Reality TV has come to Cornell.
No, the Kardashians are not on campus, but National Geographic WILD spent last school year filming behind the scenes at Cornell’s College of Veterinary Medicine.
The results of that exclusive access will begin airing on Nat Geo WILD’s new Saturday night series, “Vet School,” Sept. 19 at 10 p.m. (on Ithaca-area channel 130). The series follows three first-year students from day one on their road to becoming licensed veterinarians, and four fourth-year students who approach the end of their training before embarking on their careers.
Nat Geo WILD is on to something, as its most popular shows, including the No. 1 series “The Incredible Dr. Pol,” feature veterinarians. And if anyone wonders whether the drama is real, the answer is yes.
“It’s really a reality show; the producers never asked us to dramatize anything,” said Cristina Bustamante, one of the show’s featured students, who just started her second year of veterinary school. “The cameras were always on us when we were with an animal, so when we jump back from a [snarling] cat, that is totally natural.”
Sam Dicker, who was a fourth-year student during the filming and is now a small animal rotating intern at Garden State Veterinary Specialists in Tinton Falls, New Jersey, felt the show had more the feel of a documentary.
“It showcases the veterinary profession and Cornell in a positive light. The show portrays the amount of hard work it takes to get the degree, and how dedicated we are to make our patients and their owners happy,” he said.
“They did a great job of reflecting what it was like in real life,” Bustamante said. “When I saw an episode, it really expressed what that lab was like.”
Dan Cimino, another second-year student who plans to specialize in large animal care and also had a starring role in the show, admitted he was a little nervous at first being on camera, but after the first few weeks, he began to relax.
“It was a little overwhelming at first; you’ve just met 105 people you don’t know. I was nervous asking questions at first, knowing I was being filmed,” he said.
“In the beginning it was a little stressful,” Dicker added. “If I were to place an intravenous catheter and there were two cameras on me, then I wanted to hit it even more.”
The Nat Geo producers and crew arrived in Ithaca before school began and stayed through graduation, seamlessly embedding themselves in the students’ lives and rotating between different students in lab and on rotations day to day.
Episode titles include “Day One,” “Lethal Ingestion” and “Midterm Madness,” and feature such segments as surgery on a bulldog with life-threatening congestive heart failure, and a challenging checkup with a clamorous miniature donkey named Leslie.
Overall, the students found the episodes accurately captured veterinary college, with one major exception.
“The show does not portray how much we study, but that would be a very boring show,” said Bustamante.
“They filmed a lot of labs with live animals, and that’s the majority of the show, but we are studying 95 percent of the time,” Cimino said.
In spite of initial jitters, all the students found participating in the show rewarding. “It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience,” said Cimino.
Other featured students included second-year student Hannah Brodlie and 2015 graduates Singen Elliott, Aziza Glass and Aria Hill.