LOS ANGELES — A new Nat Geo Wild series premiering Sept. 19 follows a group of students through rotations at the prestigious Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine.
As the animals and owners face life-and-death moments on “Vet School,” families, students and teachers share their feelings. But it’s not always clear whose tears are falling.
In the second episode, for example, titled “Day One,” Greg and Kim Herman bring in their 3-year-old English bulldog Millie, who has end-stage congestive heart failure and a 50-50 chance of survival.
Because he is in such bad shape, the Hermans are asked what they want done if the treatment doesn’t work: Should Millie be awakened or euthanized? The family anguishes over a decision but chooses to give Millie up rather than make her suffer.
The first episode, called “Crash Course,” starts on a lighter, geekier note as the production crew of four begins shadowing seven students around the Ithaca, New York, college. Dr. Carolyn McDaniel steals the first scene and teaches the first lesson, singing and dancing her way through “The Handwashing Song.”
The lyrics: “Thumbies, doing the fingers, clap, (twirl) fingernails, you’re done.” McDaniel tells the students it’s “the single most valuable way to prevent transmission of pathogens.”
Students featured in the series include Sam Dicker, Singen Elliott, Aziza Glass and Aria Hill, who graduated in May. The others are Hannah Brodlie, Cristina Bustamante and Dan Cimino, who are preparing for their second year. Jenna Apostol was the executive producer for the first season and Nat Geo Wilde has options for two more seasons.
The students were paid nominally for their appearances. Glass, 27, said she still hasn’t decided if she wants to be a hands-on vet or a research vet. She’s actually taking a break this year post-graduation, volunteering part-time at a clinic in Waller, Texas, while making up for all the vacations, weekends and holidays she missed during school. She hopes the project gives people a newfound appreciation of veterinarians and how hard they work.
When asked why they want to be veterinarians, most students say something about their love of animals. That’s a must, says the school’s interim Dean Lorin Warnick, but a good vet also needs people skills. “It takes a person who has that connection and likes to work with people because all those animals come with people attached,” the dean said.
Cornell was glad to be asked to participate in the show and hopes it shows off its students and helps raise the field’s profile, Warnick said. Cornell’s admissions are highly selective, and getting a degree there is not cheap: New York residents pay $32,750 a year for tuition at the four-year vet school, while out-of-state residents pay $48,050 a year. That doesn’t include room, board or other costs.
There are noticeably more female students and teachers than men at the school in the Nat Geo Wild footage. That reflects a long-term shift in the field, with men dominating until the early 1970s, when it started to even out. But now women make up over 80 percent of graduating veterinarians, Warnick said.