International Programs

Athena Gianopoulos

Gatton, Queensland, Australia

In order to gain a more realistic idea if I could and should combine my lifelong love of parrots with my veterinary career, I sought to travel to Australia to work with wild parrots in a veterinary setting. I was fortunate enough to work with an avian specialist, Dr. Bob Doneley, at the University of Queensland, Gatton School of Veterinary Sciences. Since I was in a veterinary teaching hospital, I was immediately welcomed and my yearn to learn was encouraged.

I shadowed and assisted with any/all of the cases that Dr. Bob saw over a four week period. I gained a lot of experience with avian and exotic handling/restraint, venipuncture, anesthesia, radiographs, and even ultrasound (Yep, even budgies and bearded dragons can receive an ultrasound evaluation)! I got to be hands-on with all of the patients and practice important clinical skills like restraint, venipuncture and radiograph positioning. This was especially beneficial because I had prior experience with many clinical skills involving dogs and cats, but not yet with birds and exotic species. More importantly, I became more familiar with medicine and diseases of common exotic and wildlife species which I have not previously been exposed to.

Although I had intended this externship to be all about parrots, I definitely got more than I bargained for! During my externship I encountered the gamut of Australian wildlife species and common household exotic pets, including but not limited to: galahs, sulfur-crested cockatoos, budgerigars, cockatiels, magpies, rosellas, lorikeets, pademelons, tawny frogmouths, barn owls, Eastern long-neck turtles, Mary River turtles, bearded dragons, frill-neck lizards, an echidna, and so many more. I learned that if I want to be a veterinarian who practices small animal and avian medicine, I must also learn exotic animal medicine.

For additional exotic animal exposure, Dr. Bob arranged for me to visit nearby zoo and wildlife hospitals. At the Australian Zoo, I got to see a theriogenologist perform pregnancy ultrasounds on a Sumatran tiger and several giraffes. I also got to spend time in the wildlife hospital learning about conservation issues specific to Australian wildlife. On a different day I volunteered at the Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary hospital where I gained experience working with Australian wildlife, especially koalas. I even got to help place a koala catheter, restrain for ultrasound, and take cloacal samples for chlamydia testing. These are everyday tasks for the technicians but a totally novel experience for an American tourist like me!

My experience in Australia was absolutely invaluable to my development as a veterinarian in training and has provided me with a renewed, more focused sense of what kind of doctor I want to be. It was also interesting to see how medicine could be practiced in another country besides the U.S. One of the beautiful things (and sometimes frustrating) about veterinary medicine is that although there are universal principles and pathologies, methods and approaches can differ. I have returned to Davis more proactive about my veterinary education and am interested in traveling to Australia perhaps for an externship during my clinical year. Thank you International Programs for helping my dream of working with parrots in Australia come true! Australia, until we meet again.

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