North Carolina’s Zoo Camp Inspires Next Generation of Veterinarians
Physical examinations, mock surgeries and tracking animals with radio transmitters are just some of the activities during each of the four veterinary science camps conducted annually at the North Carolina Zoo.
“We really wanted to set up a program to encourage the next generation of general veterinarians,” says Mike Loomis, the zoo’s chief veterinarian, member of the North Carolina Veterinary Medical Association (NCVMA) and camp organizer.
Sessions are broken up into groups of 20 participants ranging in age from school students in grades 7 through 9 to college freshmen to adults 21 and older.
“Each class has a different theme and each class has different activities in which the students are involved,” Loomis says.
While the exotic animals that are the zoo’s permanent residents usually aren’t used in camp activities, participants still get some hands-on work with living creatures. Dogs often are used during practice physical examinations. The instructors have attached a radio transmitter to a box turtle and let participants track down the animal on the zoo property using equipment wildlife biologists would utilize in the field.
Loomis highlighted other activities that have been popular during the four years the camps have been held. They include practice at shooting paper targets with the air rifle used to propel tranquilizer darts. Also, participants perform mock surgeries with stuffed animals and milk bottles that are fashioned to be like CPR dummies.
“It covers a wide variety of different activities,” Loomis says. “We want to let these young people have an idea of what a veterinarian does and hopefully inspire them to want to pursue a career in veterinary medicine or possibly in another field that’s related, such as wildlife biology.”
Loomis and the zoo’s vet staff provide the instruction while students from the N.C. State University School of Veterinary Medicine serve as camp counselors for the sessions that can last either a single day or an entire weekend and run through May, June and July.
After the activities, the camp incorporates time for question-and-answer sessions so camp participants can learn more about the veterinary field and how they can obtain the proper education.
“Most of the kids are really motivated,” Loomis says. “They work hard because they’re in classes or preparing for classes most of the weekend. They’re pretty tired once they’ve finished, as are the counselors and veterinarians who work with them.”
This year, the camp also has additional resources thanks to the NCVMA becoming a sponsor. The association provided a $5,000 donation to the N.C. Zoo Society, and zoo veterinarians intend to use the gift to purchase surgical equipment and instruments, as well as medications for use in the N.C. Zoo’s Valerie H. Schindler Wildlife Rehabilitation Center.
Since this year’s camp sessions have already sold out, the zoo is building a waiting list for individuals interested in participating next year.
“I think it’s been quite rewarding,” Loomis says about the camps. “We’ve had a number of people who have gone through the camp thinking they want to be a veterinarian and then they know for sure that’s what they want to be. I think we’ve been able to inspire some kids to pursue a career in veterinary medicine. We really feel like we’ve helped them to a certain degree in deciding that veterinary medicine truly is what they want to do.”