Tifton lab introduces ABAC students to VetMed

The Tifton Veterinary Diagnostic and Investigational Lab regularly welcomes students from the Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College (ABAC) to its offices for daylong workshops exploring career pathways in veterinary medicine. More than 150 ABAC students have participated in the Veterinary Diagnostics and Careers in Veterinary Medicine Workshop since it was first offered in 2018. The partnership between the schools is funded by two competitively awarded grants from the U.S. Department of Agriculture: i) NLGCA Capacity Building grant in partnership with ABAC,  and ii) Higher Educational Challenge Grant for multi-institutional collaborations with schools, colleges and Universities in South Georgia.

Dr. Jennifer Harper, professor of biology at ABAC, said the collaboration between colleges aims to level the playing field for urban and rural applicants to veterinary schools. Harper leads the program with Dr. Hemant Naikare, professor of Infectious Diseases at the UGA College of Veterinary Medicine and Director of the Tifton lab.

“The majority of our ABAC students are from rural areas of the state, and we saw that they were not as successful at being accepted into vet schools as compared to their urban counterparts because they had not had access to different opportunities found more commonly in larger cities of the state,” Harper said. “Students are given a tour of the departments of the lab so they can learn more about procedural aspects involved in veterinary medicine that they might not ever participate in at a local veterinary hospital.”

Anna Booth gets a hands-on opportunity to learn lab procedures.

Anna Booth, a freshman at ABAC majoring in Animal Science, wanted to make connections with people in her field of interest and learn about more opportunities in the veterinary field than just being a clinical veterinarian. “The workshop was also appealing to me because I enjoy research and I wanted to learn more about what research opportunities there were at the diagnostic lab,” she said.

The clinical pathology section was an eye-opener for Booth, who said she was astonished to learn how much information can be gained from a blood sample. She was also introduced to a new field of consideration by a veterinarian who is also a pharmacologist, Dr. Nikita Mirajkar, Associate Dean of Curriculum and Professor at the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine, South Georgia campus in Moultrie, who discussed pharmacology and the veterinary field. “I went to EMT school, and I really enjoyed learning about the medicines we could provide to animals, so I was ecstatic to find out there is a field dedicated to animals,” Booth said.

UGA and ABAC offer paid research internships to juniors and seniors attending ABAC three times a year, providing 16 weeks of research in the spring and fall semesters, and 8-12 weeks in summer. Students hoping to be enrolled in those internships are required to participate in the workshop so they can understand how the lab operates and decide which department they would like to work with.

These workshops initially began in spring 2018 with the seed funding received from UGA’s New Approaches-Diversity and Inclusion grant. Subsequently, Naikare was successful in securing extramural USDA funding to consistently offer workshops and internships to students from multiple other institutions in South Georgia, namely, Fort Valley State University, Valdosta State University and Tift County High School.

“Our team at the Tifton D-lab and the Office of Admissions, CVM, are highly committed to offering a productive experiential learning opportunity to rural students with an emphasis on laboratory diagnostics and also exposure to food animal practice through clinicians from the Department of Population Health,” Naikare said. “This will aid in creating a pipeline of students from rural Georgia to pursue careers in veterinary medicine.”