Shaping the Next Generation of Veterinary Medicine
Veterinary technician students at Hillsborough Community College are gaining invaluable hands-on experience in a mutually beneficial partnership with Hillsborough County's Pet Resource Center.
About 30 students each semester work with some of the more than 18,000 dogs and cats that come into the public animal shelter each year. The students support the PRC's nationally recognized veterinary staff, while learning essential skills and deciding whether the work suits them.
On-staff vet techs have vital roles in the PRC's mission. Their student protégés learn about the work, performing basic duties such as taking animals' temperatures, cleaning their ears, and learning the proper way to leash and muzzle a dog. In more advanced classes, students broach topics such as pharmacology, animal nursing, and exotic pet medicine.
The job isn't for everybody. Some dogs and cats come through the shelter's doors with wounds or ailments. The students experience firsthand what it's like to be a vet tech, working with PRC staffers throughout the Falkenburg Road complex.
"I am a hands-on learner," says Jayell Metz, who is seeking an associate degree as a veterinary technician. "The experience in a clinical setting not only reinforces what I am learning in the classroom and reading in my texts, but it affords me opportunity to practice the skills."
The PRC professionals, meanwhile, welcome the students' help and enthusiasm.
"It's a great relationship," says Anthony Spatola, one of the students' instructors at Hillsborough Community College. "There are benefits in many ways for the animals' medical needs, as well as the students' educational needs."
Spatola previously was a vet tech at the Pet Resource Center. He knows his way around the shelter, and has seen the good work done by the staff and volunteers.
Spatola is eager to show his students the duties performed, and the near miracles achieved, at the County's pet shelter. "Many have interest in the field but have never had hands-on experience," he says.
Students pursue various levels of study at the PRC. Those range from introductory classes in which students handle animals in a lab setting for the first time, to intense coursework and externships through which advanced students can attain American Veterinary Medical Association certification as vet techs.
Whether the Hillsborough Community College students pursue careers in veterinary science, or choose other career paths, both they and the PRC benefit from the experience.
The partnership has been in place for more than seven years. The PRC also works with high school veterinary programs, and students studying veterinary science at other colleges and universities.