Tokyo, Hokkaido & Fukushima, Japan
I could not have asked for a better way to spend my last long summer vacation. My three-week externship in Japan was an amazing experience and a great opportunity to learn about small animal medicine in another country.
My first stop was in Tokyo, where I spent one week at Seijo Kobayashi Animal Hospital, a five-doctor practice with specialists in internal medicine, oncology, surgery, and dentistry. The hospital also offers grooming services and has a counselor to help clients cope with problems they may have, such as pet loss. During the day, I accompanied the doctors in their appointments, observed surgeries, and helped with diagnostic testing. I also went on a house-visit to recheck a client’s cat. At night, I went to seminars and visited an emergency hospital. On my last day, an emergency case came in and was placed on supportive care, but it passed away shortly after. What happened next caught me off guard. Soon after the dog passed away, the receptionist called in an order for flowers and the technicians started to clean up the dog’s body. I learned that this was a common procedure in Japan. When a pet passes away, it is made presentable and then the owner takes the animal home for a night before it is cremated. Some may find this eerie, but to me it was very moving and beautiful to see the dog lying peacefully beneath a bouquet of flowers.
Next, I changed gears from the hustle and bustle of Tokyo to a quieter, laid-back pace of Hokkaido, Japan’s northernmost island. I spent my time at Tamai Animal Hospital listening in on appointments and watching surgeries. When we had some down time, I was able to practice heart auscultations, ultrasound, and even learned how to do an ECHO. The doctors then asked me to come up with diagnoses based on the results of the imaging tests and the physical exam. Not only was it very rewarding for me to correctly diagnosis the animal, but also reassuring to know that I could apply what I learned in classes to a real situation. I also got to visit Sapporo Emergency Hospital and went on a guided tour of the VMTH at Rakuno Gakuen University. As Hokkaido is known in Japan for its fresh fish and produce, dairy products, and delicious food in general, Dr. Tamai wanted to make sure that I experienced all of its culinary delights. After eating sushi, miso ramen, curry soup, and so much more, I can attest that Hokkaido is indeed a foodie’s paradise.
I spent my third week volunteering at a temporary animal shelter in Fukushima. This shelter, referred to simply as the “Second Animal Shelter”, houses dogs and cats for owners who could not find pet-friendly housing after they were displaced by the Fukushima nuclear disaster. The on-site veterinarian, Dr. Watanabe, was one of many people who had to evacuate from his home. I fought back tears as he showed me pictures and shared his story of how he had to leave his own hospital and patients behind. He wants to go back and live there again, but no one knows when that will be possible. It is also unclear at this time how long the Second Animal Shelter will be open. In general, medical issues are minimal but there is concern about the weight gain in the cats and weight loss in the dogs likely due to the change from their previous lifestyles.
I am very thankful to all the people who made this externship possible. I was also fortunate that Dr. Kobayashi and Dr. Tamai opened their homes to me during my stay. The two doctors have different lifestyles and I had the chance to experience family life in Japan and see how they balanced that with work. Through this externship I learned about culture, client communication, management and the profession as a whole. I really couldn’t have asked for a better summer!