August 15, 2011


 Veterinarians can become leaders of a pack

Posted July 27, 2011

Practitioners interested in mentoring young students may find some help from a familiar name: the Boy Scouts of America.

The youth organization's affiliate program, "Learning for Life," is a school- and worksite-based youth program that serves as an integrated academic and character development program.

"Exploring" is the worksite-based program of Learning for Life and focuses on involving teenagers in clubs, called Explorer Posts, that allow all students, boys and girls ages 14 to 20, to learn about possible careers, develop leadership skills, and enjoy activities with like-minded teens and adults. Any business or government agency can sponsor an Explorer Post, which usually focuses on a single career field.

Dr. Steve L. Bowen sponsors a Veterinary Medical Explorer Post
Like other veterinarians across the country, Dr. Steve L. Bowen sponsors a Veterinary Medical Explorer
Post. Here, he teaches teens about the anatomy of the kidney as part of the Learning for Life program,
a subsidiary of the Boy Scouts of America. (Courtesy of Dr. Steve L. Bowen)

For years, Dr. Steve L. Bowen has sponsored a Veterinary Medicine Explorer Post out of his office, Valley Veterinary Clinic, in El Centro, Calif.

Each month, students attend a one-hour meeting and then a related weekend trip.

All the participants are junior and senior high school students who are college-bound.

Dr. Bowen contacts counselors at the two high schools in his area and asks them to refer to him students who have an interest in veterinary medicine, have a high GPA, and are taking upper-level science and math courses. He's been doing the program for two years, and now there's a waiting list at the local high schools.

Dr. Bowen' accepts 10 students every school year for his LFL program; four adult leaders help.

At the very beginning, he provides each student a copy of the 50-page BSA Veterinary Medicine merit badge pamphlet, which is used as a template for the monthly meetings, and plays the AVMA DVD "Veterinary Medicine—It's More Than You Think."

At subsequent meetings, Dr. Bowen provides a half-hour "field of practice" talk and a half-hour, in-house clinical session. One month, he discussed food animal medicine and then had the students look at the gross anatomy and microanatomy of kidneys. The companion field trip was to the livestock barns at the Midwinter Fair.

Other demonstrations he has given have been on electrocardiography, radiography, laboratory testing, ultrasonography, and even bone surgery, dog spaying, and dental care. He takes the teens on field trips to various places including an equestrian center, fish farm, zoo, dairy farm, wildlife rehabilitation center, and military veterinary facility.


Veterinary Medicine merit badge

The Veterinary Medicine merit badge. (Courtesy of the Boy Scouts of America)

Dr. Bowen has been involved with the Boy Scouts of America for more than 50 years and on May 27 was awarded the Silver Buffalo Award, the organization's highest award for distinguished service to youth on a national basis.

He thinks the LFL program is a practical way to reach out to youth interested in the profession yet with minimal effort on the part of veterinarians and their staff.

"If we are focusing on producing DVMs, then I think it is important to focus on the students who really have a chance to go on to college and get into veterinary medical school. This means we have to give an honest amount of our attention to this group of high-achieving students," Dr. Bowen said. "Most of these students have never had an experience like this. They have seen all kinds of TV visuals on human medicine but very little of veterinary medicine. Our role as mentors is to open the door into our profession through a strong educational format that is 'fun.' This is how the Boy Scouts of America approaches skill learning."

Veterinarians can set up their own program by contacting their local Boy Scout Council office and asking to speak with the Learning for Life director there. They will need to register with the Boy Scouts in the LFL program as an adult leader and pay a nominal registration fee.

A less intensive effort for veterinarians wanting to help local youth would be to host an area Boy Scout troop for the day so the boys may earn their Veterinary Medicine Merit Badge.

The Scouts learn about the various fields of veterinary medicine, the training required to become a veterinarian, and the role of veterinarians in the human-animal bond.

They must also visit a clinic, hospital, or teaching hospital, observing the staff and writing a report on their observations. A number of veterinary schools and colleges annually host Boy Scouts for a day, including those at Auburn University, the University of Georgia, the University of Illinois, Texas A&M University, and Western University of Health Sciences.