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Experience a trademark benefit of interning at CROW

By Staff | Sep 16, 2015

CROW veterinarian intern Dr. Molly Lien puts the finishing touches on a bandage for a brown pelican. BRIAN WIERIMA

The best relationships in life results when it’s a two-way street, when all parties involved benefit in some way.

It is because for that reason the Clinic for the Rehabilitation of Wildlife’s (CROW) student program is such a success and has been a bastion of learning for veterinary medical students from all over the world.

For CROW, the non-profit hospital is able to treat its 3,500-plus wildlife patients directly because of its interns and externs, who in turn, gain valuable hands-on experience in their field of veterinary medicine.

The programs are gaining popularity, as well, with CROW already having an 18-month waiting list for its intern/extern and Fellowship programs. Students flock from all over the world, as well, with 25 different countries, 133 U.S. universities and 26 major veterinary schools represented.

In essence, it’s a program which has shaped professional careers in wildlife veterinary medicine, while providing the necessary manpower CROW needs to serve its patients.

A CROW extern helps hold a brown pelican, which was injured by either an alligator or shark, at the CROW hospital this summer. BRIAN WIERIMA

“Students come here to become specialized in the (wildlife medicine) area,” said Dr. Heather Barron, who oversees the student programs as CROW’s hospital director. “They are getting an unusual experience here, since only a few facilities in the U.S. are able to teach what we are teaching here.

“Most people leave here happy and feel they gained a very valuable experience, a very intensive one.”

Although the stipends in which interns and externs receive for working at CROW is quite minimal, the majority receive the free housing in the dorms which are on site.

Add in the fact they are not paying the exorbitant fees for college credits, while learning and gaining good experience in their field, is quite the attraction, as well.

Dr. Molly Lien, who is currently CROW’s senior intern, said being introduced to wildlife veterinary medicine has given her a new outlook on her career.

CROW veterinarian intern Molly Lien (right), who is from Michigan, is the current senior vet intern at CROW. She applies bandages to a brown pelican, which survived an alligator or shark attack and is recouping at CROW hospital. BRIAN WIERIMA

Dr. Lien graduated from Michigan State post-graduate veterinary program and worked in Michigan for three and a half years at a private veterinary practice, which mostly treated domesticated animals such as dogs and cats, as well as larger farm animals such as cattle.

But her time at CROW was an eye-opening experience, with the vast variety of wildlife (over 200 different species in Florida) she has treated over her time on Sanibel.

“I’ve always been passionate about animals, especially the wildlife,” Dr. Lien said. “I’ve always been fascinated with wildlife and conservation medicine. Up north, I did treat some raptors, owls and hawks. But before working at CROW, I never have worked on pelicans and aquatic birds and the amount of reptiles we get here, along with the sea turtles, has been different.

“The volume of reptile work has been pretty crazy.”

Being an intern at CROW requires a year-long residency, which are only available to post-graduate veterinary students. The position offers the opportunity to assist the clinic director in care and rehabilitation, along with triage care and also teaching students, who are working at CROW, as well.

Jen Riley took advantage of being an intern/extern at CROW, which helped her immensely in her practicing wildlife veterinary medicine. BRIAN WIERIMA

They are also the primary doctor for about 75-percent of the cases which are at CROW.

“Their focus is on extending their education on conservation and everything which CROW does here, they will have that opportunity,” Dr. Barron said. “They handle the bulk of the cases, live on the campus in our dorms and also do research projects and are required to put out at least one publication in a peer review medical journal.”

A few past interns are also helping Dr. Barron write chapters in upcoming educational textbooks.

Fellowship students stay from six months to 26 weeks and must be at least 18 years of age and are usually a natural science student and have an interest in the field of wildlife, conservation medicine and rehabilitation.

Veterinary technician students are also able to apply.

Dr. Jennifer Riley completed a CROW Fellowship last January. She is now working at Lion Country Safari in Loxahatchee, but credits her time at CROW as being an important boost to her career.

Dr. Riley still travels back to Sanibel to help out at CROW as a volunteer.

“Everyone who works at CROW is very lucky, they are an incredibly hard-working group of interns, who usually come back to volunteer when possible,” Dr. Riley said. “Everyone wants to work out there and it does give you a good feeling with yourself at the end of the day.”

Dr. Riley used her time at CROW to work with what she loves – birds. She was able to treat pelicans for the first time and performed medical procedures such as blood transfusions, setting bones, treating wounds and feeding the patients.

“I was also really lucky, because I didn’t have a lot of experience treating reptiles and working at CROW allowed that,” Dr. Riley said.

The externships at CROW include for undergraduate students, veterinary technicians and vet medicine students. The stays range from four to 24 weeks, with a minimum of 20 days.

In all the student programs, though, one thing is common, and that’s direct hands-on experience. Externs are not used just as Gofers, but instead they can help treat the patients under the guidance of the senior intern and Dr. Barron.

With over 3,500 patients coming through CROW’s doors last year alone, the intern and externs’ hours are valuable to the non-profit organization.

In 2014, there were 26,925 hours logged in by externs, interns and fellowship students. That amounts to over $296,000 in-kind value wages.

In other words, the payoff for CROW to provide top education and experience to its students, is the ability to run its operation.

“There are so many aspects which you learn at CROW which are unique,” said former Fellowship student Robin Bast, who is currently attending the University of Florida Veterinary School. “You get to work with so many species many (students) don’t get to see and have a chance to work up close with. One day I was helping treat a three-gram hummingbird, then next I was helping with a Loggerhead sea turtle.

“Working the emergency care aspect of it, too, was another attraction for me.”

Bast completed a four-week externship at CROW in January of 2010 and her fellowship was from January through July of 2011. She was then hired as a senior wildlife rehabilitator until her admission in the UFCVM program in the fall of 2012.

Having the opportunity to work at CROW prepared her for journey into the field, she said.

“The hands-on experience was invaluable,” Bast said. “I have done a lot of other externships, but CROW provided the most hands-on experience. You don’t just stand back and observe.”

Dr. Barron sees the field of wildlife veterinary medicine growing, with the public’s perception of caring for wildlife.

“People are starting to realize that treating and researching wildlife affects them and the perception of the ‘bunny hugger’ is gradually changing,” she said. “We are a learning and teaching institution, but some of our past externs/interns become employees here and that’s a nice feature, as well.”

The CROW student programs are coveted positions, as proof of the 18-month waiting list and the many different countries and states students come from to seek a better education and experience in the wildlife veterinary field.

But the relationship between CROW and its students is certainly a win-win situation for both.

And that’s the way strong relationships are crafted.