Gently placing the stethoscope against the golden retriever’s furry rib cage, a woman listens intently through the earpiece.
“Lungs auscult clear,” she declares — veterinarian-speak for a healthy-sounding respiratory system.
The pony-tailed blonde with the stethoscope isn’t a veterinarian, however — at least not yet. She’s one of 18 college students participating in a session of the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine’s Summer VETS program, intended to give these hopeful vets-to-be a realistic preview of vet school and the veterinary profession.
This is the third year Penn Vet has organized VETS, which stands for Veterinary Exploration Through Science. Offering five week-long sessions throughout the summer — three for college-aged students and two for high schoolers — the program includes lectures, laboratories and clinical rotations that expose participants to the varied nature of veterinary medicine.
“When we conceived the program we didn’t want it to be so academic that a student had to be tested and graded, yet we also didn’t want it to be too camp-like where it was just fun and games,” says Rosanne Herpen, associate director of admissions for Penn Vet, who administers the program with admissions recruiter and counselor Rob DiMeo. “The whole premise of it is that they will really learn about what it’s like to be a student of veterinary medicine here at our school.”
Over five days, the students get exposed to a huge variety of science and hands-on lessons. Two mornings are devoted to attending clinical rotations, where the students shadow veterinarians working at Penn Vet’s Ryan Hospital during their rounds. Lectures and laboratories on anatomy, microbiology, toxicology and other science topics are spread throughout the week. Students also get to perform blood type assays, watch working police dogs in action and conduct a mock physical exam on dogs owned by Penn Vet staff.
In addition, students leave the main campus for a day to visit New Bolton Center, Penn Vet’s large animal campus in Kennett Square, where they learn about biosecurity and witness the operations of the Marshak Dairy.
Program attendees come from across the United States to attend the summer sessions, and this year Summer VETS even welcomes international students, from Canada and Barbados. This year also marks the first time the program was able to offer tuition scholarships, funded by the Connelly Foundation, to three Philadelphia high school students who will attend the program in July.
One program participant, Laurie Hahn of Sun Prairie, Wisc., took a road trip to Philadelphia to attend a session for college students held in mid-June. Currently in school to become a veterinary technician, Hahn says her favorite part of the program was the anatomy lab.
“I saw specimens in person that I’d only ever seen in a video before,” she says.
Another VETS student, Renee Kalogera of New Jersey, came to help her make a career change, from critical care nursing to veterinary medicine.
“Penn is my No. 1 choice for vet school,” she says. “I wanted to get more exposure to what they do here.”
Should Kalogera be admitted to Penn Vet and accept, she would join a growing cadre of Summer VETS alumni who have gone on to matriculate here. Three former participants are in the class of rising second-year students and 10 more will join Penn Vet as first-years in the fall.
As leaders of the VETS team, Herpen and DiMeo received an Honorable Mention in Penn’s Model of Excellence Awards in 2011.
They attribute the honor to the enthusiastic engagement of the faculty and staff at Penn Vet.
“The support we get from the school is incredible,” DiMeo says. “The people who are teaching in VETS are volunteering their time and the time of their department. I can’t speak enough about how important their passion is because without it we wouldn’t have the program.”
For more photos of the Summer VETS experience, visit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/universityofpennsylvania/sets/72157630210773518/.