A new partnership between the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine at Virginia Tech and the Humane Rescue Alliance (HRA) of Washington, D.C., will provide expanded educational opportunities for veterinary students and an increased capacity for quality veterinary services to the Washington, D.C., region.

The parties signed a memorandum of understanding this spring to formalize the partnership. The agreement establishes a new clinical rotation at HRA’s Medical Center in Washington, D.C., that will give students experience in general surgical, medical, and emergency care; animal welfare; and the unique aspects of shelter medicine in an urban environment.

A cohort of seven third-year veterinary students completed clinical training at HRA in May, becoming the first to participate in the three-week shelter medicine rotation now required by the veterinary program curriculum.

“The HRA rotation has helped me gain confidence in my surgical skills, and working with shelter animals allowed me to experience another aspect of veterinary medicine I may not have had otherwise,” said Brooke Watson, a third-year veterinary student from Alexandria, Virginia.

“I am so thankful for this rotation and the amount of hands-on experience, from prepping animals for surgery, to the actual surgery, to examining and treating the shelter animals and interacting with the community through the vaccination clinics offered by the shelter,” Watson said.

Starting this May, Watson and her classmates became the first students to begin early entry to the clinical learning environment. The college launched a revised curriculum in 2016 that puts students in clinics earlier. Instead of completing five three-week rotations in the summer after their third year of veterinary school, students now complete them in the summer after their second year before returning to the classroom and laboratory environments in the fall. Students spend the fourth and final year of the program completing the remaining 12 clinical rotations.

“It is really exciting to launch this partnership that not only gives our students access to a high-quality, high-volume shelter medicine program, it also gives HRA increased capacity to provide quality care for homeless animals and to offer expanded services to underserved populations,” said Jennifer Hodgson, associate dean for professional programs.

“This HRA externship adds to a growing number of opportunities for our students in the National Capital Region. From clinical training at our Equine Medical Center in Leesburg and numerous small animal, equine, and farm animal private practices in the area to unique training experiences through federal agencies and other D.C.-area partners in the public and corporate practice communities, our students are developing essential skills through diverse, hands-on experiences,” Hodgson said.  

"This partnership creates a win-win situation," said Gregory Daniel, interim dean of the veterinary college. “It will enhance learning opportunities for our students and provide them with valuable experiences in clinical medicine, and it will also benefit the health and well-being of the animals and residents in the Washington, D.C., area. We are pleased to welcome HRA to our network of clinical service and research collaborators in the National Capital Region."

The college’s premier medical care already benefits equine patients and clients of the college’s Marion duPont Scott Equine Medical Center in Leesburg, situated in the heart of Virginia horse country. In addition, companion animals in the D.C. region receive leading-edge medical care through clinical trials at the Veterinary Teaching Hospital in Blacksburg, thanks in part to the college’s Collaborative Research Network. Formed in 2014, the referral network enables specialty practices in Virginia and Maryland to participate in the college’s clinical research program.

To accommodate the expanded learning and service at HRA, Julia Petrovitch, clinical assistant professor in the Department of Small Animal Clinical Sciences, joined the college in May as the on-site faculty member who will partner with HRA’s veterinarians and staff to provide instruction for the students and superior care for patients and clients.

“We are thrilled to launch this partnership, which will be transformational for the animals and people of our region and beyond,” said HRA President and CEO Lisa LaFontaine. “Virtually all of the 10,000-plus animals we house in a given year need medical care of some kind. Through this affiliation, we will have access to a pool of third- and fourth-year veterinary students who can lend their hands, heads, and hearts to our mission — and hopefully, carry their experience with us into their professional careers.”

HRA is based in the only major urban area in the country that has all of its animal protection programs and services unified in one organization. Serving more than 60,000 animals annually, the organization offers a broad range of programs, including rescue and adoption, low-cost veterinary services, animal care and control, behavior and training, and humane education.

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