sealPurdue News

May 2000

Community practice clinic mirrors 'real world'

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. – Veterinary teaching hospitals have a long history of providing future veterinarians with challenging referral cases for study. Animals in need of complicated surgical procedures, radiation treatment for cancers or complex drug therapies are regularly referred to facilities such as Purdue University's Veterinary Teaching Hospital for treatment.

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But a large number of the students who graduate from vet school will not practice those types of specialized medicine – rather, they will work in community practices that focus on primary care and pet wellness.

"About half of all vet schools in the U.S. now have some sort of community practice clinic attached to them," explains Dr. Steve Thompson, director of Purdue's Wellness Clinic and one of two full-time practicing clinicians who double as faculty in the veterinary teaching hospital. "It's a definite trend in veterinary education. It's also a very important teaching tool from a caseload standpoint, because there are only so many lectures that students can sit through before they need to start seeing some animal patients."

At Purdue, students are eligible for the elective in their fourth year of study. Under the supervision of Thompson or Dr. Alondra Martin, they perform all of the tasks of a regular community clinician. Prior to the development of the Wellness Clinic, students' only exposure to the community practice setting was through a required externship, also taken in their fourth year of study.

"The students gather medical and behavioral histories from the client, perform a complete physical exam on the pet, and assist with the diagnosis and development of a treatment plan," Thompson says. "We also work on issues such as client communication, veterinary economics and practice management."

The clinic's services are available to all pet owners, including those with exotic animals and non-traditional pets, who reside within a defined geographic radius of the university.

"We do a lot more than just dogs and cats," Thompson says. "About 15 percent of our current caseload is made up of exotics like ferrets, iguanas, large birds and even fish."

Rates for services are competitive, but the client experience is a bit different from that at a commercial veterinary practice.

"This is a teaching tool for us, so we spend a little more time with the animals and their owners," Thompson explains. "We deal with questions from both the client and the student veterinarian, so appointments for even simple procedures will take longer. We try to compensate for that by offering early morning and lunch time drop-off service, as well as Saturday morning and evening office hours."

Students are also exposed to the latest developments in progressive veterinary medicine practices.

"Veterinary medicine mirrors human medicine in many ways, including an increased focus on wellness issues and special care for aging animals," Thompson says. "Nutrition and behavior consultation as well as animal dentistry are becoming more standard rather than specialty services. Since pets are living longer, their nutritional and medical needs are changing. The community practice elective gives students exposure to all of these issues in an actual practice setting."

Source: Steve Thompson, (765) 496-3399,

Writer: Sharon A. Bowker, (765) 494-9723,

Purdue News Service: (765) 494-2096;


Purdue veterinary clinician Steve Thompson examines the wing feathers of a Moluccan cockatoo held by Mary Rakowski, a senior in veterinary medicine from Bremen, Ind., and assisted by second-year veterinary technician student Rebecca Cripe of South Bend, Ind. (Purdue News Service Photo by David Umberger)
A publication-quality photograph is available at the News Service Web site and at the ftp site. Photo ID: Thompson.commclinic

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