This winning submission from our Experiences category comes from Wendy Parker from the University of Tennessee.
What would be your super power, either real or make believe if you could pick anything in the world? Mine would be being about to blink my eyes and travel to anywhere in a split second. As a vet student, it is hard to find time to travel and even harder to find the funds to do so. I grew up in a family that taught me anything is possible with hard work and dedication. There are no limits, only the ones you set for yourself. Being an out of state veterinary student is financially hard, but I have never let that stop me from achieving my goals. I work hard, and I don’t allow limits to hinder my learning. One of my favorite parts of veterinary medicine is the fact that its worldwide. Everywhere has their own unique animals to their region, and there is always something new to learn in even the farthest corners of the earth. I am very passionate about traveling and learning aspects of veterinary medicine that may be different than what we know in the United States.
Flash back to the spring of 2015, when I was a first year vet student trying to decide what I wanted to do with my summer and my winter breaks. I always try to seize any opportunity in front of me, and I felt I could not waste the free time we were given and wanted to find something to fill that time. I did not have many contacts yet in the veterinary world, with only being a first year, and wasn’t sure how to go about finding opportunities that were in a field I wanted, and also would cater to a student that was still at the start of their vet career. Enter stage left, Google! (Because what does one do when you have no idea where to start with something? You Google it!) I sat down on a brisk spring day and Googled “veterinary experiences aboard”, hit search, and crossed my fingers! It comes to no surprise that there were A LOT of hits, but I began sifting through, looking for the best fit.
I came across a vet hospital called The Belize Wildlife and Referral Clinic, located in San Ignacio, Belize. I knew nothing of this country, and am a little embarrassed to admit I even had to Google where exactly Belize was located. After reading a little about the clinic, I came to learn they would host veterinary students interested in wildlife medicine during the summer or winter months every year. No one at my school had participated in this program, which was a little over 2 weeks and was labeled as a course for veterinary students. So, without knowing any other information, but going with my gut, I decided to apply for the course! Thankfully, I was accepted! I have to admit, I was a little nervous because my only contact with them was via email, and since no one I knew had done this course before, I was taking a bit of a shot in the dark. Being the usual, money strapped veterinary student, I had to live off of ramen noodles and water for a while and save every penny I could to make this happen, but I did it!
Jump to December 2015, arriving at Belize City, Belize with too much luggage and a pain in my side from carrying it all. After arriving to San Ignacio, which is about 2.5hr from Belize City, my program began! With me were students from other vet schools, all in different stages of their vet career. We all made fast friends and started our course in wildlife medicine at the Belize Wildlife and Referral Clinic with Dr. Isabelle Paquet-Durand. It was an amazing 2 weeks spent working with all types of animals. And my favorite part was working with those animals that were native to Belize like kinkajous, coatimundis and tapirs. Before this, I had never worked with wildlife before, and did not know much about it. This trip was an eye opener. It amazed me the amount of hard work these vets put in with honestly, not much to show for it at the end of the day. Think that sounds terrible? Well, let me tell you why I disagree. I learned that wildlife vets get very little help funding/salary wise, because the animals they treat tend to not have owners, and so they don’t always get paid for the services they do. But what they do get? The incredibly important job of conserving the fauna of a region, maybe that’s an endangered species or perhaps a species most may call a nuisance or a pest. What people don’t realize (and what I realized once being there) is how important these animals are to our environment. And those vets get very little recognition, they are of a special breed of their own that doesn’t require any, and I have an admiration for those vets. I learned how to be a better vet through this program; because I learned qualities I may not have learned in a country such as the US where shortages of payment or medications for animals is not as common. It is a valuable thing to learn how to use what you have to get a job done. Often, in these places we term “third world countries”, there is a shortage of supplies and medications . To overcome this, a vet working in these areas must use what they have! I feel this is so important because you never know what may walk into your clinic, and having the ability or get creative and splint that leg with a pencil is so valuable because sometimes, that pencil is what saves that animal from euthanasia.
In vet school we are mostly taught the gold standard of treatment, but the reality is that most clinics don’t have the gold standard. Instead, you may have to rethink things from how you were taught and come to the answer/treatment in a different method. That is not something you can be taught in school, and it is something I learned in Belize through this program. It has made me humbled at the opportunities we have here in the US for such great medical care, and has made me realize that it is important to always provide the highest level of care even if you don’t have your typical supplies or medications. Just because you may not have the gold standard, doesn’t mean you can’t do your absolute best quality of medicine and put the patient first. It was amazing to learn this, especially outside of the classroom. I feel so incredibly fortunate to have been able to make this opportunity happen for myself. The cherry on top was that my vet school loved my work in this course so much, that this year they have actually made this program an actual elective course that students can do through the school. I love paving the way for younger vets, and can’t wait to hear the stories they come back with this year!