RANCHO SANTA FE — Helen Woodward Animal Center held a veterinary camp at its education center on Jan. 12. The long-standing program takes place several times a year and aims to teach children what it means to be a veterinarian and how to become one.
The camp was hosted by Education Instructor Colleen Magee-Uhlik and Assistant Manager of Animal Services Savannah Goehring, with three high school volunteers supervising.
“I think the most important thing to teach them is the reality of what a vet does,” said Goehring, who has been working with the program for nearly four years and manages the husbandry of the animals used in the camp.
“A lot of times, if they either really don’t have a sick animal or don’t have an animal at all, they might have a misconception of what vets actually do,” Goehring said. “That it’s all kind of, maybe fun or just hanging out with animals. And so, they’ve got to be exposed to the reality of … it’s a lot of schoolwork, it’s a lot of education. They have to do things like surgery and vaccines, and be okay with seeing, the kind of ickier aspect of animal care.”
For the day’s first activity, campers headed to an Education Center classroom, where they were provided “wounded” bananas — chosen for their thick skins — and asked to suture them using a needle, gut, scissors and forceps. After completing their fruit surgery, the children went outside to play a relay race in which they had to wear adult veterinarian scrubs, run to their teammates on the opposite side of a line and remove the scrubs for their partner to try on.
Other activities included seeing a snake that had had several tumors removed from it, looking at the cells of their own cheeks via a microscope, practicing CPR on a dummy of a dog and dissecting a (paper) frog.
The veterinary camp was started in 2014 and was revamped in 2016 to prioritize hands-on activities over watching and listening. There are two different variations of the camp; this one was more surgery-focused and allowed students to handle actual veterinary equipment, while the other focuses on providing animals with vaccinations and learning proper safety measures.
“The vet camp is really just about getting them the exposure to what it might be like, because kids don’t necessarily have the opportunity to explore all the different careers before they make important decisions, like going to college and paying for their tuition and all that kind of stuff,” Magee-Uhlik said.
“You want to put the effort and the time into where you actually want to go and what you want to do,” said Goehring. “And so, just giving them a glimpse of what a vet might get to do helps them make that decision.”
Of the nine students (Goehring said that the post-holiday period usually yields fewer attendees) who attended the camp, only one was male. Goehring said that Helen Woodward Animal Center tries to encourage boys to attend the program, and it markets to the parents who will be more likely to be aware of the program and encourage their children to attend.
If children want to learn more about a career in veterinary medicine, the camp provides information regarding what sorts of schools to attend or college majors to get degrees in.
Goehring said that the hands-on approach offered by the camp is unique to the Helen Woodward facility; in addition to the activities, children can tour a surgical center and an equine hospital to provide additional context regarding veterinary medicine.
The next camp will take place from 1:30 to 5:30 p.m. March 7. More information and registration can be found at animalcenter.org.