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Animal Care

From Navajo Nation, Briana Blackwelder Reports

Students at the NC State College of Veterinary Medicine have access to all kinds of internships, externships and research experiences during their four years of school. This summer, several students are sharing some of what they're doing and learning in real time.

Briana Blackwelder on a veterinary mission trip to Navajo Nation

AUG. 8, 2023

This trip to the Navajo Nation is almost impossible to put into words.  There are a few moments that I know will stick with me forever.  One was meeting a man named Jimmy.  Due to a train accident several years ago, he lost his left arm, but that hasn’t slowed him down at all.  While working with his horses, I learned that even now in his late 70s that he is riding and training horses.  I watched him load and handle his horses and even tie a quick-release knot one-handed.  He is so knowledgeable and has so many wonderful stories to share.  It was such a neat experience getting to meet him and help with his horses. 

Due to the scarce number of veterinarians in the area, for some residents this is the only time they have access to veterinary care for their animals that doesn’t require hours of transportation one way. There were many people I met, Jimmy included, who made multiple trips so all their horses could be seen. Some people don’t own trailers, so they saddled up and rode to us. I really felt like I was helping and making a difference on this mission trip. 

With the help of the supervising veterinarians, we were able to provide preventative care to so many horses I lost count.  To me this embodies what I love most about vet med.  I love connecting with people and their animals.  I cherish the moments when I know I have helped make a difference and both the owner and horse are grateful for it. 

To me vet school isn’t just about learning medicine. Obviously, this is very important and necessary, but there are many other lessons we as students need to learn. We need to learn how to connect, communicate and listen to our clients. NC State has wonderful professors who work with students throughout vet school teaching us communication and active listening techniques. These are skills that will help us all throughout our school career, professional and personal lives.  

Learning about a new culture and having the time to immerse myself in it has been an experience I will
never forget. The entire team worked hard and in doing so was able to assist with more dogs, cats, sheep, goats, cows and horses than I could number.  Vet school is very much a “choose your own adventure” situation. Especially during summer breaks, students can make it whatever they want.  My advice is to find something whether that be a new clinic, a mission trip, or being part of a research study to get you out into the world. 

NC State works hard to give us the skills and knowledge to make us successful.  Finding mentors who help solidify that knowledge and push you just enough is what really helps things begin to stick.  I personally am so grateful for this past summer.  I have traveled, met new doctors and made new friends. This trip was the ultimate way to wrap up my summer of learning. Mixing vet med with missions and having the opportunity to serve in the Navajo Nation far exceeded my expectations. 

AUG. 3, 2023

Briana Blackwelder is spending part of her summer on a Christian Veterinary Mission trip to Navajo Nation.
Briana Blackwelder is spending part of her summer on a Christian Veterinary Mission trip to Navajo Nation.

My last adventure this summer has been a little bit different from the “normal” externship. This time I went out with Christian Veterinary Mission working in Arizona and Utah on the Navajo reservation.  Dr. Page Wages, a veterinarian local to Raleigh, along with four additional veterinarians and several vet students headed out on a 40-hour cross country trip to the Navajo Nation. 

Attending these mission trips is the highlight of my year.  I was able to serve on a trip to Alaska earlier this year and couldn’t wait to sign up for this one as well.  The first week has been nothing short of amazing.  I have met and worked with so many wonderful people and not only assisted with the veterinary services but also listened to the people’s stories and prayed with them about their needs. We go not to change the people or the culture but to simply be a light, provide veterinary care, offer prayer and to build relationships. 

On the veterinary side, the team works on everything from cats to sheep.  I have been working primarily on the equine team where we offer physical exams, vaccinations and teeth floating.  Partnered with a veterinarian, we worked on many horses during our time on the reservation. The local people trailer or
ride their horses in, and they are always so happy to see us. They often spend time talking and getting to
know us. 

Christian Veterinary Mission has been coming to the Navajo Nation for over 20 years, so it’s special to be part of something that not only vets and vet students look forward to but the Navajo people do as well.  As a vet student, I find these trips are invaluable. Learning how to practice medicine in different situations and environments helps with problem solving, critical thinking and prioritization.  I have been so blessed to be able to work alongside some very skilled veterinarians on this trip who helped make it a learning experience I will never forget. 

Briana Blackwelder was part of a Christian Veterinary Mission to the Navajo Nation.

In addition to the medicine side of the trip, meeting new people and making new friends on the reservation was absolutely amazing.  I had the opportunity to hear so many stories, learn about the culture and see how animals are such an important part of life out here. 

NC State has so many opportunities for students when it comes to clubs and organizations to be a part of.  I am so grateful I joined the Christian Veterinary Mission chapter here at NC State.  Aside from the mission trip opportunities, it has also been an excellent place to meet other students who share a similar faith.  It’s important to find your community when in vet school because the support system is so critical.  I am so grateful to have found that with the Christian Veterinary Mission group.  

I can’t wait to see what the next seven days have in store!  This trip has far exceeded my expectations on
several fronts.

JULY 24, 2023

Briana Blackwelder completed an externship at Brazos Valley Equine Hospital in Texas
Briana Blackwelder completed an externship at Brazos Valley Equine Hospital in Texas

At Brazos Valley Equine Hospital, my second week I was able to be in the OR to observe a wobbler surgery. This is a procedure I have learned about, but the live surgery is one students typically don’t have the opportunity to observe.

Dr. John Janicek is the surgeon at this location who performs these procedures. He took time the day before to review the details of the surgery and post-op recovery. He also reviewed the diagnostic imaging and how to interpret it. The next day we were able to watch the procedure and he talked through each step as it was occurring. I can’t express enough how important it is to take advantage of these opportunities when you are on an externship.

Externing at this location was full of opportunity. I was able to observe surgeries, assist with emergencies, go out on ambulatory calls, assist with sports med/lameness cases and help with inpatient treatments and exams. The opportunity to extern at a higher volume practice was an excellent learning experience. It provides an environment to practice time management and teamwork and how to operate more efficiently within a hospital setting. I know my time spent at this practice has provided me with experiences and information that will be invaluable as I progress through my next two years.

JULY 20, 2023

Briana Blackwelder is completing an equine externship in Texas.
Briana Blackwelder is completing an equine externship in Texas.

Hello from Salado, Texas! My latest adventure this summer has been externing with Brazos Valley Equine Hospital. This practice offers a multitude of services including surgery, sports medicine, diagnostic imaging (including CT), internal medicine, and 24/7 emergency care just to name a few.

This location has five full-time doctors, two interns, several technicians, assistants, pre-vet students and office staff. Having the opportunity to work with such talented veterinarians has been an amazing experience. I have been able to observe a wide variety of patient care ranging from emergency workups to surgical cases and everything in between.

Students are also encouraged to assist with inpatient treatments, which include physical exams, medication administration and assisting doctors/techs with various tasks throughout the day.

My first week here has been busy and rewarding. I have been able to learn new skills, observe multiple lameness cases and see workups from start to finish. My favorite case from my first week is about a mare who was suffering from grain overload. I was able to observe the clinician problem-solve through the workup and assist with treatments while she was under our care in the hospital. It was very rewarding being able to follow this case from start to finish and see the horse go home several days later.

Briana Blackwelder is completing an equine externship in Texas.

The first weekend of my rotation, the hospital was hosting a wet lab day for veterinary students. I was able to connect with other students from Texas, Kansas and Oklahoma. Seven doctors from all over came to assist with the lab, which covered ultrasound, radiographs, ophthalmology, lameness and case studies. It was such an amazing opportunity to network and receive training from some truly gifted veterinarians.

That is one unique benefit to spending time at such a comprehensive facility. Students will have the opportunity to learn and participate in a wide variety of cases and see the progression or modifications of treatment plans. It is so important to go and learn from new people and practices. I have already received so many excellent tips and tricks to help me as I continue through my education.


Briana Blackwelder examines a horse's eyes
Briana Blackwelder examines a horse’s eyes

My two weeks externing with Foundation Equine were amazing. Taking the opportunity to spend at least two weeks with a practice is so important. In that time, you have the chance to grow professional relationships and really connect with the staff. It was great connecting with the doctors, RVTs and assistants at this practice. They are all incredibly knowledgeable and willing to work with vet students. This week I was able to assist in lameness exams, practice my ultrasound skills and perform some ophthalmology exams.  I also talked through scenarios and ongoing cases with the doctors. 

The highlight this week was assisting with a laminitis case. This horse suffered from a laminitic episode several weeks ago and is really showing some nice improvement. During last week’s appointment, I was able to perform the physical exam, take the radiographs and assist with pad placement. Seeing this horse walk into the barn with some discomfort and walk out with obvious improvement really made my day.

The curriculum at NC State has really set me up for success. My classes have provided me with the information, and this externship helped me learn how to start putting all the pieces together.  The journey to becoming a veterinarian is different for everyone. For me, working hard during my academic year and then applying that during externships is the perfect combination.  

There are so many options available for vet students. We can set up externships, attend conferences, work at local practices etc. NC State does a great job supporting and encouraging students to seek out these opportunities. I am so grateful for the support from my CVM family and from the practices I will be visiting. I really feel like this summer is setting me up for success as I face my last two years in vet school.  

Briana Blackwelder at her externship Foundation Equine in Southern Pines
Briana Blackwelder at her externship at Foundation Equine in Southern Pines

For vet students considering or are heading into externships this summer, here is my advice to help make it successful. If you have a tablet and use a program such as notability or goodnotes, bring it with you. I have all my PowerPoints, notes and study guides easily accessible at all times. This makes looking up information quick and easy. 

Don’t forget we have access to the library online. There are tons of E-books, journals, papers etc. we can access while off-campus. Come up with a list of skills or areas you want to focus on before your externship starts. Talk with your supervising vets about what you want to work on from your list and don’t be afraid to ask questions. Look at the schedule a day in advance so you can review information if needed beforehand. Most importantly, have a good time and learn a lot! 

I can’t wait to fill you all in about my next externship in Texas!  Until then, have a great summer!

MAY 22, 2O23

Briana Blackwelder at her externship in Vass, North Carolina
Briana Blackwelder at her externship in Vass, North Carolina

Hi! I’m Briana, a rising third year with a focus in equine medicine.  For me nothing can take the place of real-life hands-on learning experience.  That type of externship is exactly what I found with Foundation Equine in Vass, North Carolina.  This four-doctor practice performs GP services including (but not limited to) reproduction, specialized dentals, chiro/acupuncture, preventative medicine and emergency services.   

I will be externing with Foundation Equine for two weeks.  The first week was absolutely amazing.  I have been able to improve established skills such as taking radiographs, administering medication and conducting physical exams.  I’ve also had the opportunity to learn and develop new skills.  The doctors all work with me to improve my critical-thinking process, discuss treatment plans and expand my knowledge base in so many areas.  

The most exciting thing this past week was actually a surprise to me.  I entered this externship with the assumption that I would not really enjoy reproduction medicine. I have been proven wrong!  My most rewarding moments were actually involving an in-depth repro case.  Being part of the process from the start has been invaluable and definitely gave me a new perspective on reproduction medicine. 

The other highlight from the week has to be the new foal exam on an adorable baby donkey.  When we do a healthy foal exam, we perform a physical exam on both mother and foal, check IgG levels, and of course get lots of snuggles.  

I am so grateful to be spending time with such an amazing practice.  The doctors are fantastic and the experience itself has been exceptional.