Mixed Animal, Mixed Emotions

As I have mentioned in previous blogs, in the summer between third and fourth year, all students are required to pursue an 8-week externship in a ‘mixed’ animal veterinary clinic, taking both large and small animal calls under the supervision of a veterinarian. Due to the diminishing number of mixed animal practices in Southern Ontario, I headed 6 hours north of Toronto, to a rural practice with six veterinarians.

The externship allows students to gain valuable clinical experience in a general practice; something difficult to obtain in school, as a large teaching hospital often only introduces students to incredibly complicated referral cases or intensive care patients. In addition to much needed clinical experience, the externship allows students exposure to areas of veterinary medicine outside of their comfort zone. The cat lovers must spend time with the dairy cows, the tried and true food animal students must also learn about equine medicine and dedicated equine students like myself must spend time wrangling excited puppies and preg checking cows.

In some cases, the exposure to different streams of veterinary medicine causes students to completely change their career path as they discover a new specialty.  As someone who has spent most of my life (not just vet school) at the barn with horses, I must admit I was a little terrified to head outside of my comfort zone.

And out of my comfort zone I was! Not only was I taking appointments for cat abscesses, dog allergies, and calf diarrhea, I was also in a very rural practice, hours away from referral facilities. This meant some very critical cases would not make the trip elsewhere, and had to be treated as best as we could.

It has certainly been a learning experience. The cases have varied from dental work on a potbellied pig, to emergency treatment on a dog hit by a boat, to wound management on a horse attacked by a bear. Time spent treating different animals has given me a new appreciation for the huge depth and diversity in veterinary medicine.  The food animal field was incredibly rewarding, assisting with calvings and performing abdominal surgery. I am still utterly astounded with these stoic animals, standing quietly with no sedation and only a local block as we are inside their abdomen correcting a twisted stomach. Companion animal medicine kept me on my toes and in the clinic into the wee hours of the morning with emergency cases, or reading up on new treatments for metabolic diseases, head-scratching radiographs and simple vaccination appointments that were never just simple vaccination appointments.

Although these forays into mixed animal medicine taught me to truly appreciate each unique species and their medical needs, the time spent up north made me even more certain that ultimately my heart lies in equine medicine. Despite pulling and resuscitating a lovely heifer calf, I would get an even bigger grin later in the day solving a tough lameness case. Gaining the trust of a needle-shy horse and being able to vaccinate them without stress or flying hooves is more satisfying to me than performing spays and neuters. And although many of my colleagues will think me crazy for entering an area of medicine that guarantees frostbite while treating colic in the middle of a snowstorm and more than a few 18 hour days or 3am wake-ups, to me there is no career more rewarding and enjoyable to look forward to.

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