by SC Reporter Teresa Vazquez
photos contributed by CROW
Veterinary students from around the world make their way to Sanibel for one specific reason: to partake in The Clinic for the Rehabilitation of Wildlife Student Programs that are “definitely different than other centers,” says Hospital Training Coordinator Becca Wehmeier.
“We get extremely hands on, it’s kind of on the job learning,” Wehmeier said of the educational experience 30 to 40 students receive each year at CROW’s state-of-the-art hospital.
Depending on their background and future goals, students can pick which of the six programs they want to complete. Wehmeier explained that what sets the programs apart from one another is where in the hospital the students will be working – a rehab or clinical setting.
The Externship for Undergraduate Students and the Fellowship Student program fall into the rehab category. These students work in CROW’s three baby rooms, aid in the rehab of outdoor patients, and work with the four animal ambassadors that take part in educational presentations because they could not be released back into their natural habitat.
On the clinical side, the Externships for Veterinary Medicine Students and Veterinary Technician Students are placed in intensive care units and work alongside the doctors. The goal is for them to polish up their technical skills and learn how to create treatment plans while they observe cases from start to finish.
“So, their first day it’s kind of special because we just have to jump right in and go through these different medications and hear term protocols and treatment plans,” said Wehmeier.
Further, the Wildlife and Conservation Medicine Internship for Doctors of Veterinary Medicine is for veterinarians looking to become board certified in exotics, and the Conservation Education and Marketing Internship is for students interested in careers in environmental conservation, communications or other related fields.
While each of the programs is unique in its own way, Wehmeier said CROW stands out overall from most teaching hospitals of its kind in various ways but most of all with the extensive hands-on experience. She added that students have noted they have more active participation at CROW compared to other wildlife clinics they visit.
And what makes CROW’s student programs even more special is “you will learn more than you think,” says Wehmeier. She shared the story of a recent fellowship student, who was placing IV catheters, taking rads and completing technical skills without help by the last day. “She knows exactly what to do and those are skills she’ll take with her after she leaves here,” said Wehmeier.
The hands-on experience is accompanied by the uncommon opportunities students get to live out at CROW. Students can expect to see hundreds of native and migratory birds, as well as otters, bobcats, foxes and skunks on occasion. Students also have the rare chance to work with sea turtles. Wehmeier explained most wildlife clinics do not have the permit or facilities to house sea turtles, instead they are transferred elsewhere.
Wehmeier also explained most wildlife clinics tend to call in veterinarians, which makes CROW fortunate to have a full complement of staff including Medical and Research Director Dr. Heather Barron, who is a board certified avian specialist, certified aquatic veterinarian and a licensed wildlife and sea turtle rehabilitator.
Wehmeier says she has 60 to 80 student applications reach her desk every year from as far away as Belgium, Brazil, Germany and other places across the globe – each one seeking this once-in-a-lifetime educational opportunity. It’s her task to sort through them, looking for the ideal candidates to fill in the 12 available onsite slots – two which are reserved for veterinary interns.
CROW is a place Wehmeier has enjoyed herself. “I’ve absolutely loved every single day that I have been here. I wouldn’t trade it for the world,” she said.