Driven by the students

A pet owner and his dog visit with a U of M veterinary student.

Arlo Frost finds that an enjoyable diversion from veterinary medicine is... more veterinary medicine.

Frost volunteers with the Student Initiative for Reservation Veterinary Services (SIRVS), a University of Minnesota College of Veterinary Medicine (CVM) student-led volunteer organization that provides veterinary services to Minnesota Native American communities. The students running SIRVS benefit academically and professionally from the experience, and their services are in high demand.  

After graduating from the CVM in 1987, Frost spent years working for other clinics before starting Silver Lake Animal Hospital, a small-animal clinic in Oakdale, Minn.

In 2013, Frost was invited to a SIRVS event by his son, then a CVM student and president of the organization. SIRVS conducts clinics in several communities, including White Earth Nation, Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe, Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe, and Lower Sioux Indian Community. After Frost’s son graduated, the incoming president asked Frost if he would continue attending clinics.

Student volunteers work with local partners to schedule pop-up clinics, which are usually held in community centers. Studentsalso apply for grants and perform limited fundraising to keep SIRVS going. Faculty advisor Larissa Minicucci, associate professor in the College of Veterinary Medicine, attends most events along with volunteer veterinarians, who help guide students through performing examinations, surgeries, and other clinical tasks.

That’s where Frost often comes in. “I will scrub in for surgery and, depending on the student’s ability and confidence, either I’m watching and guiding them with the surgery, or, in some cases, I take over,” he says. At his last outing, he also invited three technicians and a veterinarian from Silver Lake to help.

Since 2015, SIRVS has hosted cultural seminars where members from the communities in which they work travel to the CVM to share information on the history of and role of animals in their culture. Community members also offer tips to the students on how best to serve Native American communities.  The students in turn have been providing youth education programs as part of the clinics to introduce kids in the community to science careers, including veterinary medicine.

Five years and twenty SIRVS clinics later, Frost continues to be amazed by the efforts of the organization's student volunteers. “It’s something that’s almost solely driven by the students, which to me is very commendable,” says Frost. “They’re doing really good work, so it needs to be supported.”