Adventures in Teaching

In July, I swapped my current role as “student” for the role of “educator,” something I hadn’t done since I left my job at an aquarium before starting veterinary school. I’ve always loved teaching because I’ve always loved learning, and the only thing more enjoyable than discovery itself is to be a part of someone else’s learning experience, to witness that light bulb as it flickers on.

I was a teaching assistant for a summer course called “Conservation Medicine.” The course consisted of a group of high school students from across the country and around the world- most of them entering their senior years and thus working on their college applications. I saw myself in many of them, and their enthusiasm reminded me why I am on this path.

One of the most challenging aspects of the course was just how interdisciplinary it was. Rather than being a course about veterinary medicine and its value in conservation, we explored many of the “One Health” professions and “-ologies.” Their exam questions ranged from the practicalities of wildlife anesthesia to the meaning of a waggle dance performed by a honeybee. We played with telemetry equipment in Cornell’s sprawling arboretum, we shot dart guns at balloon targets, and we looked at the thousands of vertebrate specimens currently held by the renowned Cornell Lab of Ornithology. The students and I embraced this- I must admit it was quite refreshing to not view everything through an exclusively veterinary lens!

Wildlife Immobilization Practice

Through all of this, I was reminded that even once I have my DVM, I will only be a small piece in the puzzle of solving our world’s most complex problems. And I was reminded that I do not have to be an expert on everything, but rather know a few things really well, and know when to consult for problems outside of my capabilities.

I was extremely proud of my students as they gave their capstone presentations. The assignment could be summed up in just a two simple sentences, “Pick a species or ecosystem. Describe what threatens it, why it matters, and how we can save it.” Simple? Perhaps. But easy? Not by any means.

What impressed me most was the fact that not a single group shied away from tackling these problems. Where I’ve often found myself feeling hopeless about certain aspects of conservation, they had only new ideas and hope. From partnering with existing captive breeding programs, to creating new parks and research stations, to changing sports team logos to encourage popular support, their ideas seemed more limited by the time constraints on their presentations than the enormity of the problems they were discussing.

At the end of 3 weeks, that hope proved contagious, and their enthusiasm inspired me to keep on pushing through my final two years of veterinary school, with a renewed feeling that we do have the skills and people necessary to solve these problems, as soon as we stop defining ourselves by discipline and instead learn to collaborate across academic divisions.

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