Ecuador Summer Report
This summer, I worked for five weeks in a small animal hospital called Bassets Veterinary Clinic (Clinica Veterinaria Bassets) in Quito, Ecuador and took weekend trips to work on haciendas out in the countryside. This international experience allowed me not only to improve my clinical skills and veterinary knowledge, but also to build on my Spanish language skills and immerse myself in a Spanish-speaking culture in a way that I'm not able to do in the U.S.
It is tremendously important to me to be bilingual, and it is for this reason that I began searching for veterinary work in Latin America. I discovered Experiential Learning Ecuadorian Programs (ELEP), a private Ecuadorian organization that places people from around the world in volunteer and internship positions in the country. I found ELEP's mission to support humanitarian and ecological action, to encourage Spanish immersion, and to promote intercultural exploration and understanding to be inspiring and exciting.
ELEP placed me in Basset Veterinary Hospital in Quito, which is a small animal general practice located in the heart of the city. Under the guidance of Dr. Anibal Rodriguez and four other veterinarians (who only spoke Spanish), I assisted with spays, neuters, fracture repairs, mass removals, traumatic injuries from dog fights and car accidents, pyometras, and a multitude of other types of surgeries. I also gained daily experience monitoring anesthesia, performed physical exams, treatments, and labwork, gave vaccinations, and helped with all patients that the hospital saw. I had primary case responsibility for many animals throughout my externship and rounded with the other veterinarians about their cases. I was exposed to different ideas regarding treatments and drugs, and I got experience with diseases such as distemper that we rarely see in the U.S.
The veterinarians were kind enough to take me to work on several haciendas out in the countryside as well. These ranches primarily housed dairy cows, and I gained hours of experience practicing my palpation skills. We also treated any injured horses and cows, we dealt with a few dystocias, and I learned how dairy practices differ from those in California.
Living in Ecuador was also a tremendous chance to improve my Spanish. I not only spoke Spanish 100% of the time, but I had the opportunity to understand a different culture and people. While this is important in and of itself, it is also crucial to my career. I plan to work in California, where over one third of the population is of Hispanic or Latino origin. Being able to communicate with and better understand the perspectives of my clients will enable me to be a better veterinarian. ELEP also arranged for me to take Spanish classes during my stay, and working in a veterinary hospital allowed me to learn a vast amount of veterinary vocabulary. Staying with a host family let me further practice my Spanish, make meaningful connections with people, and gain insight into daily life, customs, and values in Ecuador.
While my main goal in this abroad experience was certainly to develop my clinical and language skills and to broaden my exposure within the veterinary field, I was also deeply interested in the location in which I was working and living. The city of Quito sits in a giant Andean valley and is flanked by volcanic peaks. The historic center is rich with colonial history and was the first World Cultural Heritage Site declared by UNESCO. Quito is also an ideal jumping off point for exploring other natural and historical treasures that Ecuador has to offer Cotopaxi National Park, the Amazon rainforest, and of course the Galapagos (all of which were fascinating areas for anyone interested in animals and wildlife).
International work is something that has appealed to me for years. Such exposure to different cultures, lifestyles, and languages is something that cannot be gained in the U.S. This position in Ecuador was an extraordinary opportunity to practice veterinary medicine and assist animals, to advance my Spanish, to experience a different culture, and to foster my professional growth.