My month-long externship in the small animal clinic at Utrecht University in July 2010 exceeded my expectations for learning about approaches to the practice of companion animal medicine in Western Europe, comparing the models for veterinary education between the US and Europe, and discovering the similarities and differences in treatment options in small animal medicine between the UC Davis VMTH and Utrecht University's small animal clinic. Â I had the good fortune of living in the university town of Utrecht, Netherlands, during the 2010 World Cup and the Tour de France, so I was able to learn and enjoy much about Dutch culture.
During my clinical rotations at Utrecht University, I participated in a one-week rotation in the Radiology department, a half-week rotation in Dermatology, a week and a half in Internal Medicine, and a week in Emergency Medicine. I was surprised to find many similarities between clinics at the UC Davis VMTH and Utrecht University, and I was intrigued by many differences. A remarkable similarity between both universities was the many friendly and highly-motivated students. Utrecht is also a referral hospital (except for the emergency service) with very accomplished and welcoming faculty and several options for advanced diagnostics and treatment. As such a large hospital and with so many departments, navigating the small animal clinic at Utrecht can be as confusing for newcomers as the VMTH is.
Perhaps the most striking difference between UC Davis and Utrecht University is the structure of the educational system. Veterinary school in the Netherlands is a six-year combined bachelors-masters (the title of "doctor" in the Netherlands is only bestowed to someone who has completed a PhD program). Most students at Utrecht start immediately after high school, so most students in its clinical rotations are younger than Davis students. Veterinary school is almost entirely funded (for the first 10 years of university) by the government, so most students have minimal debt upon graduation. Students told me that approximately a third of the veterinary students graduating from Utrecht University ultimately do not end up practicing veterinary medicine. I'm not sure how this unofficial statistic compares with those of UC Davis SVM graduates, but I'd be surprised if nearly as many veterinary graduates from Davis make a career switch, especially in the face of a much larger educational debt than their Dutch counterparts.
Both UC Davis and Utrecht have well-trained and competent graduates, so it is interesting to see how different the structure of the clinical rotations are between the two clinics. Students at Utrecht participate in two years of clinical rotations and go through each department in a specific order. They begin clinics at different times throughout the year (and also graduate at different times)- so there is no question as to what services they have already been through. Only a few services have in-patients and those that do are mostly shared by students in 12-hour or 8- hour shifts. Most of the other services receive patients between 7:30 am and 2 pm, and students often have lectures from 2-5 p.m., at which point they are done with their clinical duties for the day.
Cases and clients at both hospitals are fairly similar. I found it interesting that the term translated to English for a client with sufficient finances for their pet's treatment was a "motivated owner." It was surprising to see so many international clients- Utrecht is closer for some Belgian residents than the veterinary school in their own country! There were some differences in treatment options based on the pharmaceuticals available and clinicians' preferences for various procedures. I had a very interesting discussion with the resident on Reproduction about spaying dogs; clinicians at Utrecht almost always perform ovariectomies instead of OVHs when there is no underlying uterine pathology. Some of the cases in the Emergency department vary somewhat from those seen at the VMTH. Common emergencies at Utrecht include animals falling out of high-rise apartments, but they never see some of the emergencies typically seen at Davis such as rattlesnake bites. Overall, however, I found that the cases, diagnostic procedures and treatment options are similar at both hospitals.
I believe that to make the most out of this externship it is necessary to be open minded, flexible, and outgoing. There is as much to learn on a rotation at Utrecht as at the VMTH, but to make the most out of the experience, students are expected to initiate interactions and ask questions of the faculty, residents and their peers. Most services do not do rounds as regularly as those at the VMTH, but most residents and faculty are happy to round on anything pertaining to their service when they are asked to do so. When I found it necessary to ask other students to translate something from Dutch to English, they were always happy to do so.
My experience at the small animal clinic at Utrecht University was extremely rewarding and educational. I learned - a great deal on each clinical rotation, and as an added bonus I was also able to learn about Dutch culture and history. I found time for weekend excursions and learned about Dutch culture through conversations with many of the welcoming students, interns, residents and faculty outside of the clinics. I recommend this externship to any UC Davis student interested in learning more about veterinary medicine in an academic and international setting.