Vet lab offers students opportunity, experience

Vet Sciences Instructor Jaycee Thompson (front right) teaches students nail trimming last Friday at Liberty Hill High school. The new Veterinary Sciences lab gives students hands-on training in veterinary techniques. (Rebecca Canfield Photo)

Vet Sciences Instructor Jaycee Thompson (front right) teaches students nail trimming last Friday at Liberty Hill High school. The new Veterinary Sciences lab gives students hands-on training in veterinary techniques. (Rebecca Canfield Photo)

By Rebecca Canfield

Liberty Hill High School’s new veterinary sciences lab is up and running, and is offering agricultural science students the opportunity to get hands-on experience working with animals.

This experience will help students who want to study veterinary sciences in college to become certified veterinary assistants before graduation. The experience will also help those curious about the career field to decide whether or not to pursue it.

“The new veterinary sciences lab will be used for not only the veterinary medical applications class, but will also be used in the principles of agriculture class and the advanced animal sciences class,” said Agricultural Science teacher Jaycee Thompson.

The principles class will be using the lab while learning veterinary basics such as animal handling and safety, while the animal sciences class will use the lab for dissections. The veterinary medical applications class will be using the whole lab during their upcoming pet spa days when they will be grooming dogs, as well as when learning various lab procedures such as looking at blood under a microscope, or looking at urine samples.

The lab will also be used by the Future Farmers of America (FFA) vet sciences team.

This is Liberty Hill’s first time to have a vet sciences team, and Thompson, who is an FFA adviser, has been working with the team on topics students need to know to be competitive this year. The FFA vet sciences team is practicing now in anticipation of spring competitions.

“I think the students really like the lab because they get to handle live animals when they are in there,” Thompson said. “Their eyes always brighten up and they always get excited when they get to go in the lab.”

Thompson, who designed the lab, says she had a real veterinary hospital or grooming facility in mind during the designing phase. Thompson, who is former agricultural sciences teacher at Temple High School, said that although Temple High School’s facilities were larger, designing the lab at LHHS was an opportunity to create a state-of-the art facility with some of the newer equipment that is being used in veterinary hospitals and clinics today. Although the new facility is smaller, Thompson says that it is more practical than her former lab. “Some of these kids when they graduate they will become certified veterinary assistants and they can go straight to working in a veterinary hospital right after high school,” Thompson said. “Giving them that lab, gives them the experience they need working with animals.”

Currently, Thompson’s students are working on basics such as proper lifting of patients, restraint techniques that prevent patients from getting hurt, safety techniques, and hospital check in procedures. Students are also learning office procedures such as how to file medical records, as well as learning about veterinary terminology and anatomy.

“Veterinary medicine is a very big job market and it always will be, because people will always have pets. That is, of course, on the small animal side.” Thompson said. “On the large animal side, we will always have people that eat meat, and food animal medicine is actually a huge job market because it’s not very popular at the moment. Our country needs a lot more food animal veterinarians.”

Thompson says that although this is the second year having a veterinary medicine class at LHHS, this is the first year there has been a lab. Without the lab, the students have had to learn those skills somewhere else, but now students have the resources on campus.

“With the lab I can teach them the skills that the vet hospital would want them to know before they go to the vet hospital to get their certification,” Thompson said. “Being certified when they go in, that also makes the vet hospital want to pay them more because of that experience.”

To become a certified veterinary assistant, students need to have a total of 500 clinical hours. Two hundred of the hours, Thompson said, can be completed in her lab, while the other 300 have to be completed in a veterinary clinic under a veterinarian. Having this new lab, Thompson said, is definitely a step in the right direction.

One thing that Thompson wishes people knew about veterinary medicine, though, is the difference between a veterinary technician and a veterinary assistant. A veterinary assistant restrains an animal for technicians, performs most of the kennel work, handles some of the daily office procedures and animal check-ins, and also performs some of the more simple procedures such as cleaning an animal’s ears or doing nail trims. A vet technician requires a two-year degree. The vet techs do more complicated things such as drawing blood, performing blood work, monitoring a patient under anesthesia, and administering anesthesia.

Thompson said veterinary work is more than cuddling with kittens. Some come into veterinary sciences with a romanticized view of what is involved. The reality is that veterinary services isn’t always fun, she said.

“It’s not always the most pleasant thing. It’s not all about snuggling kittens and puppies. It’s hard work. People cry, sweat and bleed when they work in a veterinary hospital sometimes.”

However, that fact has not dissuaded several determined LHHS students from pursuing their goals within the industry.

“I took veterinary classes because I have a passion for animals. I grew up having tons of animals. I train barrel horses, I barrel race, pole bend, and all that kind of stuff, and I show dairy goats,” said senior Riley Krause. “The knowledge of the behind the scenes things that I’ve seen my vet do when I take in my animals has always fascinated me, so when there was an opportunity for me to learn more and get some hands-on experience, I jumped on it.”

Krause, who says that her goal is to become certified to teach therapy horses and perform hippotherapy, is especially excited about the horse training portion of her classes, which will be coming up shortly.

Thompson, who has worked several years as a horse trainer, will integrate some of those techniques into the current program, a fact that has many students delighted.

“I am also excited for our first pet spa day, which we will have before Thanksgiving break,” said Thompson. “We will hopefully have it every Friday after that.”

The pet spa days will be offered to school employees for a nominal fee. This will give students some experience and will raise money for the program while offering a convenience to school staff. Additionally, Thompson is working on creating a practicum class, which would provide students the opportunity to earn training hours during class time.

Until that time, however, LHHS veterinary science students will be working alongside Thompson and her trusty border collie, Spur, who in the last few months has become the vet sciences well-loved mascot and quite possibly, the best groomed animal in Liberty Hill.