Entries in IVEC (3)


SYMCO 2019

Sarah Muirhead from Iowa State University was awarded a scholarship from SAVMA's International Veterinary Experience Committee. Read on to learn more about what she experienced!


SYMCO 2019 was hands-down, the most incredible adventure of my life. I had never been to a foreign country, and if that wasn’t enough, I was traveling to South Africa by myself. I had some anxieties about missing my flight or losing my luggage, but the arrival was smooth and uneventful. The South African committee members greeted us at the airport, and we went on our way to the University of Pretoria. Slowly throughout the day, we began to meet more local and international veterinary students. 

On the second night, we celebrated our different backgrounds by bringing different foods, drinks, and customs to culture night. We left University of Pretoria and began the long journey throughout the north-eastern part of South Africa. We stopped in Durban, and I swam in the ocean for the first time. In fact, my first time swimming in the ocean was cage diving with sharks! When we arrived at Kruger national park, we were about halfway through the symposium and exhausted. Yet you wouldn’t be able to tell based on the excitement seeing animals in Kruger for the first time. People lept out of their seats to see the elephant walking through the bush and the troupe of baboons running across the road. 

After visiting Kruger, we traveled to a rhino farm and learned more about darting and dehorning. In fact, we had a full two days of darting from the ground, shooting paintballs from a helicopter and dehorning a total of 20 rhinos. It was an incredible learning opportunity – I think I said it was the best day of my life every day for at least 7 of the 18 days. On our last full day together, we had a community outreach event. We teamed up with a non-profit organization called Lessons in Conservation to teach 45 elementary kids about the importance of conservation. After the lesson, we took them on their first game drive to see South Africa’s wildlife! 

Other activities included: numerous lectures from wildlife professionals; visits to an elephant sanctuary, local cultural village, rhino sanctuary, and uShaka marine world; LOTS of time on the bus; wine and gin tastings; sunrise game drives; and lots of Braii. 

We started as 60 international students, 15 local students and 10 devoted committee members. By the end of 18 exhilarating days, we became 85 friends and colleagues. I am honored to have been chosen to represent Iowa State University CVM as one of the United States delegates. Thank you so much for the scholarship to help fund this life-changing experience!



2019 International Veterinary Experience Scholarship - Individual

Deadline: March 29, 2019 for cycle one (Experiences in January - July 2019).  A second cycle for July to December 2019 will be opened later in the spring/early summer.

Description: The International Experience Scholarship is awarded to deserving SAVMA members who demonstrate a strong desire to participate in a veterinary-related international experience.

Application Link


International Veterinary Experience Scholarship

As a dual DVM/MPH student, I have never had traditional goals. When people ask, usually in passing, what I want to do with that combination, there is no abrevieated way to explain One Health and the drivers of zoonotic disease transmission or my aspirations to conduct field research that propels policy and education initiatives that can improve the health of animals, humans and the environment. For me, the links between these fields have always seemed intuitive, so it doesn’t seem out of the ordinary to answer “What did you do this summer?” with “Vaccinated chickens in Madagascar”. Oh, right, of course, naturally.
As a dual-degree student, I wanted to find a capstone project that combined veterinary medicine and public health in the same way that I hope to in my future career. I had known about a Harvard-based researcher that works in my niche of interest for several years and although I figured it was a longshot, I reached out and asked if he might have a spot for a veterinary student on his summer team. Much to my surprise, he enthusiastically agreed both to take me along, and to serve as the primary mentor for my capstone research project.
In Madagascar, many households rely on bushmeat as their primary source of protein. Previous research links decreased bushmeat consumption to increased anemia. However, reliance on bushmeat both increases the potential for zoonotic disease transmission and threatens the nation’s delicate ecosystems. After examining taboos and taste preferences, chicken was identified as a possible alternative protein source. However, Newcastle Disease Virus (NDV), an avian respiratory disease with an incredibly high mortality rate , is endemic to the island, making it difficult to raise chickens. As a response, the Madagascar Health and Environmental Research (MAHERY) program is now in the second year of a vaccine campaign to decrease the incidence of NDV and increase poultry production. Their hope is that increased access to a reliable protein source will decrease bushmeat consumption by Malagasy citizens, decrease zoonotic disease transmission, strengthen agriculture in the region, and protect precarious local ecosystems. In addition, chickens are typically the women’s property and asset, so this campaign also serves as a tool to empower Malagasay women.
 Receiving the International Veterinary Experience Scholarship has helped me pursue my non-traditional career goals and to have an experience that could never be created in a classroom. Communicating enough to navigate daily life in a foreign country is always a challenge, let alone conveying medical concepts that might not be common knowledge. Still, the local veterinarian spent hours answering my endless questions about veterinary medicine, agriculture and ecology in Madagascar. In a rural area like the one I was in, the close connections between humans, animals, and the environment are more evident than ever. The people depend on the forest for life and they often house their chickens in their own homes. For them, a flock of healthy chickens might be the make the difference between a stunted child and a healthy one.
Without the financial help of the IVEC scholarship and local grants, none of this would
have been possible and I am immensely grateful that funding opportunities like this exist. When
I think of the career I would like in the future, based around systems-thinking and creative
solutions that benefit multiple populations, I cannot think of a better way to prepare than to
jump right in. The experience that I had in Madagascar reinforces the value of personal
connections and of simply reaching out – stepping out of your comfort zone and asking to have
coffee or a conversation with a role model, or maybe even asking if they have a place on their
team, their answer might surprise you.
Check out the SAVMANews for currently open SAVMA scholarships and opportunities.