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Veterinary Medicine Students Celebrate Animals at Vet Med Open House

October 22, 2019

Vet Med student Aiden Tansey paints the face of young visitor.
Vet Med student Aiden Tansey paints the face of young visitor.

    Vet Med student Aiden Tansey and her young friend, face painted as a...bunny? Vet Med student Aiden Tansey and her young friend, face painted as a...bunny?

Pet a horse, a piglet, a bird, even a tarantula. Milk a cow. Get your favorite animal painted on your face. Conduct “surgery” on your stuffed animal. Stick your arm inside a fistulated cow. Feel the inside of some real horse’s intestines (outside of the horse who donated them, of course). These were some of the numerous fun yet educational activities available to the many visitors who showed up at Veterinary Medicine’s Open House on Sunday, October the 6th. Organized and run by current Veterinary Medicine (Vet Med) students,the Open House featured not just animals, but the students. They staffed the various offerings, proudly talking to visitors about their exhibits, what being a veterinary student at Illinois is like, and answering a plethora of questions that curious visitors, both young and old, asked about animals. Plus, for high school students who might be considering becoming veterinarians, it was “a really cool way for them to see all of the programs and opportunities that our college has to offer!” explains third year vet med student Chelsea Santa Lucia.

The open house had something for animal lovers of all types. There were exhibits featuring small animals, such as cats and dogs, including a demonstration by the Illini Service Dogs; large animals, including horses, cows, and pigs, and even a farrier (horseshoeing) demonstration; wildlife (such the birds of prey exhibit by the Avian Wings of Wonder), even exotic animals and zoo animals. For the kids, besides petting the many animals available at the numerous exhibits, they could get their face painted, choosing from a selection of various animals available. There was even an opportunity for kids to “conduct surgery” on their favorite stuffed animal, for which they had to undergo a number of critical preparations veterinarians go through, such as examining their animal (using a stethoscope); disinfecting both their hands and the area where they would perform the surgery on their animal; putting on a surgical mask, even donning scrubs. For high schoolers possibly interested in becoming veterinarians, there was a talk about how to gain admission to veterinary school.

A local kindergartener uses a stethoscope to “listen” to her unicorn’s heart.
A local kindergartener uses a stethoscope to “listen” to her unicorn’s heart.

The youngster cleans the spot on the unicorn where the surgery will take place.
The youngster cleans the spot on the unicorn where the surgery will take place.

Garbed in a face mask, she scrubs up for surgery.
Garbed in a face mask, she scrubs up for surgery.

Staffing the many open house exhibits were hundreds of Vet Med students, who were excited to share with visitors both young and old some of what they’ve been learning, For instance, Chelsea Santa Lucia, who is studying to be a veterinarian because she loves horses, is interested in Equine Medicine, and would like to focus specifically on sports medicine and lameness. In fact, her dream job would be to work at an equine practice in the New England area of the U.S. More specifically, after working in New England year round for the first few years after she graduates, she hopes to eventually split her time between New England and Florida, following her clients south for the winter months!

Santa Lucia helped with the Equine Surgery and Anesthesia exhibit which had three parts: surgical and anesthesia equipment/tools for performing surgery; an interactive station where visitors could see and touch real horse intestines and learn about horses’ anatomy; and a live horse, named Lucy, who was painted with a horse’s skeleton so visitors could learn about equine skeletal anatomy while petting her.

Santa Lucia says one reason she loves Open House is because she really enjoys teaching. “My goal was to talk to visitors about some reasons why and how we perform equine surgery here at U of I.” Another great educational opportunity she gets every year is visits from horse owners in the area who are interested in seeing/learning about what's "going on" inside their horse and some common reasons why horses may colic.

Regarding the benefit of the outreach, she reports, “I think Open House is a great place to bring your family and for kids to learn how to properly interact with their animals in a safe and fun way. A lot of students who aspire to be veterinarians also visit open house every year so it's a really cool way for them to see all of the programs and opportunities that our college has to offer!” she adds.

Also helping with the open house was Hailey Houdek, a first year Vet Med student who hopes to specialize in radiology and to graduate in 2023. For the most part, outside of class she spends as much time as she can getting experience with large animals through various clubs such as the Production Medicine Club and Theriogenology. Her dream job once she graduates is to work in a mixed animal practice, where she can either see in-house appointments or be able to drive out to farms when needed.

Houdek’s activity at the open house involved demonstrating how to use a pill gun to give medication to either a cow or smaller animal such as a sheep, and how to properly harness an animal, such as a cow or a sheep. According to Houdek, her goal in helping out at the open house was to “raise awareness in the community about different handling practices with large farm animals—especially to those that previously have only had small, companion animal experience. It was great to see how the kids interacted and were able to make connections between their prior knowledge of dog or cat handling, for example, and look at how an animal such as a cow is handled.”

Vet Med student Hailey Houdek explains to open house visitors about Horses’ intestines.
Vet Med student Chelsea Santa Lucia explains to open house visitors about Horses’ intestines.

Houdek believes the open house had a great impact on the general public…and on the kids. “I spoke to a woman who had told me that she had gone to the open house when she was a child and now that she has a child of her own, she wanted to continue the tradition. It was great to see different generations or age groups interact with such enthusiasm with all of the different booths,” Houdek shares.

A third-year veterinary student in the class of 2021, Aiden Tansey shares why she helped out at the open house. “I have wanted to be a veterinarian for as long as I can remember,” she admits, “so it is exciting to interact with kids who show a passion for animals. I love answering all their questions and hope we inspired a few to become future veterinarians as well.”

Tansey’s job at the open house was to express her artistic talents by painting faces at the Kid’s Tent. “It’s always really popular,” she claims, “and it’s a great way to let them talk while you listen.”

Hailey Houdek teauches a young visitor how to harness a sheep.
Hailey Houdek teaches a young visitor how to harness a sheep.

Tansey says she enjoys participating in the Vet Med Open House, because it’s a great opportunity to not just interact with the community but to demonstrate all of the different aspects of veterinary medicine. “We are in a very diverse field,” she says, “and it is exciting to share all of those different opportunities with our community.”

She continues, “I don’t think that there is a better reward for any of us who worked at Open house than the animated excitement of a child who had the chance to interact with a new animal species for the first time; or to listen to them enthusiastically telling their parents that they want to be a veterinarian when they grow up. Every one of us here at the veterinary school share that same enthusiasm and passion every day.”

While Tansey isn’t currently specializing in a specific area of veterinary medicine, she explains, “That’s what is exciting about the veterinary field; there are many options. Veterinary school is a great place to begin considering those options.” She says she plans to join a small animal general practice once she graduates.


Emma Whitmore interacts with a young visitor who intends to do “surgery” on her stuffed animal.
Emma Whitmore interacts with a young visitor who intends to do “surgery” on her stuffed animal.

Young visitors to the Vet Med Open House show off their face paintings.

Story and photographs by Elizabeth Innes, Communications Specialist, I-STEM Education Initiative.
More: K-12 Outreach, Open House/Expo, Vet Med, Vet Med Open House, 2019

Following is an additional I-STEM article about Vet Med Open House:

Vet Med student Nina Shahidi with Lucy the horse.Vet Med student Nina Shahidi with Lucy the horse.
Vet Med student Brittany Stark guides a young visitor as she inserts her arm into a fistulated cow.Vet Med student Brittany Stark guides a young visitor as she inserts her arm into a fistulated cow.
Hannah Miller, an Illinois Vet Med student, with Lucy, the horse, who is demonstrating a horse’s skeletal system to Open House visitors.Hannah Miller, an Illinois Vet Med student, with Lucy, the horse, who is demonstrating a horse’s skeletal system to Open House visitors.
A group of young visitors pet Lucy the horse.A group of young visitors pet Lucy the horse.