Veterinary students explore research careers in summer program

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The Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine’s Summer Veterinary Student Research Program provides training to veterinary students from the college and other veterinary schools. The intensive, 11-week program highlights the biomedical research side of veterinary medicine.

Over the course of the summer, about a dozen students learn about research careers, develop professional skills, and conduct mentor-supported research projects. Students receive training on subjects that are crucial to becoming a successful researcher, like proposal writing, reports, and research ethics. The program culminates with students presenting their research at the National Veterinary Scholars Symposium, hosted virtually this year by Iowa State University.

This year’s SVSRP introduced students to many careers outside of clinical veterinary practice. Students met with scientists in federal institutions around Washington, D.C., and attended breakfast seminar events with academic institutions like medical schools and other research organizations to learn about the many careers open to veterinarians.

  1. Ansar Ahmed, the SVSRP’s director, said that the program encourages students to explore different career paths.

“It is not uncommon for D.V.M. students after their experience in the SVSRP to change their career thoughts from becoming practicing veterinarians to alternative, nonpracticing careers in government, industry, and academia. Our survey data suggest that about 55-60 percent of our SVSRP D.V.M. summer trainees are not in traditional small animal practice but in alternative careers, including academia, industry, or advanced training,” said Ahmed, who is the associate dean of research and graduate studies and a professor of immunology.

Emma Loessberg of Richmond, Virginia, is a second-year veterinary student at the college. She is pursuing a career in pathology research, and the program was a great fit for her goals.

“I hoped this program would help fill in the gaps when it came to my laboratory experience. I was also very excited about the networking opportunities that the program offered, as it was an opportunity to be exposed to less traditional careers within veterinary medicine.”

The highlight of the program for many students is its nine weeks under the guidance of faculty mentors as the students conduct research on animal models of diseases. Through this, the SVSRP supports the college’s focus on One Health, the approach to public health that recognizes the interconnected nature of animal, human, and environmental well-being.

Elaina Davis, a third-year veterinary student at Lincoln Memorial University, was mentored by Joanne Tuohy, assistant professor of surgical oncology. Davis spent her summer working on high-frequency irreversible electroporation (H-FIRE) on canine primary lung cancer. In this role, she collaborated with biomedical engineering students as well as students at the veterinary college.

“For me, the most memorable part of my summer was any time I had the opportunity to see clinical cases, especially clinical trial candidates. I love research and being in a lab, but seeing the clinical patients was my favorite part of any day,” said Davis.

Working alongside Nisha Duggal, Loessberg examined the susceptibility of mosquito and bird cells to Usutu virus, an emerging arbovirus.

“I learned how to thaw and culture cells, inoculate cells with different virus strains, complete plaque assays to quantify the virus, and complete growth curves for each cell line to examine growth kinetics,” Loessberg explained. She also helped with mosquito husbandry, examined house sparrows, and took blood samples from mice.

“Out of all these amazing opportunities, I would have to say my favorite was the work I got to do with the house sparrows because it mixed research with clinical skills and was very similar to what I hope to be doing in my future career,” said Loessberg.

For Davis, participating in SVSRP was an eye-opener.

“My biggest takeaway from the program is realizing that I want to work in academia. I really loved seeing Dr. Tuohy go from the research side to clinical side on any given day, and it’s really opened my eyes to the possibilities within my career.”

Now in its 15th year, the SVSRP equips veterinary students with the tools they need to become researchers. The SVSRP is sponsored by the National Institutes of Health, the Boehringer Ingelheim Veterinary Scholars Program, and the college.

Story by Sarah Boudreau M.F.A. ’21. Boudreau is a writer with the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine


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