Mobile surgical unit provides veterinary care across Arizona

A large travel trailer is painted white with a blue stripe on the bottom. On the side it says "Mobile Vet" and "College of Veterinary Medicine"

The College of Veterinary Medicine's Mobile Surgical Unit recently returned from its maiden service trip: A week long stay in Pinal County to spay and neuter animals for the Pinal County Animal Care and Control.

College of Veterinary Medicine

The University of Arizona College of Veterinary Medicine recently hit the road in its mobile surgery unit, a 53-foot travel trailer housing all the equipment and supplies necessary to perform medical tests and procedures on a variety of animals.

The week-long stay at Pinal County Animal Care and Control in Casa Grande, in late October, was the mobile unit's inaugural service trip since the college launched its first program in 2020.

UArizona faculty operating the trailer completed 20 spay or neuter procedures for the shelter.

A white dog with black spots stares up and the camera while wearing a small black cowboy hat. There is part of a boot in the picture.

Caspie was one of 20 cats and dogs that received treatment in the Mobile Surgical Unit during its stay in Pinal County.

Pinal County Animal Care and Control

"Twenty surgeries is 20 lives saved," said Katrina Rodrigues, Pinal County Animal Care and Control deputy director. "The University of Arizona's trip to the shelter allowed 20 animals to go on to their forever homes that otherwise would have been stuck waiting for four to six weeks in the shelter for their spay or neuter appointments before being adopted. We were incredibly grateful to have the amazing university staff and high quality of care available for our animals."

Jacquie Edie, surgical project manager for the college's surgery and anesthesia department, said the inaugural trip was an unqualified success that better prepared staff and faculty for future trips, as well as the unit's day-to-day operations.

"It was really rewarding to have an idea, plan it out then execute it without any real challenges," Edie said. "This was our first service trip, and it was really exciting. Now that we have done this, we have learned what a big job it really is."

The mobile unit has been an integral part of the college's curriculum since its inception. When not on the road, the trailer is the perfect place for students to hone their surgical skills.

On either side of the mobile unit are bays of kennels to hold animals, along with space for medical preparation, a lab for basic bloodwork and a central surgical suite complete with four movable tables, sinks, anesthesia machines, monitoring equipment and a variety of supplies and surgical instruments. The mobile unit houses its own refrigeration for samples, heat support for animals and a fully contained water system – and is fully ADA accessible.

While the unit can handle a variety of veterinary tests and procedures, there are some limitations. Specialized procedures requiring specific equipment, such as a laparoscopy, or more involved procedures, such as treating severe fractures that require plates and screws, are not performed in the mobile unit.

Veterinary medicine students start their surgical journey during their first semester at the college learning basic skills such as suturing. Students make their way to simulated surgical operations using stuffed animals – and eventually work under the close supervision of skilled technicians who staff the mobile unit.

Edie said the entire experience is the foundation of each student's surgical expertise and offers a much different experience compared to a traditional teaching hospital.

"It is advantageous for the students to be able to learn in the mobile unit," Edie said. "It helps them think outside of the box of a typical operating room and gives them perspective of a different variation to a surgical site. From an entrepreneurial side, it may intrigue some to consider a mobile practice in the future."

Edie and her colleagues are excited at the prospect of a second service trip and are developing other strategies for involving the mobile surgical unit in more community-oriented missions similar to the one to Pinal County.

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