Non-vets learn how to work with animals at Smithsonian exhibit

The human connection with animals is very strong. At some point in their lives most children and grown-ups think about being a veterinarian. But most of these visions are from the outside looking in. A traveling exhibition is changing that.

With the Smithsonian, the American Veterinary Medical Association, the American Veterinary Medical Foundation, and drug maker Zoetis have launched “Animal Connections: Our Journey Together.”

The Veterinary Exhibition

The exhibition resides in an 18-wheel semi-truck and trailer that expands to 1,000 square feet of display area. Veterinarians at the various stops act as tour guides for the exhibit. The attractions are varied for different interest levels. The displays are designed to give insights into how veterinary medicine works behind the scenes. Visitors can spend hours viewing the various exhibit modules and talking with the veterinary guides.

Dr. Karl Reichardt, a semi-retired veterinarian that volunteered to guide the stop at the National Mall in Washington, DC, said the biggest attraction was the touch tables. This module allows visitors the chance to be veterinarians and guides them through the diagnosis and treatment of virtual animals.

Children delight in viewing X-rays that reveal various objects that animals have swallowed. Dr. Reichardt felt especially rewarded by watching the kids and their parents light up while exploring the exhibition. “I have always enjoyed the reputation veterinary medicine has with just about everybody that comes in contact with us,” said Reichardt. Andrea Stevens, the director of strategic communications for the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service shared that her grandson, who is not yet 5 years old, visited the exhibit and watched every single video. She was also pleased that veterinarians appreciated the portrayal of the profession.

Stevens said that one of the highlights is the pet recommendation module. Recommendations are based on personal lifestyle information. Results can range from horses to goldfish. Houseplants are recommended for some lifestyles that may not be a good match for pets.

Dr. Christine Jenkins, a director of medical services for Zoetis, likes to see the kids excited, and is happy that veterinarians also learn from the experience. “The quality and the level of interaction and engagement that the Smithsonian was able to bring to life impresses all audiences,” said Dr. Jenkins. “In particular, veterinarians and veterinary technicians themselves are very pleased with the way we’re trying to educate the public through the exhibit.” Zoetis sees their sponsorship as a way of inspiring the next generation of veterinarians.

The exhibition started in Chicago at the 2013 American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) annual convention. The exhibit drew crowds of 15,000 at its 15 stops in 2013. The 2014 tour is in full swing, with two stops in Portland, Oregon, scheduled for May and one stop in Des Moines, Iowa, in June. In July the exhibit will travel to Denver for the 2014 AVMA annual convention. The schedule following the July stop has not yet been finalized. The location, dates, and times can be found on the exhibit website, Animal Connections.

The exhibit is free and I would encourage those located in the various stops to take advantage of the opportunity.

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