2013 Year in Review: Justine Ma, Veterinary Student

It’s time to look back on 2013! Check our blog between Christmas and New Year’s for a variety of stories and memories of 2013 from the staff, students, and volunteers of the Wildlife Center.

I participated in a three-week externship at the Wildlife Center of Virginia during my fourth year of veterinary school. I had wildlife rehabilitation experience prior to vet school so this externship gave me an additional opportunity to see the ins and outs of another rehabilitation facility, a break from the monotony of being in clinics, the opportunity to travel, and to do what I enjoy doing -- wildlife rehabilitation.

I do have to say, the experience you get at WCV depends on the time of year you go. Actually this is the case for any wildlife rehabilitation facility. When I arrived, the baby season was just starting. We saw predominantly mammals - LOTS of bears, opossums, and squirrels. At the end of my externship, the Center was just starting to get birds. Here is the general breakdown: end of fall/winter, you will mostly see adult wildlife with serious problems (hit by car, debilitating trauma, etc). There aren’t that many patients coming in so you have the time to go through each case in-depth and try different treatment options. That being said, you will likely get called in more when you are on-call for the random injured/sick adults that good Samaritans find and bring. Spring/summer is the start of the baby season. You will see cute, adorable baby animals -- but LOTS of them. You see a lot of variety and get to treat a lot of animals.

Since my externship was only three weeks, the minimum amount of weeks you can complete, I only got one day off each week. I have to admit, I was exhausted by the end of the externship. If you want an easy externship, this experience might not be for you. If you want to get a large amount of hands-on experience and see a variety of animals, learn about various wildlife in the area, then this would be an excellent opportunity. You work hard, but in the end, you get a lot out of it.

This is what a typical day looks like: Arrive to the facility at 8 am. Print out the treatment sheet and draw up all the medications/fluids for all animals in the facility. Administer the medications designated for the veterinary staff. Have rounds to go over cases.

Depending on the day – feet and feather check on avian patients, draw blood samples, and finish treatments on all the animals in hospital. When animals are admitted, you are the primary caretaker. This includes doing a physical examination, coming up with a treatment plan, and completing the treatment plan. Everything you want to do has to be approved by the veterinary staff before proceeding. This includes obtaining blood, taking radiographs, wound treatment, suturing etc. Surgical work, however, is performed by the veterinary staff due to its complexity.

You also have the opportunity to interact and learn about rehabilitation -- what diets each animal gets, how to handle certain animals (like raptors), husbandry … all of the things that are very important in wildlife rehabilitation. You learn how to catch and handle raptors of all sizes. As a veterinary student extern, you get two days of this in your initial training but if you are there for more than three weeks, you can get additional training.

The WCV externship was a good experience. Seeing and learning about the different types of wildlife on the East Coast, specifically Virginia, was great. I got to refresh my rehab skills and got lots of practice handling and examining small mammals, something I wasn't comfortable with previously. I was a little sad that I didn't see as many birds but that is the luck of the draw. The staff were great, and I definitely learned a lot. I highly recommend this externship to anyone interested in working with wildlife or wildlife rehabilitation.


Keep checking the Wildlife Center's blog for more year-end posts this week!

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