Ontario Agriculture

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Each summer DVM students from the Ontario Veterinary College at the University of Guelph delve into practical experience at veterinary clinics across Ontario and additional locales. These Externship blog posts are an opportunity to tag along with them this summer. Here student veterinarian Sarah talks about veterinarians' varied roles.  Check out all the student blogs here.

I absolutely love talking about being a veterinary student. Each day of my veterinary externship thus far has been an exciting adventure, filled with new experiences and learning opportunities. These days it almost seems as if I am filled with more stories than I have time to tell.

When I first mention that I am a veterinary student, people are often quick to compare veterinary medicine to human medicine. This has always got me thinking, and been an interesting subject to consider. Many point out that it must be difficult to understand the anatomy, physiology and pathology of so many species. Being a doctor that treats more than one species certainly does exponentially increase the amount of knowledge that we veterinary students must grasp.

A point that I considered much less was the wide variety of roles that a veterinarian takes on. When I was a little girl, I always thought a veterinarian was simply that, a veterinarian. I would have defined a veterinarian as an individual that utilizes their medical knowledge to treat and improve the health of animals. Though this is absolutely true, while out with the large animal veterinarians at Port Perry Veterinary Services this week, I have gained a new appreciation for the diverse roles that veterinarians play.

This week I had the chance to practice my skills as an equine dentist. I visited a nearby farm to perform an oral exam on a lovely equine patient. Discovering a rotten tooth that needed to be removed, I had the opportunity to complete my very first dental extraction (as some of you may caught a glimpse of on the @ontvetcollege Instagram Page). As human patients, we would visit our dentist to have our teeth checked, but horses will have this work done by a veterinarian.

Later in the week, I visited another farm to confirm pregnancy in a horse. With the use of a portable ultrasound, I am able to visualize this mare’s reproductive tract. While in human medicine, a radiologist would generally interpret the images captured by ultrasound; this is a very common role for a large animal veterinarian. In the image below, I am just about to discover a tiny fluttering heartbeat on the screen of my ultrasound (an exceptional moment that made my week).

In mares, the vulva acts as the first barrier to ascending infections of the reproductive tract. The conformation of this mare’s vulva was allowing air to enter the vagina (also known as pneumovagina). When air can enter the vagina, dirt and bacteria can follow along with it. This can potentially lead to an infection that may cause a loss of the pregnancy. We commonly perform a surgical procedure known as a Caslick’s Vulvoplasty to alter vulvar conformation and prevent this from occurring. Using my skills as a surgeon in the making, I first numbed the vulvar tissue with local anesthetic. The edges of the tissue are trimmed along the upper two thirds of the vulva and then sutured together. Over the course of two weeks, the tissue is allowed to heal on its own and a new seal is created that will act a barrier to potential environmental contaminants.

Later over the course of the week I would watch my mentoring veterinarians act as general practitioners, pediatricians, obstetricians, nutritionists, dermatologists, parasitologists and chiropractors… I could truly go on and on describing the variety of roles they played in improving the lives of the cute four-legged patients we met. I look forward to spending the remaining six weeks improving my skills in all these areas!

Follow OVC on Twitter at @OntVetCollege


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