APVMA helps undergraduates realize their future

AVMA working more closely with preveterinary organization to make connections
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Veterinarians often choose their career at an early age, but a lot has to happen between the start of undergraduate studies and the end of veterinary college for them to reach their goal. The American Preveterinary Medical Association wants to be part of the process for more students looking to join the veterinary profession.

The APVMA is a national organization of undergraduate students whose goals are to promote and stimulate interest in the field of veterinary medicine, provide communication between preveterinary clubs and organizations nationally, provide resources to students interested in pursuing a career in veterinary medicine, and hold the annual National APVMA Symposium.

Dr. Griel instructs students
Dr. Lester C. Griel, professor and program coordinator in the Department of Veterinary and Biomedical Sciences at Pennsylvania State University, instructs students during a wet lab at the 2019 American Preveterinary Medical Association Symposium. The two-day event brings together prospective veterinary students from all over the country for an opportunity to learn more about the field of veterinary medicine. (Photos courtesy of APVMA)

Gather round

The APVMA recently wrapped up its 2019 National Symposium, held March 8-9 at Pennsylvania State University. It drew more than 600 attendees. Organizers said this was the first time since the symposium began in 1985 that the meeting was held on a campus without a veterinary college.

Kristen Rose Kohler, a preveterinary major in the College of Agricultural Sciences at Penn State, chaired this year's symposium committee after previously attending three APVMA symposia. "It's my favorite weekend of the year throughout undergrad," she said. "Especially as a younger student when you're taking more general classes like chemistry and biology, it's a good reminder of why you are taking those classes and gives you something to look forward to."

Demonstration of cardiac auscultation
Staff from the PennVet Working Dog Center assist in a hands-on demonstration of cardiac auscultation. Respondents to post-symposium surveys say the meeting gives them a greater understanding of veterinary medicine and veterinary college prerequisites while promoting connections with fellow preveterinary students.

A hands-on necropsy laboratory had students analyzing a deer carcass, while other students toured a dairy barn. Additional laboratories had students perform physical examinations on dogs and diagnostic tests on blood samples.

Dr. Peter Ostrum gave the keynote address. He starred as Charlie Bucket in the 1971 film "Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory," then went on to become a large animal practitioner after graduating in 1984 from Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine.

Dr. Ostrum discussed qualities that make a great veterinarian, using the Willy Wonka movie as his theme. For instance, in talking about the importance of being modest, he contrasted that behavior with the character of Augustus Gloop. He also discussed his own experiences and how his unique background led him to where he is today, Kohler said.

Other popular lectures included those from Dr. Jason Brooks, a faculty member at Penn State and veterinary pathologist who works in the Animal Diagnostics Laboratory and spoke about veterinary forensic pathology and his role in helping solve crimes against animals, and Dr. Erica Ward, head veterinarian and academic director of Loop Abroad, who talked about her time in Thailand as a full-time veterinarian at an elephant sanctuary.

"I hope everyone took away the same things I have" from previous years, Kohler said. "I hope they formed friendships, found interests they didn't know they had, or maybe learned about a school and want to apply there. (The symposium) reinforces the excitement of how great all our futures will be."

The 2020 APVMA National Symposium will be held at Virginia-Maryland.

Stronger ties

The APVMA continues to grow. Every year, it adds about two to three clubs, with each club having about 40 students, said Kayla Marie Radtke, a preveterinary student at Purdue University and APVMA treasurer. In all, the APVMA has 93 clubs and 140 individual members. Depending on the school, animal and dairy science or animal health science departments house the preveterinary clubs. Not all preveterinary clubs are affiliated with the APVMA.

Dr. Ostrum
Dr. Peter Ostrum gave the keynote address. He starred as Charlie Bucket in the 1971 film "Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory," then went on to become a large animal practitioner. Dr. Ostrum had hidden a golden ticket under one of the chairs; the winner won a signed painting created by his wife, Loretta, who is an artist.

Most preveterinary clubs have weekly meetings and invite veterinarians or individuals who have done internships or traveled abroad to talk about their experiences. They also may hold hands-on laboratories and events with high school students interested in preveterinary medicine as well as volunteer and social events.

Radtke's preveterinary club at Purdue is one of the largest, with more than 100 members. North Carolina State University and Auburn University also have some of the largest preveterinary clubs.

"A lot of universities with veterinary schools have their own preveterinary clubs, but a lot don't as well. We are trying to get people to start more," she said. Another goal for the APVMA is enhancing communication between the national organization and the clubs. The association is working to create a position in every club for an APVMA liaison who will communicate with the national association and promote the symposium. The APVMA is also trying to encourage schools to have more regional symposia.

Meanwhile, the AVMA has been working closely with the APVMA to build a stronger relationship between preveterinary students and organized veterinary medicine. Currently, the AVMA provides need-based sponsorship in the form of three $1,000 student scholarships awarded on the basis of leadership and involvement in the club and community as a preveterinary student.

Dr. Anna Reddish, an assistant director in the AVMA Membership and Field Services Division, said this year's winners will be announced in late May.

The AVMA has also supported the APVMA's symposium for years, Dr. Reddish said, and with the expansion of the Membership Division's Student Outreach Team, the team has been able to build up the relationship even more.

"We want to help (APVMA students) continue their involvement in organized veterinary medicine through (the Student AVMA)," Dr. Reddish said. "What we can provide at the AVMA is not only connecting them to resources we have for current veterinary students and getting them aware of those early on, but also connecting them to AVMA members to increase their experience before veterinary school and connecting them to the profession."

She mentioned resources such as My Veterinary Life, which has information on financial health and well-being, in addition to background on career opportunities.

The APVMA "has experienced a lot of growth. It's a great time for the AVMA and SAVMA to continue to build a relationship with the APVMA," Dr. Reddish said, noting that the SAVMA House of Delegates currently has three junior delegates who are former APVMA officers. "We're already seeing students actively involved with the APVMA now involved in SAVMA, and potentially they'll be leaders with us at the AVMA, too."

Related JAVMA content:

Dr. Ostrum and the chocolate factory (Nov. 1, 2000)