This summer, I shadowed at St. Marks Veterinary Hospital, working with Dr. Rebecca Kurtzman ’12, DVM ’17, Medical Director, and a wonderful team. The experience gave me a first-hand look into vet work and reinforced my commitment to pursuing this career. Here’s what I learned:
1. Cultivating compassion is vital.
It was 7:45 AM on June 2 when I entered St. Marks for the first time and was greeted by Ashley, the receptionist. I changed into my scrubs, admired the pet portraits hanging on the white walls and was given a tour of the facility. The first hour of my shadowing experience was spent watching and listening to Dr. Kurtzman call owners.
Over time, I learned that at St. Marks, Dr. Kurtzman would reserve 8 AM every day for call-backs—when she returned calls to share lab results and answer client questions. She also followed up with clients throughout the day: at lunch, in between appointments, and after the office closed.
2. Utilize interpersonal communication skills.
Effective communication between the vet team and pet owners helps improve animal welfare. When a vet team shows empathy to the client, the owner and their animal will be less stressed. This in turn leads to clients sharing important details about the pet’s history, reduces stress during tests and exams and helps owners better understand pet care and costs. This also helps pet owners understand how to care for the animal after the visit.
During my time shadowing the clinic, I watched every member of the vet team work together to provide care and communicate with clients. Sometimes, they gave difficult news so knowing how to provide social support, including how to handle bereavement, was important.
3. It takes a village to provide care.
Iris, a beautiful orange tabby, had made a special appearance at St. Marks over the summer. She had not been to the vet in 8 years and as a 15-year-old cat, this was an issue. The owner was resistant to paying for a “senior package,” which would include lots of blood work and X-rays on Iris. While Dr. Kurtzman suggested other alternatives to reduce the price and ensure a general checkup of Iris was complete, vet technicians, Willow and Nat, worked to control the scared tabby who was anxiously pacing around the room and would occasionally snarl at them.
In addition to Dr. Kurtzman, I am enormously grateful to the veterinary technicians, receptionists, office managers and student externs who gave me a warm welcome and a chance to see them in action. I saw firsthand the level of teamwork that goes into each appointment and also the skills that are needed to run a clinic practice.
4. Collaboration is key.
Beyond animal care, administrative and managerial skills are very important. Sometimes clients had to be connected with specialists to help diagnose and treat specific health problems. Collaboration with the larger network of veterinary clinics and hospitals is key.
Everyone has a role to play, so use the time shadowing to ask questions and understand how each person, procedure, and interaction fits with others. Building collaboration skills—including being proactive, open-minded, and flexible—will help generate positive momentum.
5. Be curious and prepared to learn.
I learned so many new medical terms and procedures over the summer— what an otoscope is and why it’s used; the surgical process of neutering and spaying a dog; and why a microchip might be implanted into dogs and cats. I logged every term and procedure into a notebook at the end of each day and I researched the terms to continue learning more on my own. The more I learned, the more open I became to asking new questions.
This cycle of self-teaching and learning is different from traditional classroom work. Building reflective learning and documenting ideas can empower a deeper understanding of the concepts and ultimately lead to confidence in the field. I will carry this approach with me throughout life.
Caroline Stamm '24 is an Animal Science major and student writer for the Cornell CALS Department of Animal Science.
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