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Walking on the Wild Side

Walking on the Wild SideStudents who participate in Tufts' Adventures in Veterinary Medicine program are exploring both career options and the many offerings of the Cummings School.

No. Grafton, Mass. [07.27.07] Since kindergarten, Christine O'Connell had dreamed of becoming a veterinarian. Little did she know when she enrolled in the Adventures in Veterinary Medicine (AVM) program at the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine as a high-school student that she would participate in an actual surgical procedure-holding down the hoof of a septic foal whose joint was being flushed.

"Just being almost a part of it sealed in my mind that that was definitely what I wanted to do," recalls O'Connell (V'08), now entering her fourth year as a veterinary student at Tufts and in the midst of her third summer of involvement with the AVM program.

That level of hands-on training is typical of the program, which offers middle- and high-schoolers, college students and adults the opportunity to find out whether or not a career in veterinary medicine is right for them through a series of lectures, workshops and hands-on experiences at the Cummings School.

"Vet school is a big commitment," says Laura Melbin-Diniz, director of special programs at the Cummings School and head of the AVM program. "We want to make sure they're prepared for it, they understand what they're applying to and they understand what the profession is all about."

The Cummings School started AVM in 1991 as a high school program. Currently, sessions for multiple-age groups run between April and August, with approximately 250 students coming through each year. Many AVM students who decide that veterinary medicine is right for them end up coming to Tufts-anywhere between 10 and 20 out of an admitted class of 80.

Curriculums are tailored to the specific age groups. College students learn a lot about the veterinary school application process. Middle schoolers go on fieldtrips. Adults hear from veterinary students who came to the field after being in the workforce ("Someone who was 65 came to AVM in the spring," says Melbin-Diniz.). High schoolers get the most intensive experience through a two-week overnight stay where they shadow clinical rotations and attend lectures and labs.

"The Cummings School wants to support veterinary medicine across the country and the world. It's strengthening the profession by getting more qualified and knowledgeable people into it," says Melbin-Diniz. "Even if they decide it's not right for them, the program is working."

One of the keys to AVM is faculty involvement. Dr. Scott Shaw, who earned his DVM from Tufts in 1998 and is now an assistant professor of emergency and critical care medicine and chair of the admissions committee, became involved with the program as a resident, when he co-delivered a talk on emergency medicine.

Shaw now sits on the AVM advisory board and, in addition to his seminar on emergency medicine, gives a talk about careers in veterinary medicine. By explaining the various aspects of his field, ranging from private practice to public health, he helps students find a career that excites him-and, in turn, reminds himself about why he became a veterinarian.

"You can help them make the decision. That's kind of a neat thing to do," says Shaw. "Their enthusiasm and awe of what's going on reminds us that it is really is a cool job that we have."

"Seeing their excitement and enthusiasm just wakes you up inside," adds O'Connell, who also sits on the advisory board.

Melbin-Diniz notes one high school student who was admitted to AVM last year despite having less than stellar grades, on the strength of her experience with animals and her recommendations. Since recognizing what it takes to get to veterinary school, the student has put her nose to the grindstone.

"Her mother contacted us and said her grades are up, she's totally motivated and working hard," she recalls. "It was great to hear that. We do have to tell them that vet school is really hard to get into."

AVM participants come away surprised about the breadth of career choices an education in veterinary medicine will afford them, ranging from work in conservation medicine, public health, food safety, international development and more. "Of all the careers in the world, veterinary medicine is one you can do pretty much anything with," says Melbin-Diniz.

Cummings student involvement is also integral to AVM's success. AVM participants shadow third- and fourth-year students on rounds, where they gain experience explaining cases in layman's terms as if they were clients. In addition, Tufts students work as counselors and assistants with the AVM program each summer.

"The vet students have such a good time working with the students," says Melbin-Diniz.

For fourth-year student O'Connell, it's the chance to see an echo of her former self.

"They feel the same way I did when I was in high school," she says. "You can see it in their eyes that they're excited about it and want to keep doing it."

Profile by Georgiana Cohen, Web Communications

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