Her bedside manner is gentle as she calms her patient with a soothing voice. There is no need to warm the stethoscope – the cold won’t be felt through the patient’s pelt.
With all the confidence of a full-time doctor, Erin Bennett, a student at Western University of Health Sciences in Pomona, examines her patient’s eyes, nose and ears. He isn’t running around like the rest of the kids. Perhaps a more thorough exam is needed. With a heave, the four-hooved patient is taken to a comfortable bed of hay for some TLC.
Bennett is one of 30 veterinary medicine students from Western University who has volunteered to care for the livestock and barn animals in the L.A. County Fair’s FairView Farms. Each night the students don their stethoscopes and wander through the Big Red Barn, observing the cows, calves, goats, pigs and chickens, looking for anything unusual and often assisting in deliveries.
“This is my first time here and it’s really exciting,” said Bennett about her experience at the Fair. “It’s one thing to read about caring for an animal in a textbook and another to do it in the field. You get to use some improvisation.”
This unique Fair/university association came about when the Big Red Barn’s Sky Shivers met Western University faculty member Dr. Brian Aldridge at the state fair in Sacramento. The proximity of Western University to the L.A. County Fair and the fact that the university was willing to offer its services on a volunteer basis in exchange for the practical experience their students would receive was too good to pass up, said Shivers. “The veterinarian college has been a phenomenal help. Each animal gets observed at least 10 times a day.”
Melissa Lucas was at Cal Poly Pomona prior to transferring to Western University, so farm animals weren’t unfamiliar to her.
“But by being here at the Fair, we’re getting more exposure to farm animals,” she said, which will help her as she plans on working with livestock and large animals after graduation.
Dr. Wendell Cole, also a faculty member at Western, said the fact that second-year DVM students like Bennett and Lucas get an opportunity to work directly with animals is unusual.
“We have an advantage over traditional schools in that these students get an opportunity to work with animals much earlier,” he said.
Shivers and the university hope to expand the relationship next year to include bringing an operation unit on site.
“We’re thinking about doing small animal operations, allowing people to watch and using that as a tool to educate folks on how to care for their pets and how to use prevention to keep them healthy.”