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Two people examine a dog in a hospital setting

Starr Hutcherson, right, is pictured with Kathy Gerkin during a patient examination at the Bailey Small Animal Hospital.

An Alabama native, Starr Hutcherson landed at Auburn’s College of Veterinary Medicine (CVM) via a college football career at Morehead State University in Kentucky, where he earned his bachelor’s degree  in pre-veterinary medicine. 

He’s glad he did. 

“I am in the perfect place for veterinary medicine. The clinicians and professors are friendly and personable,” Hutcherson said. “I knew it would be tough, but everyone is here to help me succeed and be the best doctor I can be.”

Discovering his direction

In his first year of vet school, neurology was the class that grabbed Hutcherson’s attention the most. 

“When I first arrived at Auburn, I had no interest in neurology. I had heard horror stories that the subject was hard and complicated, but I kept an open mind,” he said. “And it just clicked; I fell in love with it.” 

Hutcherson now plans for neurology to be his specialty, with the goal of one day becoming a neurosurgeon. 

Student is pictured with a dog

Starr Hutcherson, right, is pictured with Kathy Gerkin and a dog patient outside of the Bailey Small Animal Teaching Hospital.

Mentorship at its finest

One professor has helped Hutcherson further pursue this direction, Dr. Kathy Gerken

CVM contacts incoming students before they arrive on campus, offering them the option of having a mentor. Hutcherson accepted and was assigned Gerken. The two ended up having similar interests. They discovered a mutual fondness for Star Wars and anime, and the relationship was launched. 

“Mentors sign up willingly, and that’s why we bonded quickly,” Hutcherson said. “We had a willingness to work together.” Gerken and Hutcherson meet regularly to talk and hang out. 

Gerken also has connected Hutcherson with the appropriate practitioners to explore his interest in neurology. CVM professors Dr. Tom Jukier and Dr. Amy Yanke are neurologists who also serve as mentors to Hutcherson. 

An active leader, learner

Hutcherson is a big advocate of CVM’s Summer VIP (Veterinary Intensive Program). He was a counselor in 2022’s inaugural program year and served as the student coordinator for this year’s program. 

Summer VIP engages undergraduate students who demonstrate an interest in veterinary medicine, but may not have access to veterinary experiences. Ten participants were provided housing, travel costs and equipment and offered as much exposure to the field as possible in one week, including a variety of clinical rotations. 

Program highlights included a backstage tour of the Georgia Aquarium veterinary facilities for penguins, stingrays and beluga whales with Dr. Greg Scott. Participants also met Dr. Vernard Hodges and Dr. Terrence Ferguson of the Disney+ show, “Critter Fixers: Country Vets.” 

Preparing logistics for the event took Hutcherson eight months. “I had to balance my second-year classes and planning for VIP. It was a lot, and I thank God I was able to keep myself grounded. I hope to do next year’s VIP program as a clinical student.” 

Hutcherson would like to see the program expand to 15 participants and include out-of-state students as it grows.

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In search of experiential learning

This year, Hutcherson worked in the laboratory of Dr. Maria Naskou, with the support of the Lauren G. and Virginia I. Wolfe Endowed Fellowship, and presented his research at the 2023 Veterinary Scholars Symposium, sponsored by Boehringer Ingelheim Animal Health, in Puerto Rico. His presentation was titled “Assessing the immunoregulatory effect of mesenchymal stem cell extracellular vesicles on stimulated mixed glia.”

Hutcherson also participated in CVM’s Veterinary Summer Scholars Program for the past two summers. He was president and is currently an active member of the Surgery Club, an educational club hosting lunch meetings where clinicians speak about small animal or equine surgical procedures or wet labs where members can practice surgical skills. 

Jobs at CVM’s Small Animal Surgery Unit and Equine ICU Unit enable Hutcherson to apply what he is learning in the classroom to cases he sees in the hospital, working as a technician. 

‘Weird neuro guy’

Hutcherson is clear on his goals. Once he earns his Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degree at Auburn, he will pursue a residency in neurology, with the goal of joining an established clinic. He might even return to a university later in his career to teach students.

“I will take that badge of honor being the weird neuro guy in my class because I feel like that’s where I am being called to. First-year neuro was what got me motivated to want to pursue beyond the DVM and go into a specialty,” Hutcherson said. 

He is well on his way.