Community meets science at the College of Veterinary Medicine

The College of Veterinary Medicine works to provide animals with quality care while including community aspects like sending sympathy cards to clients and ensuring students are taking care of themselves.

Sage Smith

Faculty members of Iowa State’s College of Veterinary Medicine work to build a strong community for colleagues, students, staff, clients and animals.

Rodney Bagley is the department chair for Veterinary Clinical Sciences. He oversees faculty and academic programs like different areas of research. He also teaches three courses, including a second year course about ethics.

Bagley said the essential mission of the college is to train the next generation of veterinarians.

Students spend three years in the curriculum learning the science and medicine behind the practice and then in their fourth year they get to apply what they’ve learned with real life training by going through clinical rotations.

The veterinary medicine students work right with faculty members in their fourth year. They see patients and participate in diagnosing and treating cases. Their fourth year consists of long hours and handling various types of situations.

A community aspect of the College of Veterinary Medicine is when an animal is put down in their care, the students and faculty who worked on the case will sign and send a sympathy card to the owner of the pet.

“I think in general, veterinarians are very compassionate people,” Bagley said. “One of the hard things for us as well is to have a patient that doesn’t do well or dies even, that’s just another reflection of the way we try to expand that compassion and capacity is through those kind of things maybe sympathy cards or notes or follow up conversations.”

Stephanie West is the director of hospital operations and oversees several areas of the college, one of them being the Lloyd Veterinary Medical Center, which is the veterinary teaching hospital.

West oversees the operational aspects of the college and said they have increased their staff by 30 percent over the last year to improve students’ experience and safety. She said veterinary medicine is always a team of faculty members and students.

“We have actually selected for people who are in this profession because they want to be,” West said. “Right there we have compassionate people. It’s the best people to work with. We have people that their entire lives revolve around taking care of animals and the people that love those animals.”

Brian Rowe-Barth, program coordinator for the Lloyd Veterinary Medical Center, is the hospital relations coordinator. He works to make sure all clients get the information they’re looking for when they come in with their pets. This means ensuring there’s proper communication between the clients, faculty and students.

A problem that comes up with those in veterinary medicine is mental health. According to a study conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention where they looked at 36 years of death records from 11,620 veterinarians, it was concluded female veterinarians were 3.5 times and male veterinarians were 2.1 times as likely to die from suicide as the general United States population.

Rowe-Barth said they try to check in with students if they don’t look well because maybe they haven’t eaten or slept. They also watch the hours students work to make sure they’re not overdoing it.

“While they’re learning it’s important to make sure that they’re learning healthily,” Rowe-Barth said. “I feel that the college really does have a lot of good pieces in place to help students with that. There are signs throughout the hospital, bulletin boards about feeling stressed or ‘do you need help’ and our informational TVs has information about counseling and what not.”

West said she focuses on the wellness of students as well and tries to set a good example of wellness behaviors by taking the time to eat a meal or have a short break from work.

“One of the hardest things is to stop for a moment and take care of yourself,” West said. “I had learned once a long time ago the term ‘HALT’ which meant if you’re hungry, angry or anxious, lonely or tired, stop and see if you can deal with that issue before you went on.”

For students, the College of Veterinary Medicine has its own counseling through Student Counseling Services. The location is within the Office of Academic and Student Affairs at 2270 Vet Med. Employees of Iowa State have access to resources available through their employee assistance program.

Sandy Popelka, secretary for Veterinary Clinical Sciences, has worked for the college for over 40 years. She has lived in Ames for her whole life and “bleeds red and gold.”

Among her many jobs, Popelka works with the Companion Animal Fund, which was developed in 1983 to accept donations that go directly to support improvements in animal health care.

“Probably the most rewarding thing about my job is being able to help people, help the students achieve their career goal and also it’s rewarding to work with all of these veterinarians who are so focused and so dedicated to animals and to teaching these students how to be the veterinarian of the future.”

Popelka said seeing students have those moments where they figure something out is very rewarding and makes her proud of Iowa State and thankful to work here.

The College of Veterinary Medicine has a unique opportunity for students and faculty to be able to work so closely with animals, which can be very different from providing medical care to humans.

“It’s one thing to provide medical services for patients that can talk to you and maybe know what they’re feeling,” Bagley said. “It’s another thing when in fact you’re providing that for patients that can’t necessarily verbally talk to you. So there’s a lot of bonding, there’s a lot of connection going on. The way I look at it, those animals can’t really choose their own care, an owner chooses it for them, they can’t really tell you what they think. You have to be very cognizant of quality of life and those kinds of things in the profession.”

The College of Veterinary Medicine also has a strong connection with their Iowa State alumni. One of the ways they have this connection is the Gentle Doctor magazine, which is published twice a year and distributed to alumni, veterinarians and more.

“Our alumni are very loyal,” Bagley said. “Most of them feel very appreciative of the degree they got here. Many of them have stayed in the state and they’re practicing so they’re providing clinical service in the state and we’re a resource for them. In fact, if they have complicated cases or cases that require some sophisticated equipment or treatment that they don’t necessarily have in their practice, they can refer them here, which they often do.”

While the College of Veterinary Medicine works to treat animals of various shapes and sizes, the members of the college also work to take care of each other and make it the best environment it can be.