Oncology internship guides a journey to veterinary medicine
Editor's note: This first-person account is written by Michelle Lund, who is a certified veterinary assistant and graduating veterinary technology student at the Community College of Baltimore County. She is a former global corporate communications and strategic public relations expert, where she spent the majority of her prior career in aerospace and defense. She holds a bachelor’s in communication studies with minor in leadership studies from Chapman University, a master’s in strategic public relations from George Washington University, and is completing prerequisites for application to veterinary medical school.
As I stepped through the double doors into the bright hallway, hearing cheerful morning greetings and seeing the wagging tail of an alert German shepherd, I knew I was about to open up a new world of opportunity in my journey to becoming a veterinarian.
I was lucky enough to do a weeklong intensive oncology internship at the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine’s Animal Cancer Care and Research Center (ACCRC) in Roanoke thanks to partial semester tuition coverage as the recipient of the Zoetis Foundation/American Veterinary Medical Foundation Veterinary Technician Student Scholarship.
My week began by learning about the latest approaches to fighting “the cancer beast” from the skilled team of technicians, doctors, and Doctor of Veterinary Medicine candidates that collaborate on cases ranging from lymphoma to mast cell tumors, leiomyosarcoma to hepatocellular carcinoma, and many other cancers.
Currently, the ACCRC provides diagnostic testing and staging, radiography, ultrasound, CT and MRI, and aspirates and biopsy to determine targeted treatment protocols that include surgery, radiation therapy, immunotherapy (chemotherapy) and entrance into clinical trials.
While patients varied from a 6-year-old doodle mix to a 15-year-old feline domestic short hair, the one thing all of these animals have in common are pet parents who want to help them not just survive, but thrive. That meant traveling to receive radiation therapy with the only linear accelerator in the region, undergoing surgical excision of cancerous tumors, going through sessions of chemotherapy using potent cancer-fighting drugs like vincristine and adriamycin, and participating in translational research comparing soft tissue sarcoma imaging using MRI versus CT to help both animals and humans alike get closer to remission.
Seeing the effort everyone – especially the patients – put into living was inspiring. Even though there can be challenging side effects – something I can empathize with as I’ve been going through my own treatment for a genetic disease I was diagnosed with last year – the focus remains on finding the most effective way to live purposefully and happily.
With the guidance of the incredible tech team, I was able to practice the skills I learned from my veterinary technology program at the Community College of Baltimore County in Essex, Maryland. I completed venipunctures, ran and read lab work, placed catheters, listened for heart murmurs, assisted in anesthesia monitoring, identified various drug protocols and their reactions, practiced fear-free handling and restraint, and listed possible medical differentials based on symptomology. As part of the academic learning environment, I was able to connect what I learned from my other internships in emergency, internal, and general practice medicine to the cases at the ACCRC. Best of all, the support and mentorship I received from my temporary colleagues made me feel like I was a real technician and aspiring DVM student.
Even though my week at the ACCRC is done, I know I’m just getting started in veterinary medicine. I’m looking forward to graduating from the Community College of Baltimore County in May, passing my boards and finishing prerequisites for application to veterinary medical school. With a bit of luck and a lot of hard work, instead of walking into a hospital as a hopeful veterinary technician, I’ll get a buzz to my phone because my team is paging Dr. Lund – stat!
I’d like to give a very special thank you to Drs. Athanasiadi, Dervisis, Herring, Hsueh, Klahn, Miyagi, Nightengale, Tellez, Tuohy and Yang; technicians Maryann, Stefanie, Robin, Angela, Crystal, Carley, Caitlin and Danielle; radiation therapists MaLora and Kenzie; Dan Vruink and the administrative staff; and the DVM students from Ross, St. Georges and Tech who shared their insights on their vet school journeys with me.