CORVALLIS, Ore. – Elementary students at Marion and Turner schools in Marion County will have the opportunity to learn about the intestinal physiology of a llama, examine a freeze-dried horse leg, compare the differences between a veterinarian and a medical doctor, and help conduct an exam on a dog.

These experiences are through a project conducted by the Oregon State University College of Veterinary Medicine as part of an effort to gauge perceptions of youths on veterinary medicine and to interest low-income, rural and diverse students in the field as a potential career.

The combination research and outreach project is coordinated by Kristin Patton, a veterinary pathologist with the college’s Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory. An assistant professor of veterinary medicine, she has frequently done demonstrations at Marion Elementary School, which her daughter attends. Patton decided to launch a more formal project with the support of the Banfield Charitable Trust in part, she says, because Oregon needs a more diverse pool of potential veterinary doctors.

“About eight out of 10 of the students in the college are female, most are white, and many will end up working in an urban area,” Patton said. “It’s getting more difficult to find students who want to work in rural environments and broadening the appeal of students interested in veterinary medicine is one place to start.”

Patton will conduct a baseline survey with the students in grades K-5, and then return to the school once a month over the next four months to present demonstrations and information on animal bones, brains, lungs and intestines. Each school will receive a set of 10 anatomical models of dogs and each student will receive a stethoscope, coloring books and veterinary-related stickers, donated by the Banfield Charitable Trust.

In February, the focus will be on Future Veterinarian Day. In March, Patton will bring to the schools freeze-dried horse limbs, horse and buffalo skulls and other materials so they can compare the skeletal structures of different animals to their anatomical models. During the session on intestines, the kids will look – but not touch – a preserved llama stomach and a freeze-dried horse colon.

Between the “yucks” and “icks,” Patton is hoping the students absorb a lesson about the importance of veterinary medicine not only for household pets, but to support Oregon’s horses, cattle, dairy cows, llamas and other animals.

In May, the fifth-grade students from both schools will visit the College of Veterinary Medicine in Corvallis for a tour and take part in a post-project survey to see how much their knowledge and attitudes changed.

A second component to the project will feature middle and high school students from throughout western Oregon. Conducted under the auspices of Saturday Academy, the project will bring 20 middle school and 20 high school students to Corvallis on March 7 and March 14 for tours, demonstrations and hands-on experience. The students will help with a medical exam on a patient at OSU’s veterinary hospital, tour the labs, watch a video clip of a surgery, and take a dog into the newly completed canine rehabilitation facility for hydrotherapy. This portion of the project also is supported by the Banfield Charitable Trust.

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Kristin Patton,