Reaching UP invites student volunteers

Published on August 17, 2017

Veterinary students who belong to their school’s SAVMA chapters have a unique opportunity to learn about public health and safety, work with underserved communities, and connect with practicing veterinarians through the AVMA’s Reaching UP volunteer program.

Participation in Reaching UP was expanded to include SAVMA members for the first time in November 2016, and we strongly encourage students to apply for participation. Reaching UP clinics provided hundreds of spay/neuter and other services to underserved communities in New Mexico last year, and the veterinary student volunteers not only helped provide these important services—they also gained valuable experience in veterinary medicine.

“Integration of veterinary students into the program affords them an opportunity to explore how to identify and overcome barriers to accessing veterinary care in unique communities,” said Dr. Kendall Houlihan, assistant director in the AVMA’s Animal Welfare Division and Reaching UP program manager.

“The students who participated in the last two clinics took full advantage of the experience, enthusiastically engaging the community, networking with volunteer veterinarians, and learning about One Health in real-time. They also provided an example of the care and passion our profession brings to our patients and their communities, which was an inspiration for the team as a whole,” she said.

Advance your veterinary knowledge

Over the course of a four-day clinic, the Reaching UP program imparts students with valuable take-aways that they can use in their education and future careers.

“All of the veterinarians and veterinary technicians who participated in the clinic were kind and always ready to teach us as veterinary students about anything they were doing,” said Kayla Sample, a DVM candidate at the University of Minnesota who volunteered for the November 2016 clinic. “The veterinary surgeons who participated in the clinic enjoyed talking through each procedure with us and engaging in questions to further our knowledge.”

Gain insight into the challenges of serving unique communities

Reaching UP is a unique program model that aims to improve access to veterinary care among traditionally underserved Native American populations. Tribal populations historically have had minimal access to consistent veterinary care, which has led to overpopulation of companion animals. This, in turn, harms animal health and welfare, public health and the human-animal bond.

“Students engaged in the Reaching UP program have the opportunity to spend time with tribal health officials to better understand animal and public health and safety issues in populations with limited access to veterinary care,” said Dr. Houlihan.

The intersection of public health, environmental care and animal welfare make the Reaching UP program especially relevant to students interested in One Health.

Reaching UP 2016 By the NumbersExplore your love of the veterinary profession

Both veterinarians and students who have volunteered with Reaching UP have commented on the renewed vigor it instilled in them. Like many service opportunities, this program reinforces the impact of veterinary aid on the health of a community and its animals.

“As a second-year veterinary student, I valued the opportunity to connect with veterinarians from around the country, having open dialogue about his or her own veterinary path,” said Maria Albino, a 2019 DVM candidate at The Ohio State University. “Visualizing the positive impact of this clinic has proven that a veterinary career focused on service is the path for me.”

“Participating in AVMA’s Reaching UP program has brought me to the conclusion that I do hope to participate in spay/neuter and preventive care programs as a practicing veterinarian,” remarked Christopher Clement, a 2019 DVM candidate enrolled in a joint program of the University of Alaska Fairbanks and Colorado State University. “Who knows? Maybe I will ultimately end up being a shelter veterinarian.”

Going beyond the student experience

Recent graduates and other AVMA members also have valuable experiences at every Reaching UP clinic. For example, Dr. Mariah Zeigler has volunteered with Reaching UP three times. “The day before the clinic I always feel excitement and anticipation to see AVMA and tribal colleagues who I now consider friends,” she said after the April 2017 clinic.

“The relationships I have built and the experiences I have had at Reaching UP events have made me a more effective veterinary public health professional,” said Dr. Zeigler.  “I continue to be exceptionally proud to represent Banfield's charitable support for the Reaching UP events, and am grateful for and humbled by the opportunity to give back to underserved portions of my local community.”

Apply for the November 2017 Reaching UP clinic

If you are a veterinary student and SAVMA member interested in volunteering, we invite you to apply to join the AVMA for a Reaching UP clinic November 9-12 in New Mexico. Student volunteers will receive food and lodging during the clinic as well as up to $500 toward travel costs. Applications are due September 15, and student volunteers will be selected by September 22. To apply, please complete the application and submit it according to the instructions included in the application.

AVMA members interested in volunteering in a non-surgical position with Reaching UP can find more information and the application for veterinary volunteers at


Thank you to Banfield Foundation for funding the Reaching UP program.


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