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MCCC Biology Students Add Veterinary Assistant Training to Their College Experience


In the MCCC Biology Lab, Morgan Lokuta, with Rex, a female bearded dragon, and Alex Villepontoux, with Pete, a male ball python.

Starting their Princeton Animal Hospital externships are, front row, from left, Alex and Morgan, Mary Rose Nelson, and Jasmine McShea; back row, from left, Remy Hoon, Alexandra Reinson, Christina Polans, Angela Barbush, Andrew Potosky, and Janette Rodriguez-Lugo. Not pictured: Caitlin Bruin.

West Windsor, N.J. – Alex Villepontoux of Lawrenceville and Morgan Lokuta of Hamilton have several things in common. They are both biology students at Mercer County Community College (MCCC) and both grew up caring for a variety of pets.

Simply put, they love animals.

Now, they have found a way to complete their associate degrees and add veterinary assistant training to their resumes in a program offered through MCCC’s Center for Continuing Studies (CCS). The two started the Veterinary Assistant Certificate Program in March 2017, and completed the last of four lecture modules in November. On Dec. 5, they began the final phase of the program, a 12-week, 75-hour externship at Princeton Animal Hospital.

Eleven students in total will move on to their externships. Once that module is completed, the last hurdle is the state certification exam. The program is approved by the National Association of Veterinarian Technicians of America.

Villepontoux is also completing his associate degree in Biology in December. He says he decided to study biology after taking an introductory course with Teaching Assistant Patrick Natale.

“We had a chance to play with the animals,” he recalls, explaining that the Biology Department has “adopted” several reptiles, which have become like class pets.

Then he began volunteering at Edinburg Animal Hospital and knew that his connection with animals was a forever thing.

When Villepontoux found out about the CCS program, he went for it. “It fell into place,” he said. “I will finish my biology degree this semester, complete my externship in the spring, and be ready to work as a veterinary assistant when I transfer to William Paterson University (WPU) in Wayne,” he said.

Villepontoux says that Mercer has given him a great foundation on both the credit and noncredit sides. He expects to major in biology at WPU with a possible focus on veterinary science.

Lokuta is in her third semester as a biology major. She says she has always been drawn to biology and to animals. “I grew up with pets – dogs, cat, fish, guinea pigs, hamsters, even chicks.”

Lokuta has volunteered at animal shelters and has spent time at the business of a family friend, who owns Golden Paws Pet Resort and Spa in Robbinsville, which offers doggie daycare, grooming and lodging.

When Lokuta was visiting the MCCC website, she found CCS’s Veterinary Assistant Program and, like Alex, did not hesitate. Slowing down just a little on the credit side, she has put her heart into her veterinary classes. Her ultimate goal is to finish her Mercer degree and then transfer for her bachelor’s degree.  And, hopefully, she will also be working as a veterinary assistant.

“I want to do something that I love to do,” she says.

Both students say the program’s three instructors have been great and the courses have been challenging and satisfying. “I am always reviewing the material,” Alex said.

Morgan added that the curriculum provided a major overview of the field. “I feel like I got a broad understanding of what veterinarians do. You get to know something about everything so you can prepare for the doctor’s request.”

According to instructor Allie Whartenby, who coordinates the program, in the first module, students get an introduction to the field, covering topics such as animal behavior, animal restraint, the veterinary office, professional skills and communication, anatomy and pharmacy. In Modules II and III, they learn about nursing skills including diseases, nutrition, anesthesia, and surgery, bandaging, vaccines and dentistry. Module IV includes laboratory skills and diagnostics like lab testing, imaging (radiography and ultrasound) and sample collection.

“As veterinary assistants, Alex and Morgan will have plenty to keep them busy," Whartenby said. "Depending on the kind of hospital setting and the size of the staff, they will be assigned a variety of tasks.” Typical responsibilities include animal restraint, animal husbandry, hospital maintenance, assistance in the surgery suite, including monitoring animals post-op, running lab tests, putting together prep kits the veterinarian will need for exams and surgery, and preparing prescriptions and other tasks as necessary.

Both Villepontoux and Lokuta say it wasn’t easy to juggle the two sides of their curriculum. “We gave each other moral support,” Villepontoux said. “And we both know that the chance to work with animals will be worth it.”

CCS Veterinary Assistant Program

More Programs at MCCC's Center for Continuing Studies

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