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Many young people who love animals want to become veterinarians, although few of them know exactly what that involves.

“Most young students believe that veterinarians just hold puppies and kittens all day,” said Rene van Ee, DVM a veterinary surgeon at Sheridan Animal Hospital in the Town on Tonawanda.

Those myths are dispelled every year for about 50 young people age 14 to 20, who also get a comprehensive look at the varied career opportunities available to veterinarians when they join the Niagara Frontier Veterinary Society Explorer Post.

“I had always wanted to become a veterinarian, but I was never really sure what the whole field was about, or how many options there are as far as jobs,” said Christine Crawford of Amherst, who belonged to the post during her junior and senior years at Williamsville South High School. She is now a junior at Penn State University, where she is majoring in veterinary and biomedical science.

“I think the Veterinary Explorers is a great way for students to learn about the veterinary field and make sure it is what they really want to do before starting their college careers,” she said. “I would definitely recommend it to younger students.”

An informational and enrollment meeting on the post, which is sponsored by the Niagara Frontier Veterinary Society, the Boy Scouts Greater Niagara Frontier Council and Medaille College, will be held from 7 to 9 p.m. Wednesday in Room H206 of Huber Library at Medaille, 18 Agassiz Circle.

The veterinary explorer post, which is now in its 22nd year, is the largest explorer program in Erie and western Niagara counties, said Stephen Blass, the Niagara Frontier Council’s district executive. Those who participate in the program love it, said Blass. “Most people at that age want to do some career exploration, and they get so excited about it.”

But just as valuable as learning what they like about their possible career field is deciding what they don’t like, or possibly even realizing that it just isn’t for them, said Blass. “Some people realize that it’s not what they want, and it saves them a lot of money, instead of going to college and spending four years and thousands of dollars figuring that out.”

The post members meet from 7 to 9 p.m. on the first and third Wednesday of each month from January through May, at Medaille College.

Participants hear from a wide range of speakers, including some working in areas they didn’t even know existed.

“They get to find out about all these different career pathways,” said van Ee. “We try to expose them to everything – the zoo vets, the horse vets, the dairy vets and a veterinarian who takes care of the Niagara Falls Aquarium. A veterinarian for the state of New York might speak about regulatory medicine, shipping animals in and out of New York, we might have somebody from the local emergency clinic talk about emergency medicine. The Army veterinarian corps employs hundreds of veterinarians that go all around the world to help with public health.”

Van Ee, who started out as a speaker, has run the program with veterinary council spokesman Nancy Fredrickson for six years. Assisting are veterinarians Amanda Schepis and Alison Bliss, also of Sheridan Animal Hospital.

Each session, the group visits a college that offers a veterinary program, alternating between Cornell, the only veterinary college in New York State, and the Ontario Veterinary College in Guelph, north of Hamilton. “So if they stay in the program for two years, they can see two different vet schools,” said van Ee.

Post members also learn about the rigorous standards of most veterinary colleges, and get some advice on how to prepare themselves for that education. “We have somebody talk about what you should study in high school, what kinds of majors you should be looking at in college, what kinds of colleges you should apply to,” said van Ee. “We talk about how hard it is to get into vet school, how much it costs, all those things.”

The program provides a certificate showing that post members have spent 35 hours observing, which van Ee notes is “just a tiny part” of the estimated 1,000 hours of experience or observation students must have to be accepted by a veterinary school.

“The average vet student has to spend over 1,000 hours observing, and list that on their application to get into vet school,” he said. But completing the explorer program can help high school students accumulate the hours they need. Van Ee said, “I think it helps them get in the door to observe at a local veterinary hospital if they say that they have been in the explorer program.”

For Crawford, the behind-the-scenes tour of the Buffalo Zoo’s veterinary hospital was not only memorable, it was life-changing. “This trip sparked my interest in exotic animal medicine, and because of this I have been able to find some internships working in a wildlife center one summer and now currently have a job as an animal caretaker for the laboratory animal facilities on my campus,” she said. “I had never thought about working with these types of animals before, but now I believe it is my goal to end up becoming an exotic/zoo or laboratory animal veterinarian.”

The program has changed through the years, with new topics added, including homeopathy and holistic medicine, acupuncture, rehabilitation and pain management, and euthanasia and grief, said van Ee.

The cost of the explorers program is $26. Students under 18 must have a guardian sign the registration. For more information, go to www.nfvs.us

email: aneville@buffnews.com