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Whiteside recently took the students in her pre-vet class to a Hancock County dairy.
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WIU Alumna Teaching Pre-Vet Sciences Courses, Conducting Surgeries on Campus

May 3, 2022

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MACOMB, IL – When Dr. Ashley Whiteside was an agriculture student at Western Illinois University, she dreamed of becoming a veterinarian.

Now that the 2015 WIU graduate has completed her education, she is passing her love for veterinary medicine to WIU students as an instructor in pre-vet sciences courses. In addition to working full time as a veterinarian, she teaches two classroom days and one lab day per week.

"My goal for the course was to expose students to veterinary medicine as a veterinarian, veterinary technician, veterinary assistant, as well as let them know about career options allowing them to work in/around vet med without being a veterinarian," Whiteside said. "I wanted them to have exposure to the profession by asking them to complete 10 shadow hours. Most students completed 30-plus hours voluntarily. The majority of students hung out with me while I was still in private practice, and a few others shadowed their hometown clinics."

The class covers several topics, including an introduction to equine medicine, small and large animal medicine, pharmacology, legal issues, diagnostic options and physical exams.

Some of the classes moved students outside the classroom to perform physical exams on dogs and horses.

"We had several case review days where I put together patient cases I personally have dealt with, and guided them through the thought process of a case when an animal is sick from how the animal presents to physical exam findings to what diagnostics to choose to interpreting diagnostic," Whiteside said. "The students have really come out of their shells this semester and really engage in conversation and discussing the cases."

For another class session, Whiteside took students to a robotic dairy near Carthage, IL, to gain exposure to dairy cattle and dairy medicine.

This fall, a second course has been added to the School of Agriculture curriculum to focus on developing clinical skills such as blood draws, suture patterns, surgery tools and techniques, and performing various diagnostic procedures on a variety of species.

"The students will have a skills competency list to complete by the end of the semester," Whiteside said. "It will be very hands on and lab based vs. classroom lecture."

In addition to teaching on campus this semester, Whiteside and a colleague performed abdominal surgeries on to heifers who live on campus. Through the surgeries, Whiteside, along with Dr. Emily Conrad-Gibb placed persistent rumen cannulas.

WIU students were invited to watch the surgeries, and Whiteside estimated that over the 2.5 hours of surgery, about 30-40 students came to watch.

"We did the surgeries in the bull-test chute/facility," Whiteside said. "Incisions were made into the abdomens of the heifers under epidurals with mild sedation on board to place these permanent cannulas. The cannula is a closed seal directly into the rumen of the cow allowing us to perform various research projects on the heifers going forward. As the rumen is the largest "stomach" of the cow we will gain significant insight to the animals and their nutrition etc. during various stages of their life such as young vs. old or pregnant vs. non-pregnant."

Whiteside said she and Conrad-Gibb stopped several times during the surgeries and explained visible anatomical structures, and why/how they did what they did.

One of the students in Whiteside's class, and who observed the surgery is senior agriculture science major Caitlyn Welton, who said the course has allowed her to find a place where she belongs.

"I have found like-minded people with the same passion," she said. "To find a teacher and mentor like Dr. Whiteside has been one in a million. I could never thank her enough for all she has done for me, and taught me. She allowed us to come in and watch her do a surgery, which was an amazing opportunity. It refueled my passion for vet medicine, and taught me so many things along the way. This course has been a God send. It really reminded me what I'm here for and, what I want do with my life. I'm so excited to take her next course."

For more information on the courses available through WIU's School of Agriculture, visit

Posted By: Jodi Pospeschil (
Office of University Communications & Marketing