VICTOR - Bitterroot Valley high school students are spending their summer helping to save lives. Veterinarian Shura Bugreeff of Noah's Ark Veterinary Hospital south of Victor is letting area kids intern at her clinic in small groups for two weeks to learn every aspect of veterinary medicine.
On Monday, she and four interns helped remove a large mass of chicken bones from a 7-week-old puppy named Honey and followed that up by removing a huge tumor on another dog in a two-hour surgery.
Both procedures saved the lives of the animals, and Bugreeff said it is amazing to watch her young protégés realize the difference they can make.
"I know it has a big impact on them because I talk to the parents, and they say the kids go home and chatter at night about what they did during the day," said Bugreeff, who has had interns at her office for the past four years. "We removed a pretty horrendous tumor on that dog, and it was pretty interesting. The kids felt the difference between cancer tissue and healthy tissue. We let them get their hands on everything, all the blood and gore. You don't learn as much just by watching. And it's fun and it inspires us as well."
Intern Markie Montgomery, a Corvallis High School senior, said she is now interested in a possible career in veterinary medicine. She said Bugreeff's method of allowing the interns to participate in every procedure is extremely effective.
"You are learning a lot more here than you would just watching a vet do it," Montgomery said. "Like if you just took your animal to a vet. We get to do everything except for the most complicated stuff. We did an autopsy on a cat, and you learn where the organs are and you actually get to see their actual size in an animal."
Montgomery, along with Corvallis senior Kathryn Briggs and Hamilton freshmen Tristan Schara and Phillip Whitney, said they love being around the animals during the day and making a difference.
"I'm actually really glad I got to help on the surgery on the puppy, because the bones were really big and it was only going to get worse," Briggs said as she held up a baggie of the undigested, sharp bones the students helped remove from the dog's stomach. On Tuesday afternoon, Honey was scampering around like she didn't have a care in the world before her happy owner came to pick her up.
Bugreeff finds her interns by putting an ad in the newspaper, and she said the interest in the program grows every year.
"A lot of times the kids show up before I do in the morning," Bugreeff said. "And then they stay later than they have to. I think they really enjoy it. I've found that every year one kid or two kids go on to actually be vets. One of my former students is now in Washington in a pre-vet program. He sends me cards and pictures and things like that; it's great."
Bugreeff is the first to say she doesn't adhere to rigid rules and methods in her office. Her voice mail includes an inspirational proverb, and she keeps music on throughout the day. It is clear that she takes the work of caring for all her animals very seriously, and she passes that enthusiasm on to her students.
"Many of my students, they find that there is a different way of doing the medicine," she explains. "If an animal is stressed, for example, they don't always have to be placed on a steel table. We can observe them on the floor. Different things like that. The kids are learning to be independent thinkers and to think a little bit outside the box. Because these animals can't tell you what's wrong with them, you have to figure it out."
Bugreeff said she hopes that spending time in her veterinary hospital shows students the real world of being a vet.
"I always encourage kids and parents, it's a good thing to do in the summer," she said. "If you are interested in the career, something clicks. It's either ‘yes, this is something I want to do,' or ‘no, it definitely isn't'. And more than most internships, I let them get right into it rather than just stand in the corner and watch. That doesn't inspire you to do anything. That's the only way you know.
"They look at me sometimes when I ask them to do surgery prep, and I just tell them, ‘I'm right here, and I'm not gonna let you do anything that's going to hurt the animal, so shave the dog.' They see the progress."
Bugreeff, who often jokes with the kids, said she and her co-workers get as much out of the internships as the young students do.
"It makes it a happy atmosphere," she explained. "There's a lot of things that you do every day that you take for granted. But when you have a kid following you around you realize what you are doing on a day-to-day basis is pretty cool."
For more information or to ask about internship opportunities, call Bugreeff at (406) 240-333O.
Reach reporter David Erickson at 363-3300 or firstname.lastname@example.org.