news-category: Bulldog Profiles

Internships Help Senior Biology Major Determine Her Career Path

The Docterra Mobile Clinic

Karson Dean, ’23, Spends Summer Working with a Mobile Veterinary Clinic

Senior biology major Karson Dean, of Dallas, N.C., has cared passionately about animals for as long as she can remember. When she graduates from Gardner-Webb University in December 2023, she plans to pursue a career in veterinary technology.

This summer, Dean has interned with DocTerra Mobile Veterinary Services, based out of Vale, N.C. The clinic is owned by Dr. Terra Stines Smith, who works with Dr. Melanie E. Runkle. Smith’s parents, brother, sister and husband also work in the practice. “Dr. Terra and Dr. Melanie’s kind spirits, constant encouragement and thorough teaching are among the many things that make this job wonderful,” Dean affirmed. “The best part of the job is the animals … being able to interact with a wide variety of animals and bring healing and comfort not only to them but to their owners is what makes this field so worth it. You get to be a voice for those that cannot speak up for themselves and serve them.”  

The mobile veterinary unit travels in a 30-mile radius. On any given day, Dean may help Smith with dogs, cats, cattle, goats, sheep, alpacas, horses, rabbits, ducks, chickens, pigs and other species. The veterinarian can provide most all of the services of a stationary clinic: dentals, spays, neuters, mass removals, annual vaccines, medical appointments, etc. Dean has worked approximately 55 hours over the summer.  

She said the most challenging part of the job is dealing with the death of an animal. “Coping with this can be difficult, and some days will be worse than others, which is why it is important to focus on the positives of the job,” Dean observed. “Grieving the patients that you have lost is important, but it is also important not to dwell on that. Directing my focus to the patients we have saved, and those that are happy to see us each day, is how I get through the day. Surrounding myself with a community of people that I trust both in the field and outside is also another coping mechanism I use.”  

This summer Karson Dean has worked with goats, dogs, cats, cattle, sheep, alpacas, horses, rabbits, ducks, chickens, pigs and other species.

Dean began interning with Smith and Runkle two years ago when she was a student at a large public university. They welcomed her to the team and were genuinely interested in helping her learn. After shadowing the two professionals, though, Dean realized that she didn’t want to be a veterinarian. She wasn’t interested in performing surgeries but preferred to assist the doctor as a registered veterinary technician. “They have encouraged me to pursue my calling in veterinary medicine whether that be attending vet school or becoming a registered technician,” she shared. “They have never made me feel less than or incapable of performing a task just because I am younger or less educated.”  

Along with the change in her career focus, Dean decided to transfer to Gardner-Webb in the spring semester of her sophomore year. She was miserable at the large school she attended and decided to come to Gardner-Webb, where she would be closer to home, her family, and church. “Each professor at Gardner-Webb takes the time to pour into their students both spiritually and academically, encouraging them to chase their dreams, but also to face reality and provide their students with experiences to achieve these realities,” Dean said. “These unique opportunities will help me stand apart from others in the future when pursuing more schooling or a career.”  

She continued, “What I value most about my Gardner-Webb experience is the school’s Christian values and the small campus population, which allows for professors to develop relationships with their students. At Gardner-Webb, students are treated as unique individuals and not just a number.”

Gardner-Webb University is North Carolina’s recognized leader in private, Christian higher education. A Carnegie-Classified Doctoral/Professional University, GWU is home to nine colleges and schools, more than 80 undergraduate and graduate majors, and a world-class faculty. Located on a beautiful 225-acre campus in Boiling Springs, N.C., Gardner-Webb prepares graduates to impact their chosen professions, equips them with the skills to advance the frontiers of knowledge, and inspires them to make a positive and lasting difference in the lives of others. Ignite your future at        

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