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As part of my final year electives I chose to spend three weeks at the Whyalla Veterinary Clinic. I had read about other students experiences on the website and hoped my experience would be just as fulfilling. I certainly wasn't disappointed! I felt welcomed as part of the team from the moment I arrived and was picked up from the airport by two of the fantastic senior nurses Lena and Carol. My first challenge was learning to drive the manual car I was given to use, having never driven one before. After a quick lesson with the head vet and practice owner, Dr Andrew Melville-Smith, and stalling the car numerous times, I finally worked it out, and managed to successfully make it to and from work each day.

I can say that without exception all the staff at the Whyalla, Cowell and Roxby Downs clinics (the latter two being two satellite clinics I worked at a few times during my stay) are wonderful people and excellent nurses, and contributed greatly to my enjoyment of my time in South Australia. They also make excellent hot chocolates which kept me going on several occasions!

Andrew is a firm believer in allowing vet students to get their teeth stuck into the practical aspects of being a veterinarian. I was allowed to do surgery from day one, and quickly became proficient at routine procedures. Committing dose rates to memory was also encouraged, instead of having to reach for a calculator every time, and I am very grateful for gaining this highly useful skill.

Other surgeries and procedures I was allowed to perform included a ferret spay, removal of a guinea pig's tooth, removal of a mast cell tumour, draining an aural haematoma, numerous stitch ups, an umbilical hernia repair, a third eyelid flap, an enema, euthanasias, dew claw removal and dentals. I was also allowed to process blood samples, something which in my five years at uni I had never been allowed to do!

I was able to discuss many aspects of cases with clients and improved my hands on skills and knowledge in the areas of physical examinations, nutrition, vaccinations, deworming, micro-chipping and heartworm prevention. Inserting catheters, taking blood, and doing stitch ups in front of clients also improved my confidence.

Another interesting aspect of the practice, especially considering its distance from Adelaide, is the amazing use of technology. The practice is fully computerized, and the three branch clinics communicate via Skype video phone – even doing consults this way occasionally. In many ways the practice was more modern than some of the city practices I've been to.

One part of the practice I really enjoyed getting involved with was the rehousing program. Andrew takes animals in that are on death row at the RSPCA, and gives them more time to find a loving home. They are all put up on the website for the public to view, and are desexed, wormed and micro-chipped before going to their new homes. During my time at Whyalla, I got to foster-care for a little Chihuahua puppy called Chong, who had to increase in size before she was de-sexed. I took her to the clinic during the day, and she came home with me each night. It was very gratifying to see her happy new owners come and take her home before I left.

Home for me while in Whyalla was at Sandi's place. Sandi is a warm and caring woman who truly welcomed me into her home. It was wonderful at the end of a long day to return to a friendly face, cosy house and a warm meal, and I am very grateful to Sandi for her hospitality.

Overall, I can say that my time at Whyalla was a fantastic experience, and I am very grateful to Andrew for sponsoring me to come from Melbourne and for providing me with a place to stay and a car to travel around in. I would highly recommend this practice to other vet students interested in getting their hands dirty!

"I was allowed to do surgery from day one, and quickly became proficient at routine procedures. Committing dose rates to memory was also encouraged, instead of having to reach for a calculator every time, and I am very grateful for gaining this highly useful skill." Clare Matheson

Melbourne University, Victoria.

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