My background is in wildlife biology. My bachelor’s degree was in wildlife and pre-veterinary medicine. Before I got into vet school, I worked at a wildlife rehabilitation facility; however, once I got into vet school, I realized that I was lacking the hands-on experience.
For one, there wasn’t a lot of free time to gain hands-on experience while managing a full load of classes and taking care of my family. It didn’t help that my school (along with other vet schools) no longer has an exotics department. I, and many others like me, have learned that we have to make our own way, and provide ourselves with the opportunities to learn more about exotic animal medicine. Below I want to share with you a just a few resources that helped me gain wildlife and exotic animal experience while in vet school.
Foster or Adopt Exotic Animals
Sometimes the best way to learn is through your personal experiences. Throughout my time at vet school, I adopted a parrot, guinea pigs, and leopard geckos. Over the years, I bought books on exotic animal medicine and spent time with them to learn how to handle them, including what not to do—yes, bites have happened.
I also fostered an Amazon parrot, which gave me a wonderful teaching experience in bird behavior. Of course, before you do this, make sure that you have the time, resources, and energy to put into giving these creatures the best care possible. If you’re interested in exotic species though, you probably already know this!
Symposiums & Conferences
Pre-pandemic, there were plenty of opportunities to learn more about exotic animal medicine at different conferences and I attended several during my four years. The great thing is that you can often receive money from your veterinary school to attend these conferences as a way to help to further your learning! The biggest exotic animal medicine conference, ExoticsCon, has opportunities for students to volunteer and partake in wet labs. Not only does this give students an opportunity for hands-on learning, but it also gives the chance to network with other exotic-focused vets. (Bonus: If you volunteer, you get to participate in the lab for free which is a huge discount!) In light of the pandemic, there has been no shortage of online symposiums and online lectures.
Getting outside of the classroom is important. I know it may seem like you don’t have a lot of time to volunteer, but setting aside even 1-2 hours once per week can be immensely beneficial. The things you learn from real-life patients are going to stick with you more than any lecture will. If your school has an exotics department, ask if you can shadow. If you have a nearby zoo or wildlife rehabilitation facility, ask about volunteering or shadowing the vet.
It’s not always easy, but if you want something (and your school lacks those opportunities), you have to go out and make your own way!