For block 11 and 12, I shadowed the veterinary medical team at the North Carolina Zoo. This was a very familiar environment for me, because I volunteered over 90 hours during the summer of 2011 at the wildlife rehabilitation center associated with the zoo, and toured the hospital on a Pre-Vet Club field trip in undergrad. However, neither of those experiences afforded me the opportunity to specifically shadow the veterinarians, so I was very much looking forward to spending four weeks on the “other side” of the zoo.
Each morning started with rounds to discuss the agenda for the day. These rounds included the veterinarians, veterinary technicians, veterinary office staff, wildlife center veterinary technicians, and any veterinary students interning with either the wildlife center or the zoo (usually myself and one other person). Coincidentally, my externship overlapped with the first few weeks during which a newly-hired veterinarian had just started at the zoo. This was convenient for me because the rest of the staff spent a little more time than they otherwise would explaining the background of how the zoo works. Obviously this was for her benefit, but I enjoyed hearing it nevertheless.
After discussing the plan for the day, we would start on our appointments, which usually involved assembling equipment and piling into the pickup trucks. If we needed to do something more involved (i.e. sedating the animal for radiographs or a thorough physical exam), we would transport the patient to the hospital via the zoo ambulance instead. If there were multiple appointments at the same time, we would split up to address everything, but this happened infrequently. This was different than my previous externship at the Omaha Zoo, where there were almost always multiple procedures or appointments happening at the same time. However, the Omaha Zoo has a larger collection, as well as five veterinarians total, whereas the North Carolina Zoo has three veterinarians, including the brand new vet.
Unlike my time at the Omaha Zoo, I did not stay locally during this rotation. Although I did have the option to stay in a nearby cabin available to interns, I opted to commute from home, thereby getting to spend an entire month with my dogs (and my partner). They live an hour away from school but only ~50 minutes away from the zoo, which is actually closer than the zoo is from school. I commuted an hour to and from school during first year, where I perfected studying via audio flashcards, but after that year I moved closer to school. Long commutes don’t bother me as long as I can keep myself entertained, so I took advantage of the situation to practice Spanish via Audible and to listen to podcasts. In retrospect, I probably should have returned to my audio flashcard ways and studied for the NAVLE, but that didn’t seem like nearly as much fun at the time.
Some days at the zoo were packed from end to end, especially if there was an emergency. However, there were also a few very slow days. One day in particular I spent 8 hours cross-referencing a list of toxic plants with the list of plants approved for enclosures. I found out later that they give this assignment to pretty much all the externs, with slight variation – i.e. one student might be assigned to cross-reference the plants approved for the bear exhibits, whereas another might be assigned the prairie exhibit. I did manage to find a handful of plants that were approved which shouldn’t have been, which made the task feel a little less menial. Students are also responsible for conducting a lunchtime presentation on a topic of interest to the NC Zoo staff. Fortunately, I had the opportunity to give my presentation on female elephant reproduction, which fit perfectly with both my interests, since my dream job is to work as a reproductive specialist for zoological species, and the zoo’s interests, since they would hypothetically like to breed their elephants.
Overall, I really enjoyed my time at the NC Zoo. The staff was welcoming and friendly, and I had many hands-on opportunities to practice my medical skills. This was a great block to experience life as a zoo vet!
This post is part of a series documenting my clinical year in veterinary school. To read more from the series, please visit the Clinic Series homepage.