Class 2020 ISU CVM Graduates (left to right): Drs. Rachel Ostrem, Tess Hudson and Allysa Koethe

Jumping into the Real World

One day, fourth year veterinary students in the College of Veterinary Medicine were seeing patients and treating animals of all sizes and species in the Lloyd Veterinary Medical Center.

Then COVID-19 happened and the final two months of their clinical rotations went first online and then were cancelled all together. Every student had earned enough credits to graduate.

While disappointing, it was the perfect opportunity for many graduating seniors to get a jump start on their professional veterinary careers.

“As soon as rotations were cancelled, I moved up to my new job two months before my contract started and started learning the ropes,” said Rachael Ostrem. “Because of this extra training time, I will be mostly a fully functional veterinarian by the time my contract starts in June.”

Ostrem will be an associate veterinarian at Humboldt Vet Clinic in Iowa. Once the clinical rotations were cancelled, she contacted her future boss about starting early.

It was a win-win situation for both parties.

“I told her I was able to start early if she would have me,” Ostrem said. “She was very excited that she got her new hire two months before she was supposed to, so it has worked out well for both of us.”

Sarah Muirhead had a similar experience. Now working at a mixed animal practice in Brookings, South Dakota, Muirhead had hopes of volunteering at her future employer in order to become more familiar with the equipment and how the clinic operated.

Then the clinical rotations were cancelled.

“When the rotations were cancelled, I touched based with my clinic again and asked if I could volunteer my time for training,” Muirhead said. “Turns out they had remained very busy despite the pandemic and they asked me if I wanted to start my employment early.”

Like her classmates, fellow fourth-year student Allysa Koethe is working with her future employer – the Farm & Family Veterinary Clinics in Victor, Iowa. For Koethe it was a quick turnaround.

She was informed by the College of Veterinary Medicine that the clinical rotations had been discontinued on a Thursday. The following Monday she was on the job. Koethe has worked for this practice for the past four years on weekends, holiday and summer breaks. She had accepted a full-time position earlier this year.

“I have been eager to start working ever since I accepted the job,” Koethe said. “It was an easy decision to go straight to work after clinical rotations were cancelled. I wanted to continue gaining hands-on experience over the weeks leading up to graduation and get a head-start on my veterinary career.”

Another Iowa State fourth-year student, Tess Hudson, is currently working as an extern at Southview Animal Hospital in West Saint Paul, Minnesota.

Prior to COVID-19, Hudson was scheduled to be in South Africa through August acting as a wildlife field medicine extern. With those plans obviously out the window, she reached out to Southview Animal Hospital asking if she could start a few months early.

“They’ve been even busier during the pandemic, so they were happy for the extra hands,” Hudson said.

The move hasn’t come without some issues for Hudson.

“It’s been very weird to move to Minneapolis in the middle of a pandemic,” she said. “However, the transition into the clinic has been pretty seamless.”

Like many other veterinary clinics, including the Lloyd Veterinary Medical Center, Southview Animal Hospital is currently only practicing curbside medicine. Clients call upon arrival for their appointment and are met at the car where a veterinary technician will retrieve the animal.

It’s something Hudson and her classmates didn’t train for.

“It’s been super weird not to be able to interact with clients in person especially since that was one of my favorite parts of veterinary medicine,” she said. “It’s going to be interesting when we transition back to letting clients in the building and using the exam rooms again. It will be learning a whole new flow.”

All four fourth-year students said the additional experience has proved invaluable to their development as veterinarians. Each has been thrown into the work right off the bat.

“I am able to take charge of my cases and am able to make decisions,” Ostrem said. “I get to do hands-on work myself, make a plan and finally execute it.

“I love having the freedom to make these decisions and I feel like I learn so much more every day being the one doing the hands-on technical work.”

Koethe says she has been working closely with her new boss and has been involved with medical cases, assisting with surgery, and meeting and communicating with clients.

She, like so many of her fellow classmates, are making the best of an unusual situation.

“While the unforeseen circumstances of COVID-19 have altered what would have been a ‘typical’ end to our clinical year and graduation, I have been very thankful for this time to get settled in my new career,” Koethe said. “I’ve been able to gain extraordinary hands-on experience while meeting so many new clients.”