The Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University has announced a collaboration with Worcester Technical High School (WTHS) that will bring a low-cost primary care clinic to pets from underserved areas throughout the Greater Worcester Area.
Located on the high school’s campus on Skyline Drive in Worcester, the clinic will pair fourth-year veterinary students in the Cummings School’s Doctor of Veterinary Medicine program with students in the veterinary assistant program at WTHS—believed to be the first time a veterinary school has chosen a high school clinic venue to facilitate an educational and outreach partnership.
Work has begun on the clinic space, and an opening is anticipated in late spring.
“This collaboration represents a different way of looking at service to the community, care for needy animals, and educating compassionate, knowledgeable veterinary professionals,” said Deborah T. Kochevar, DVM, PhD, dean of the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine. “Animals and their owners, and students from both schools, win with this model.”
“By pairing veterinary assistant students alongside professional DVM students, we will be able to do more than just treat the critically underserved pets among the neediest communities in the area,” added WTHS Principal Sheila Harrity. “We will demonstrate to our students the career possibilities beyond high school while giving them hands-on education.”
By requiring proof, for example, of government assistance or residency within a residence at the Worcester Housing Authority—the clinic will focus exclusively on individuals who do not have the means to bring their pets to another clinic in the area. Once approved, pet owners will have access to vaccinations, well-being visits and simple surgeries at significantly reduced fees—just enough to cover the clinic’s costs.
In addition to providing hands-on experience for both groups of students and pet owners from disadvantaged backgrounds, the clinic is likely to create a public health benefit by increasing the number of pets who are vaccinated against communicable diseases like rabies, as well as providing surveillance data on outbreaks of animal disease that otherwise might go undetected.
The idea of the clinic grew over time from both sides of the collaboration, but spearheading the concept were two faculty members in the Cummings School’s Department of Clinical Sciences. Associate Professor Elizabeth A. Rozanski, DVM, and Professor John E. Rush, DVM, first conceptualized a clinic to give veterinary students more primary care clinical experience while serving needy animals.
The veterinary school’s involvement in the greater Worcester area has been expanding since 2008 with the launch of the Tufts Shelter Medicine Program, led by Dr. Emily McCobb. During the spring of 2009, students and faculty began to offer an annual vaccination and wellness clinic at the Worcester Housing Authority, funded by a grant from the Tisch College Fund for Civic Engagement.
In addition to the outreach efforts at the Housing Authority, the Tufts Shelter Medicine Program has been building community partnerships in Worcester through working with the Worcester Animal Rescue League and as a partner with the Spay Worcester Coalition, a task force of the Massachusetts Animal Coalition. The program also offers spay neuter service to shelters and rescue groups throughout Worcester County at the Lerner Spay Neuter Clinic on the Grafton campus.
Dr. Rozanski, who serves on the advisory board for WTHS’ veterinary assistant program, identified the high school as a logical fit for a low-cost clinic, and the idea was embraced by Technical Director Peter Crafts and Edwin B. (Ted) Coghlin, chair of the board of advisors at the technical high school.
Drs. Rozanski and Rush worked with Christina Melvin, BS, CVT—a former veterinary technician at Tufts’ Foster Hospital for Small Animals and now a teacher within the WTHS veterinary assistant program—to craft the two schools’ supporting curricula. They completed the plan within a year.
“The students at WTHS have access to the very best—a state-of-the-art school at which to learn, the best faculty available, and now access to the brightest veterinary students,” said Coghlin. “By capitalizing on these resources, they will become leaders in the industry in the future, and serve their community while doing so.”
The clinic will be overseen by recently hired clinic director Gregory M. Wolfus, DVM, a 1998 graduate of the Cummings School. Instruction of the veterinary assisting program students will be overseen by Melvin and fellow WTHS faculty member Melissa Supernor, CVT, VTS, current president of the Massachusetts Veterinary Technician Association.
A Benefit for All
In addition to benefitting under-served pets in the area—many of whom receive little or no care currently—the clinic presents advantages to the students and the community at large.
Students in the technical high school’s veterinary assistant program will take increasingly larger roles as they progress through the four-year curriculum, learning safety and hygiene protocols, scheduling appointments, handling transactions, helping to take histories and steady animals during exams and supervise the younger students in the program.
By working alongside veterinary students under the supervision of WTHS and Cummings School personnel, veterinary assistant students learn valuable skills, Harrity said, and may also aspire to become veterinary technicians or veterinarians themselves.
What’s more, students in programs other than the veterinary assistant curriculum will have a hand in the clinic’s creation. Students in the school’s Computer Aided Design and Drafting program, for example, have helped to design the physical space, others in the Coghlin Construction Technology program will build it, and Graphic Communications students may be tapped to design print and web advertising for the clinic.
In a two-week rotation, Cummings School students would lead clinical care for the pets brought to the clinic, performing examinations and diagnostics using the on-site radiology and laboratory equipment, and creating a clinical treatment plan in consultation with Dr. Wolfus.
The Worcester clinic will allow Tufts students to gain more experience with routine care and engage in direct communication with clients about financial and medical matters. All of these are keys to creating well-rounded, service-minded veterinarians, Wolfus says.
Startup and operation costs for the clinic have been offset by $225,000 in donations from two foundations—the Manton Foundation and the Caccomo Family Foundation—and an anonymous donor, as well as an $85,000 equipment grant from the Massachusetts Life Sciences Center. About $9,000 in equipment for the clinic was donated by Worcester-based LABEX of MA. Cummings School and WTHS personnel are also soliciting monetary and material donations from some Worcester-area and veterinary industry corporations.