice in Mercer Island, she now sees some of the same patients (now adopted) she cared for while at Seattle Humane. Because she knows the protocol from the shelter and how to read their paperwork, she says it helps her to better know how to treat the animal when it comes to the clinic.
Marshall agrees that the rotation is beneficial because it gives veterinary students more practical experience. What they see at a clinic or at a shelter, he says, is a lot different than what they see as a student. “Expanding the program will give students who have shelter experience a leg up when applying for jobs,” says Marshall.
Currently, there are not enough spots for all WSU students to complete a rotation at one of the humane societies, but Marshall is looking forward to the day when all WSU veterinary students are able to have this opportunity.
“Only better things can come to pets and the shelters when WSU gets involved,” says Marshall.
For more information about the program, visit go.vetmed.wsu.edu/HumaneSociety.