If you look at a map of North Dakota, the Turtle Mountain Indian Reservation sits right in the middle of nothing, one hundred miles in any direction from a city.
On the reservation is a small casino, a gas station, a grocery store, a school, and that’s about it. Members of the Turtle Mountain tribes rely on occasional visits from a traveling veterinarian to care for their animals; the veterinarian provides primary care but no surgery.
This gap in veterinary care is bridged by the Humane Society Rural Area Veterinary Services (RAVS), a non-profit outreach program that brings free veterinary services to underserved rural communities where poverty and geographic isolation leave them without adequate veterinary care. Every year, more than 400 volunteers from across the country help the Humane Society provide this service at no cost to the clients and communities it serves. This summer, one of those volunteers was CVM student Jennifer Kelsey (Class of 2016).
Kelsey was part of a team of veterinarians and veterinary students who landed in Bismark, North Dakota and hit the ground running. They got off the plane, drove to the reservation, and set up the clinic in one night. Then they started receiving clients early the next morning. “We did about fifty spay and neuter surgeries a day for three days,” says Kelsey. “The last day was wellness treatment and we saw about 150 animals.”
Then they packed up, drove 360 miles to the Cheyenne River Indian Reservation, set up the clinic, and did it all over again.
All RAVS volunteers, including veterinarians and veterinary technicians, are required to take an online training evaluation prior to leaving on the trip. This ensures they are familiar with RAVS clinical protocols and prepared for the job ahead.
In addition, all veterinary student volunteers are required to participate in a practical skills assessment at the start of the clinic. This assessment includes suture patterns, knot tying, anesthesia machine setup and medical record keeping. “If you past the test,” says Kelsey, “you can scrub in and assist with surgeries.”
Kelsey passed the test and was able to get plenty operating room experience. She also learned a lot about setting up a mobile clinic. “They were super organized,” she says. “I got lots of good ideas for the upcoming trip to Nicaragua.” As an officer in the OSU International Veterinary Students Association, Kelsey is one of the primary organizers of the club’s annual service trip to Ometepe, Nicaragua.
One of the biggest take-aways from the RAVS experience, is learning to work on a team. “I learned that it was important to hear everyone’s ideas,” she says. “There were so many people from various backgrounds, and sometimes they had different opinions about a case. I learned that more than one person can be right. This will be good preparation going into third and fourth-year clinical rotations.”
Kelsey recommends the RAVS experience to other veterinary students. “It’s a really good experience in a busy, high stress clinic,” she says. “And it was good for me to meet people from all over the country. I made some great friends, got good advice, and made a lot of good contacts.”