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Sunday
Jun172018

A Christian Veterinary Fellowship Trip

 

Faith and Veterinary Medicine

by Kelly Barton

Ross University

In March of this year, I finally achieved a goal- I was able to use my veterinary skills and knowledge to serve the Yup’ik people of coastal southwestern Alaska. Real people, real animals, real medicine. It was amazing. I think often times, we (vet students) go on these trips to change the lives of the animals we serve and to better our medical/surgical skills. Of course, that was floating around in my thoughts too, but what I was really excited for was the people. I know, people are gross, right? At least we joke about it a lot, but I have found over my time in vet school that one of my favorite parts of veterinary medicine is providing client education and helping people to make informed decisions about their own animals. This trip to Alaska turned out to be so much more about the people than just the medical services the team provided and I couldn’t have been more excited.

North Carolina’s Christian Veterinary Fellowship (a chapter of the non-profit organization Christian Veterinary Missions) visits the southwest coast of Alaska twice a year, in March and in October, led by fearless leader Dr. Page Wages. They provide vaccinations, spay/neuter services, general medical services, and Rabies/dog bite prevention education to various villages. They also provide prayer for anyone that wants it, and frequently have opportunities to learn about the Yup’ik culture through conversations and interactions with villagers. The group attempts to revisit villages every 2-3 years to help build lasting relationships. I was honored and humbled that I was selected to join the team on their March journey to the great white North.

During a conference (Real Life Real Impact) held at several locations each year, including at Ross University, Dr. Wages had posed some food for thought that stuck with me. She had asked if we planned on being a veterinarian that happened to be a Christian, or a Christian that happened to be a veterinarian. Indeed, I had mulled this over for several years, and pondered how I might pursue sharing the love of Christ through my knowledge and skills in veterinary medicine. Veterinary medicine, as a science and profession, does not tend to automatically lend itself towards integrating one’s faith. This trip was the first time I felt that I had a chance to do that in “the real world”, outside of school. God had provided a perfect opportunity to share compassion and love to pets and their owners.

The location that we served provides unique logistical challenges due to the remote nature of the villages and the often unforgiving weather. All medical and surgical supplies as well as all food for the duration of the trip has to be flown to Bethel, a bit of a hub town in SW Alaska via commercial flights. Past that, very small bush planes are the main mode of transportation to the villages due to lack of a connecting road system (though snowmobiles are a potential alternative, just much slower and less efficient). After a wall of snow had delayed us overnight, we put our 30+ bags of medical supplies (including an autoclave that stays with the local health department until we come), personal effects, and food onto four bush planes and headed to our first village, Toksook Bay.

Our day in Toksook was very busy with a constant stream of spays/neuters and vaccinations at our temporary clinic set up in the local bingo hall as well as a team heading out to do door-to-door vaccinations and prayer. After Toksook, we split into 2 teams, one heading to Nightmute and the other to Tununak. At both locations, many dogs were spayed/neutered and numerous vaccinations were given. The plan had been to go to 2 additional villages, but poor weather conditions changed our plans. There was a lot of travel, several late nights, and many long days. It was all worth it though.

During recovery from anesthesia, performing exams, and doing door-to-door vaccines, we were given the chance to learn about peoples’ lives, their struggles, and their beliefs. Many wanted us to pray for them, for anything from family health, to help with addictions to drugs or alcohol, and even just for smooth recoveries for their beloved pets. I particularly loved speaking with people when I was on recovery duty and watching them monitor their sleeping animals, worried about them. These people love their animals dearly and it was heart-warming to see them interact with them. I was filled with joy to be able to help them provide medical procedures and treatments.

My other favorite part was playing with the kids as we went to retrieve more vaccines from the bingo hall in Toksook. A small herd of children opened up to us and were playing silly games, asking questions and helping us carry our supplies around. Veterinary medicine can be very rewarding in and of itself, but meeting the people of these remote villages was arguably even more rewarding. The best parts of the trip all involved speaking with the villagers and having a chance to invest some time into their lives. I’m not sure who got more out of this trip, the ones serving or the ones being served.

My visit to Alaska was an incredible experience, one that can’t be completely prepared for and requires an open mind and flexibility to re-adjust plans frequently. While it did not provide surgical experience (only licensed vets could perform surgery for legal purposes), I can vaccinate like a champ (including very wiggly dogs, outside in the dark!) and got to practice some foundation skills like exams, medication administration, recovery, and so on. Most importantly though, it gave me hope that in the future, I can continue to use my skills in veterinary medicine to serve my God through serving His people and their animals.

 

For more details on the trip, please visit NCSU’s blog at https://ncsucvmmissions.wordpress.com/category/alaska/

Snowmobiling between villagesThe planes were very small! Only 6 people fit on each plane.A very friendly village dog looking for a belly rub. Hanging out with the kids in Toksook.

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