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Entries in public health and community outreach committee (1)


Global Veterinary Alliance Experience

Winner of the Underserved Populations Externship Stipend
from the SAVMA Public Health and Community Outreach Committee

Neda Othman, University of California Davis

Ten days, six communities, seven clinics, 347 patients, and 88 surgeries. Last summer I was immersed in the long, hard, rewarding days of running a rural field clinic in another country. I participated in the Global Veterinary Alliance (GVA) trip to Nicaragua last June soon after completing my first year of veterinary school at UC Davis. GVA is an independent 501(c)(3) non-profit that was founded by UC Davis veterinary students only a few years older than me. For the past several years, GVA has organized two Nicaragua voluntourism (volunteer-tourism) trips per year (one in December and one in June) with a team of Nicaraguan veterinarians, American RVTs, and around twenty UC Davis veterinary students, providing much-needed veterinary care to rural communities in northwestern Nicaragua.
A typical clinic day started with a Nicaraguan breakfast at our hostel, Monty’s Beach Lodge in Jiquilillo. Right after breakfast, while we’d all be spraying ourselves down with bug spray and filling up water bottles, we’d get a briefing on the plan for the day- which town; who was assigned to which station. Then we’d pile into the bus and soon be setting up the clinic (we set up at a different community each day), locals spotting us and lining up with their pets before we even had the intake station ready.
We saw dogs, cats, pigs, donkeys, cattle, and chickens, from 70-100 patients per day. Some popular dog names were “Canela” (cinnamon) and “Princesa” (princess), though my favorite one, though, was “Pelusa” (dust bunny). Our canine patients were typically covered in ticks and had a BCS less than 4. I was grateful for the four years of paying attention in high school Spanish, for I was able to investigate the history of a female dog who seemed to be hematuric from the history but who we actually found to have a transmissible venereal tumor (TVT) on physical exam. My Spanish skills also helped me investigate the source of pain in the angry hunk of a dog suitably named “Killer”. Another memorable patient was the tiny puppy who’s poorly-docked tail was infected and necrotic; one of our veterinarians gave it a cleaner amputation in surgery. And of course (because I literally can’t forget) the shriek-like squealing of the pig patients still has my ears ringing—we hadn’t even touched them and they were wailing!
Our clinics were held rain or shine. As much as possible, we reserved the limited space under the roof for surgery, but on the two rainy days, the sky poured, rumbled, and lit up with streaks of lightning! And all the clients waiting in line ran for cover under the roof, packing into the limited space until the rain let up. Other than the crazy rain days, another hard-to-forget thing is the American pop music playing every night the hostel, turning Despacito and Thunder into theme songs for our trip. And there was the memorable night when the three fruit bats flapped into my room and tangled themselves in my mosquito net, making me and my bunkmates shriek like pigs getting subcutaneous ivermectin!
The people who lined up for our clinics ranged from age five to 75. Some people had brought their pets every time to our clinics since the very first clinic; for others, it was their first time. It brought us immense joy when a client every so often would bring the little paper booklet from the clinic six months prior containing the vaccination and deworming record. At one clinic, there was a woman who arrived at the end of the day just as we had stopped accepting more surgeries and were about to start breaking down the intake station. We almost turned her away...until we learned that she had walked five miles carrying her young female dog in her arms to get her spayed by us. Of course, we fit her in.
Kids ran around at every clinic, some sent by their parents to bring pets, others just enjoying the novelty of our group’s presence. One young girl around the age 10 or so was especially curious of what I was doing and followed me around all day. She asked a lot of questions. I could tell she was bright, compassionate, and loved animals. What bothers me to this day is that I could not comfortably or with any certainty tell her that she, too, could become a veterinarian one day if she just “got good grades and a lot of experience with animals”. That is something I have told American children without a second thought. But realizing that Nicaragua is the second poorest country in Latin America, where only 7% of Nicaraguans aged 15-24 continued on to post- secondary education, and almost 50% of the country’s population live in the poor rural regions where it is hardest to ascend to higher education reminded me of the privilege it is to be an American with access to high-quality public education and a relatively easy path to a Bachelor’s degree. That little girl is an important part of my memory of Nicaragua and is integrated into my interest in completing an MPH, working internationally down the road, and being involved in public education both domestically and abroad.
I am grateful for both the SAVMA Public Health and Community Outreach Committee Underserved Population Externship Stipend and the SAVMA Professional Development Fund, funding that has helped me significantly with the costs associated with the trip. I would like to encourage readers to look into international veterinary voluntourism as a way to travel while honing your clinical skills, broaden your world view, help others in an extremely meaningful way, and discover new life goals or avenues for applying your DVM training in the future. While Global Veterinary Alliance hopes to grow chapters at other veterinary schools, consider volunteer trips with World Vets, Mission Rabies, Darwin Animal Doctors, and Vida Volunteers. Your life, both personal and professional, will benefit deeply, and you will be providing an enormous service to those in areas with fewer resources.