TVMF Awards Grant for Veterinary Medical Scientist Research Training Program to TAMU Student Shelby Gasson
Every year, the Texas Veterinary Medical Foundation (TVMF) funds a grant to the Texas A&M University (TAMU) Veterinary Medical Scientist Research Training Program (VMSRTP). TAMU’s research program ensures that veterinary students will continue to be introduced to research and the benefits research has on the profession and the practice of veterinary medicine. Student fellows conduct full-time research during a 12-week period in the summer under the advice and direction of a faculty mentor. In addition to conducting research, students participate on field trips to other research sites to broaden and enrich their exposure to veterinary research. The program concludes with a research conference and a closing banquet.
This year’s TVMF grant recipient was Shelby Gasson, and she chose to work with Dr. Brian Saunders of Veterinary Small Animal Clinical Sciences. Her project was on the effects of various extracellular matrix proteins on osteogenic differentiation of canine bone marrow-derived mesenchymal stem cells.
Gasson grew up as an only child in Houston, where her parents constantly encouraged her and supported her to work really hard in school. Although she had a small family, her family was quite large when it came to family members of the four-legged variety. From the moment she was born, pets—three dogs and five cats to be exact—surrounded Gasson. Her parents used to tease that she never really had a shot at any other career other than veterinary medicine. Over the years, the Gasson family had varying numbers of dogs and cats, and Shelby had her fair share of Beta fish and hamsters. Each of the pets Gasson grew up with still has its own special place in her heart.
From a very young age, Gasson knew she wanted to be a veterinarian. At about four years old, someone asked her what she wanted to do when she grew up and “I proudly told them I wanted to go to Texas A&M and become a vet,” she recalled. “Aside from my immense love for animals, I’m not sure what made me decide I wanted to be a vet at such a young age, but I often used my Barbie doctor’s kit to examine all of our household pets in lieu of human patients.”
Gasson worked really hard throughout her high school years to get into Texas A&M. Many hours of studying, working and volunteering at animal shelters and clinics really paid off as she not only received a degree in biomedical sciences from Texas A&M but was then accepted into veterinary school, an accomplishment she is most proud of.
Many DVMs and students would agree that the courses at the veterinary school can not only be challenging but overwhelming as well. A recurring theme that helps students get through those challenges is the faculty, Gasson’s favorite thing about veterinary school.
“The professors are always willing to help us out with review sessions and helpful study hints,” she said. “At the end of the day, they all really want to help us make it to the finish line, so it’s been really comforting to have a team of professors who are so supportive.”
Gasson decided to apply for the Veterinary Medical Scientist Research Training Program because she had always been interested in gaining research experience during undergrad but was a little intimidated by it. Since she had no prior experience in biomedical research, this program seemed like a great opportunity to get involved with research for the first time. Gasson chose her particular topic because, in her words, “it incorporated my interests in stem cells, veterinary medicine and surgical applications.”
“While I’m still unsure of whether or not I want to become a research scientist in the future, I have a great appreciation of the real-world implications that bench-top research can have for both human and animal medicine,” she said. “Being involved with research this summer made me feel really inspired that I could play a small role in all of that. Working with Dr. Saunders has taught me that I don’t have to commit myself to just one aspect of veterinary medicine.”
Dr. Saunders’ ability to balance time in the clinics performing surgeries with time in the lab left an impression on Gasson. “I learned that the truth is that if you’re creative enough, you can marry any of the things you like best and create your own little unique niche,” she said.
Growing up, Gasson only dreamt of being a general practice small animal veterinarian. However during the fall semester of her fist undergraduate year, her dream shifted to becoming a small animal orthopedic surgeon. “I had a very fortunate chance meeting with a veterinary surgeon in Houston while I was a senior in high school,” she said. “He invited me to shadow him at Gulf Coast Veterinary Specialists (GCVS), and I took him up on it after beginning at A&M. I had no idea that veterinary specialty practices existed, much less that they were so comparable to the same human specialties. After one day of shadowing at GCVS, I was totally hooked and knew I wanted to be a veterinary surgeon.”
Upon graduating, Gasson would like to begin her surgical residency and end up as a surgeon at GCVS. “I might be small, but I like power tools and bones, so I would prefer to sub-specialize in orthopedics,” she said. “It’s been a great experience to shadow and work [at GCVS], and it’s really shaped my career goals, so I think it’s only fitting to come full circle and end up back there.”
Recently, Gasson was given the honor of serving as the 2015 Vet School Open House Executive Director. “Open House has always been one of my favorite things about vet school since it gives all of us the opportunity to work together and create a unique event where the public can see what’s so great about our vet school and learn about veterinary medicine,” she said. “And really, nothing could be more adorable than tiny children marching around in their surgical attire and performing surgery on their little teddy bears!”
As Gasson and her “fur-children,” two dogs and a cat, are currently in her third year of veterinary school, she is also serving her as a student resident at the Stevenson Companion Animal Life Care Center. In what spare time she does have, she enjoys photography, art and traveling.
Memorial Gift Program
The death of a pet is difficult for both clients and veterinarians, but it’s especially hard on your client. Helping them through the grieving process is a vital part of any practice. The Memorial Gift Program is an excellent way for veterinarians to show they care about a client’s loss by making a contribution in the pet’s honor to TVMF. The program is simple, tax deductable and helps fund the efforts of the Foundation, including the Emergency Student Fund Grant, dictionaries for new veterinary students, scholarships and the New Graduate Program. It also supports the Mark Francis Museum of Veterinary History within the TVMA building, and various other ways of educating the public about veterinary medicine. Nothing you can do will have a more positive impact on your practice and say “We Care,” like this program. Not only will it help retain current clients, but it will also aid in the recruitment of new clients. Word of mouth is the most powerful advertising anyone can have.
For information on becoming involved in the Memorial Gift Program call the TVMF office at 512/452-4224, or visit the Foundation website, tvmf.org.