Morgan Butler/Mustang News

The phone resting on the sterile countertop begins to ring. Seconds later, a red Ford pickup is fired up outside, fully stocked with medical supplies. With the head veterinarian in the driver’s seat and an animal science student on the passenger side, the Cal Poly vehicle drives down the dirt road away from the university’s veterinary clinic with one mission in mind: save a life.

The veterinary clinic— located on the outskirts of Cal Poly’s campus near the rodeo arena— is staffed with four practicing veterinarians, three managers and a handful of working students. The staff works around the clock, treating both Cal Poly animals and public ones.

The veterinary clinic enterprise course is an introductory way students can get involved.
The lab component of this enterprise class acts as a stepping stone into the field of veterinary medicine and segways into other hands-on learning opportunities offered through employed positions at the clinic.

Animal science senior Allison Coyle attributed her preparedness when applying for other veterinary jobs to the experience she has gained through working at the clinic and taking the enterprise course.

“There was a little baby pig who had an infected joint. That was one of the first procedure I had seen. I almost passed out. I backed up against the wall and my vision went completely blurry and I thought, ‘Oh my God I can’t be a vet, I can’t even handle watching a surgery,’” Coyle said. “By the next summer I was watching this gnarly, bloody surgery from the door while eating my lunch.”

Coyle and other animal science students and clinic managers work with the university’s horses, pigs, goats and sheep in addition to treating the public’s animals.

“Students can bring their animals here — some of the UPD officers bring their animals here, staff bring their animals here. Not only are we getting to treat other people’s animals, so many students are getting a great introduction into veterinary medicine,” Coyle said.

Cal Poly alumnus, past enterprise student and previous clinic manager Elizabeth Peck is familiar with the tactile veterinary work the university has to offer.

“I remember when I did my first surgery working as a manager which was so amazing,” Peck said. “I got to scrub in alongside Dr. Sprayberry to perform a spade. There was a bunch of students crowded around in our little surgery operating room. It was thrilling to help to be apart of something and to be fully scrubbed up.”

Peck was one of the three student managers hired annually that are put in charge of running the facility and assisting in the care of both the resident and public animals. She resided in a trailer outback of the veterinary facility for an entire year with two other roommates. Aside from being full time pre-veterinary students, all three managers were tasked with treating animals, performing examinations, managing employees, interacting with community members, assisting with labs and tracking the clinic’s inventory.

“The veterinary enterprise has prepared me hugely to go into veterinary school as it led into my management positions. It solidified my desire to go to veterinary school,” Peck said.

The firsthand experiences that Cal Poly’s clinic provides the enterprise students and the managers are lessons that you would not be able to teach while sitting behind a desk in front of a classroom chalkboard. Peck recounts a time where she was sent on an emergency call with the chance to save the life of a sow at the swine unit.

“It is a huge 500 pound animal and her uterus is prolapsed. We had to get down in the farrowing barn and massage the organ to try to get rid of the inflammation and to replace it to where it was,” she said.

With emergency situations there is always the chance that the animal cannot be rescued. However, with each outcome lies a learning experience at the end of the day.

“It kind of becomes a team building exercise when you have to bring that 500 pound animal out of the farrowing barn, down the flight of stairs for collection. It was pretty remarkable in an emergency situation that had an unfortunate ending but it had an amazing experience,” Peck said.

Practicing veterinarian and animal science lecturer Kim Sprayberry works with students to immerse them in a real time clinical environment. Bringing students on ride-along emergency calls is one of the hands-on ways she provides students with the skills they need in order to apply for practicing positions and veterinary school.

“The clinic exists not to move caseload like a commercial for-profit clinic, but rather it exists to teach,” Sprayberry said. “When they (students) are filling out resumes for jobs and internships, the skills they have learned while in the enterprise class are what paid technicians do. It makes them trainable and easy for practices to hire.”

When the public brings their animals into the clinic, they are charged for the services being provided in order to pay for the supplies like any other veterinary office does. However, when community members visit with their pets, they are doing much more than just supporting the business. They are providing unprecedented introductory experience in the field of veterinary medicine for many Cal Poly students.

“It is so satisfying to be able to nurse these animals back to help,” Coyle said. “It’s the puzzle of it all. Asking what’s wrong with this animal, then using the tools to figure it out and getting to piece it all together to come to a conclusion. It is a satisfying process, especially when you are right.”

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