Classroom to Clinic: Turkey Surprise

On his first night in the ER, a student weary from book learning gets all the thrills and chills he can handle
Adam Shoelson
Adam Shoelson. Photo: Jake Belcher
January 26, 2017

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In this series, students from Cummings School’s Class of 2017 tell us about the excitement, anxiety and pride of beginning their clinical rotations.

The entry to the emergency room at Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine makes anonymity almost impossible—the huge automatic sliding door seems to announce one’s presence, like curtains opening on a stage. And if you’re a vet student on rotations, you’re expected to get down to business immediately.

An owner is on the phone, concerned about a reaction her pet is having to a drug—comfort her. A dog that has got into the trash and begun vomiting is in the waiting room—triage him. A feral cat has been prepared for neutering—glove up and grab your scalpel. It is fast-paced and unpredictable.

I loved the classroom portion of vet school. But it was routine. While I was studying for my last final in small animal medicine, I reflected that after hours upon hours of lectures and exams, even the most interesting subjects can lose their luster. I needed to start my clinical rotations.

And when I did, I soon got the boost I was looking for. My first night in the ER, I emerged from the break room to find that a sick turkey had arrived, with symptoms including bloody diarrhea. I was told to get a history. I thought back to our exotics and zoo med classes—what questions do we ask poultry owners? I didn’t know, and that was exciting.

I took the history as best I could, and then was asked to do a physical exam. Again, I thought back to our classes. It was late. I couldn’t recall how to properly handle a turkey. If I restrained her wrong, would I hurt her? Could she hurt me? Also, I had no clue what the normal vital signs for turkeys are. I could barely come up with three or four diseases that turkeys are susceptible to, let alone specific conditions that might be causing bloody diarrhea. And again, all of that was exciting.

Fortunately, I got some help. The clinician on the case walked me through a physical exam. A technician in the ICU showed me how to restrain, catheterize and give a pill to the large bird. Together, we all came up with a treatment plan.

More to the point, though, my wild night confirmed that veterinary medicine is the right choice for me. Showing up prepared for vomiting dogs and obstructed cats and instead getting a turkey with the runs may not be everyone’s idea of a great job experience, but it’s the sort of thing I thrive on.

As clinics have continued, I’ve tackled more cases outside my comfort zone. My schedule is inconsistent. I am sleep deprived. My own dog misses me and thinks I smell strange when I come home from the hospital. There is still a background nervousness that pops up whenever I enter an exam room or begin a procedure. But I wouldn’t have it any other way. I can’t wait to see what lies ahead.

This article first appeared in the Fall 2016 issue of Cummings Veterinary Medicine magazine.