My week at the Turtle Rescue Team (TRT) stationed inside North Carolina State University Veterinary College allowed me to experience things I never thought I would get to experience while in my undergraduate education. The Turtle Rescue Team is a volunteer-run organization centered at the college’s vet hospital. Here, a small team of veterinarians (including Dr. Greg Lewbart, my externship host), some vet students ranging from first-years to a DVM-PhD student in her 6th year, nearby undergraduate students hoping to pursue a veterinary career, and volunteers that wish to help out from around the area team up to collect injured turtles from around North Carolina and treat them until they can be released into the wild again. They treat primarily Box Turtles, but will attempt to help any turtle that makes its way to the Rescue Center, including Cooters, Yellow-Bellied Sliders, Snapping Turtles, and a handful of other species.
While there, I learned the basic anatomy of the common turtle. I became aware of the common problems of wild turtles, such as aural abscesses (the turtle version of an ear infection), carapace and plastron injuries, and viral infections. I began handling turtles and observing how to clean and treat their flesh and shell wounds. I was able to calculate out and administer antibiotics for these chelonia, mimicking something a licensed vet might do. I was taught how to help turtles manage their pain via injections of ketoprofen and morphine, as well as how to administer the injections. I took the heart rates of turtles under the guidance of the volunteer veterinary students from the TRT. I witnessed two aural abscess surgeries performed by second and third year vet students and learned the ins and outs of the procedure. I, unfortunately, learned how to declare a turtle dead through reflex and heartbeat monitoring. But I also experienced the hatching of a few baby turtles, witnessing the moment they fully emerge from their eggshells and begin to look around and experience their new world. I learned how to take care of these soft, pudgy, adorable, yet fragile hatchlings. I cautiously treated 23 lb snapping turtles by applying ointment to carapace injuries. I kept track of all the paperwork and forms that come with any animal intake. I learned an incredible amount and can honestly not pick out my favorite experience.
While at the TRT, I was able to tour NCSU Vet College informally with Dr. Lewbart. While on the tour, he showed me all of the facilities, explained the format of the vet school program, and introduced me to many of his colleagues and students. I was extremely thankful for that opportunity, as well as the opportunity to attend a candidate professor lecture pertaining to Prairie Dogs. This professor, Dr. David Eshar, had been working years to classify different blood analytes of the Black Tailed Prairie Dog so that these animals can be treated and cared for as effectively as other species. The goals that this professor aspires to are what make me want to become an Exotic Animal Veterinarian in the future, and this whole experience at the TRT has only cemented this life goal in my head. I am extremely thankful to Dr. Lewbart and the Turtle Rescue Team volunteers for making my week in Raleigh, NC so memorable, informative, and fun.