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Vet Med Open House Appeals to Young and Old Alike

Two local boys display the headbands, facepaint, and tatoos they got at the Kids' Tent.
Two local boys, Carson and Cameron, proudly wear Vet Med Open House paraphernalia, including face paint, tatoos, and headbands from the kids' tent.

October 9, 2013

It appears that McDonald's no longer has a monopoly on the marketing strategy that has made the fast-food chain practically a household word. The Vet Med Open House seems to have stumbled upon their secret: "Get 'em when they're young." Like most campus open houses, it's designed to acquaint the public with what their unit does and to recruit students to Illinois…with one notable exception. Instead of targeting mostly high school students and adults, the outreach also appeals to youngsters...of all ages.

The fall 2013 Veterinary Medicine Open House on Sunday, October 6th offered a variety of events that appealed to kids, from getting a tattoo or their face painted; to petting a variety of animals, from dogs, to horses, to 3-week-old pigs; to donning a helmet and becoming an honorary member a large-animal-rescue crew.

Neal Benjamin and 3-week-old pig.
Vet Med student Neal Benjamin holds a 3-week-old pig that was just weaned the week before the Open House.

And the veterinary medicine students who staffed the outreach event seemed to be having as much fun as the kids.

For example, Amy Sneed, a first year Vet Med student in production and food animal medicine, was stationed at the kids' tent making headbands, on which she attached whatever animal ears the child chose.

Does she think the open house had an impact on the youngsters who participated? Sneed says yes.

"I didn't live close enough to the vet school to go to this when I was younger," she says, "but I know that I would have really enjoyed it if I would have had the opportunity to."

Local youngster and Amy Sneed, first-year Vet Med student.
Local youngster wears the elephant-ear headband made by first-year Vet Med student, Amy Sneed.

Sneed, who grew up on a small farm, is enjoying her experience at Illinois so far and has appreciated the exposure to all the different areas of veterinary medicine:

"We have kind of a unique program at U of I. Our first eight weeks were in rotations, so each week we go to a different department. I've been in small animal emergency and ICU; I've been in primary care. I'll be in ophthalmology next week, and then surgery. So it just gives us a really neat chance to get hands-on experience and also see how all the different departments work in the hospital."

Sneed admits that although students are required to participate in the Open House, she enjoyed it. "And it's required, but we get to pick what booth that we're at. So that's the good part about it, because we can pick things that we like to do."

Vet Med student Josh Good and pit bull Kevin have a moment with a young visitor to the Open House.
Grinning from ear to ear, pit bull Kevin, supervised by Vet Med student Josh Good, enjoys a moment with a young visitor to the Open House.

Third year veterinary medicine student, Josh Good, on a crusade to change the reputation of pit bulls, introduced the youngsters to Kevin in attempt to "give them an idea of how pit bulls can be, and how they're just really sweet, loving, great dogs."

Another popular stop for petting was Snowbird, a mare with a flowing white mane. When a child commented about how soft Snowbird was, her handler, first year Vet Med student Emily Wechter indicated that the day before, the mare had been given a bath to get spruced up for the big event.

Wechter was particularly struck by visitors' curiosity: "I loved working at the Open House...it was fun sharing not just our knowledge but, most importantly, showing the community what exactly we do here. It's extremely rewarding to be able to talk about things I am so passionate about to people who are interested in what I have to say. I thought most people would be coming through Open House just to pet some animals and look around. I was surprised to find that the majority of those who passed through my booth, both adults and children alike, were reading the signs and diagrams we hung up. They were examining parasites and skulls we had on display. Many were eager to ask questions and find out more. I loved that!

Emily Wechter and Snowbird
Vet Med student Emily Wechter and Snowbird.

According to Wechter, the purpose of Open House is to show the public what truly goes on inside an animal hospital: "Vet med isn't just about petting kittens and puppies (although we do love to do that); it's investigating, memorizing, examining, diagnosing, treating. We are doctors, and our patients cannot communicate with us to tell us what is wrong. I think a lot of people don't grasp that, nor do they grasp the variety of species we must be familiar with. We are radiologists, surgeons, oncologists, ophthalmologists, dermatologists, and I think Open House does a great job of demonstrating this. Open House gives the public a taste of what it takes to be a veterinarian."

Does she think any of the kids who visited the Open House will end up being veterinarians? "Sure," replies Wechter. "I think that some of the kids that come will end up being vets. I was once one of those kids!

Wechter also adds a caveat: becoming a vet is also a lot of hard work: "But I know that most don't quite understand that there is much more to the profession than petting animals and maybe giving a shot or two. You must have a certain passion to become a vet—to put in all the time and effort it takes to get here—and I think there are a select few that have it."

First year Vet Med student Lindsay Andsager, who helped with the large animal rescue exhibit, reports: "I absolutely loved working the open house. It was incredibly rewarding, and spending the day educating and interacting with the groups of children and families on ambulance medicine was a blast."

For those who want to be sure not to miss the Vet Med Open House next year, the date has already been set: October 5, 2014. Mark your calendars!

Story and photographs by Elizabeth Innes, Communications Specialist, I-STEM Education Initiative.

Vet Med student interacts with young visitor to the Large Animal Emergency Rescue station at the Vet Med Open House.
Vet Med student Lindsay Andsager interacts with a young visitor to the Large Animal Emergency Rescue station during the fall 2013 Open House.