Eye Opening Experience
Before a group of veterinary medicine students traveled to South Dakota to work with the Crow Creek Indian reservation this past June, they are introduced to cross-cultural topics and the historical and socio-economic issues that lead to health disparities in many communities.
But no amount of preparation could show the Iowa State students what they saw.
“The experience was very eye opening,” said Holly Salzbrenner, a fourth-year student. “I did not realize the extent of the hardships they face on the reservation.”
Fellow fourth-year student Abbey Smith agreed with her classmate. “To see another culture that is so different than my own lifestyle was very eye opening,” she said, “however the love for their animals is no different.”
For the past 10 years, veterinary students, alumni clinicians and community volunteers have gone to Crow Creek and have created a partnership centered around animal care. What initially began as an outreach project, headed by Dr. MeLissa Ciprich, has developed in a cross-cultural, veterinary field service.
Two years ago, the trip was incorporated into the fourth-year rotation, This past June, eight fourth-year veterinary medicine students participated in “Clinical Practices in Diverse Communities,” and along with eight third-year students, they provided veterinary care to dogs, cats and horses in the community.
Coordinated by Dr. Joan Howard, clinical associate professor of veterinary clinical sciences, the group set up a small animal clinic in a fire station and an equine clinic at the rodeo grounds.
The veterinary team saw over 300 animals and completed physical exams, gave vaccinations and preventative medications, and discussed the value of the treatments with the clients. The team also performed 86 spay and neuters, under the direction of Dr. Joyce Carnevale, clinical assistant professor of veterinary clinical sciences.
At the equine clinic, the team and community members tended to 100 horses, providing physical exams, vaccinations, treated wounds, performed dentals and did 17 castrations.
It’s not unusual for outside veterinary service groups to volunteer in communities in need around the country. Few, however, are able to develop the long-lasting relationship Iowa State has with Crow Creek.
“Projects come and go and then many die out,” Howard said. “I think by us coming back year after year, the community really appreciates that they can count on us.” Howard also says the health of the animals seems to have improved over the program’s ten years.
“The overall health of the animals seems to be improving,” she said. “Our impression is that infectious diseases and external parasites that we have commonly seen in the past have become less prevalent.”
For the students, it’s an intense three days as they gain valuable hands-on experience, not only treating animals, but interacting with clients.
“We had to be patient and creative with some clients and animals,” Salzbrenner said. “Sometimes the clients were only children and sometimes we did our exams in vehicles or under shade trees to avoid the congestion in the fire station.
“I got the chance to fine tune a lot of my veterinary skills, but this experience was way more valuable to me as an opportunity to experience diversity and learn how to build positive relationships with clients and my community.”
Fourth-year student Becca Hilderbrand echoed those comments.
“Although the clinic operated for only three days, I learned so much about myself, my abilities and the community,” she said.
“Yes, I enjoy the medicine, surgery and lifestyle, but I really enjoy being able to help the people whose animals play a pivotal role in their lives.”