Students in DeKalb County are learning that veterinary science is not about playing with puppies and kittens.
“It is sometimes, but most of the time…we do a lot of preventative medication,” said Dr. Paula Murray, a veterinarian at Snapfinger Creek Animal Hospital on Flat Shoals Parkway in Decatur. “There are times when we are dealing with animals that are stressed or hurt or injured.
“Sometimes we have to help clients make difficult decisions about their pets,” Murray said.
Murray is an adviser who runs an Explorers program for students ages 14-20 who are considering veterinary medicine as a career.
“My job is to expose them to all the aspects of veterinary medicine—the nice, the not so nice,” said Murray, a 1984 graduate of Tuskegee University. “That way they can make a true assessment.”
Explorers is a Boy Scout program in which participants can follow career-based professions such as engineering or firefighting to learn more about those occupations.
“I’ve had people in the past say, ‘I’ve discovered this is not the path I want to take,’” Murray said. “That’s what the program is for. They discover whether it’s something they want to do or not.”
Murray, who started working at the south DeKalb clinic in May 2011, began the Explorers program there after a client asked if his son could shadow Murray.
“Most people just come and ask,” said Murray, who has not actively recruited for the program in DeKalb. “And I say ‘yes’ because I feel I need to give back. If somebody needs to be mentored, I’m happy to mentor.”
In addition to hands-on time, the participants meet once a month to discuss various cases and hear from guest speakers such as animal dermatologists, ophthalmologists, veterinarians of large animals and representatives from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
“It looks good on your resume, too, when applying to vet school,” Murray said.
Shawna Wilson, a 17-year-old Southwest DeKalb High student, has helped deliver a puppy at the animal hospital.
“I revived it and made sure it was breathing and screaming—healthy,” said Wilson, who participates in the program twice a week. “At first I was nervous, but it was exciting.”
Wilson, who wants to be a veterinarian someday, said she has clipped nails and taken blood tests of animals. She also has examined stool samples, checking for tapeworms and hookworms.”
“And we get to watch surgeries,” Wilson said. “It’s what I want to do.
The program, which costs $10 a year, is very “interactive and hands-on,” said Micah Seals, 15, a student at Southwest DeKalb High School.
“We learn a lot,” Seals said. “It’s a new experience every time I come here.”
Murray said she enjoys teaching and “being able to make a difference in a young person’s life.”
“I like the fact that they get to see firsthand what’s going on,” Murray said.
When she was young and considering the veterinarian field, Murray’s mother insisted that she learn more about the occupation.
“I grew up in the islands and had no real contact with a vet, but she did find somebody who would let me [follow] around after them,” Murray said. “It was the most enlightening activity I’ve been through. I saw so much that day.”
Murray, who has worked as a relief veterinarian for the past decade in Gwinnett, DeKalb and Cobb counties, currently has 16 registered students in DeKalb and 20 in Gwinnett where she worked previously.
“They shadow me,” Murray said. “They come in the [examination] room with just about every patient that we see. I won’t have them come in the room with me if the animal is scared of too many people being around or if the owner requests” a private consultation.
The Explorers are not present in consultations for clients who are considering euthanization for their pets.
“If there’s a surgery going on, they get to see what it looks like,” Murray said. “They see the good, the bad, the ugly because we have the good, bad and ugly.”