In the Community: Educational Volunteering Reaps Rewards

AAHA-accredited Northern Oaks Bird and Animal Hospital in San Antonio, Texas, operates the Educational Workshop, designed for those ages 13 and older who are interested in pursuing a career in veterinary medicine or veterinary technology.

Educational Workshop student Sarah Gloria performs a therapeutic laser treatment on a surgical incision.
(Photo courtesy of Northern Oaks Bird and Animal Hospital)

“From a small seed, a mighty trunk may grow,” noted Greek playwright Aeschylus. So it was for the Educational Workshop Volunteer Program, a community service project initiated by AAHA-accredited Northern Oaks Bird and Animal Hospital in San Antonio, Texas.

“We decided to put an official program in place due to community and client interest in volunteering with us,” said Jessica Sowder, LVT, Educational Workshop facilitator. “In addition, a nearby high school’s Health Occupational Students of America club was interested in incorporating veterinary medicine into their clinical rotations.”

The Educational Workshop was formally launched in 2016, although Northern Oaks hosted numerous clinical rotation students before that.

The Educational Workshop is designed for those ages 13 and older who are interested in pursuing a career in veterinary medicine or veterinary technology. The hands-on program, which runs year-round, hosts one student at a time and includes three 4-hour modules that encompass surgery and exam room observations.

Students learn cage cleaning, basic restraint techniques, and how to obtain vital signs. They also perform nail trims, ear flushes, and other treatments. More advanced students learn how to administer subcutaneous fluids, the basics of anesthetic monitoring and recovery, and instrument cleaning, sterilization, and surgical pack assembly.

The lead technician oversees the students’ scheduling and progress. Students are assigned to a veterinary assistant to shadow at the beginning of each day, and they receive ongoing instruction by the veterinarians and technicians throughout the Educational Workshop.

“Most Educational Workshop students wish they could extend their experience with us, and students of the clinical rotations have often requested a second rotation,” Sowder said. “Of course, as expected, some students realize that this is not the career path for them, as it is not all about playing with puppies and kittens.”

Students are paired with high-performing employees who have a passion for teaching and training. In fact, an unexpected outcome of the Educational Workshop is for the staff itself.

“The biggest success with our program is seeing how our team came together,” said Sowder. “We have seen some employees really thrive through the process of educating the students. The process also helped us determine which team members have a strength for leading and training.” Additionally, Northern Oaks developed training methods for new team members.

Other practice benefits Sowder noted include having a “working interview” and hiring tool for new employees. (Northern Oaks has hired some of the Educational Workshop’s graduates.) Also, because students learn about the importance of quality veterinary care, they tell their friends and family, who, in turn, heed their advice to bring pets in for an exam.

The boon for students who participate in the program includes a letter of recommendation to take to a future employer, such as a shelter. Other benefits include the education itself, clarity about whether veterinary medicine is a good career path for them, and maybe even an offer of employment from Northern Oaks! 

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