Over the summer, I had the amazing opportunity to extern at a small animal clinic, Clinica Veterinaria Bassets, in Quito, Ecuador. During my three weeks at the clinic, I not only gained more clinical skills but also improved my Spanish and learned more about the Ecuadorian culture.
There are many opportunities to work at a small animal clinic in the United States, but I decided to work internationally for a number of reasons. First off, it is really important to me to become more culturally aware and more knowledgeable about the veterinary and public health concerns in underprivileged countries. I strongly believe that immersing myself in a different culture and learning from a diverse group of individuals can provide me with lifelong skills and knowledge that I would not be able to find at home. Furthermore, I chose to go to Ecuador because another goal of mine is to become more fluent in Spanish. In college, I took two semesters of Spanish and studied abroad in Costa Rica, but still lacked the veterinary vocabulary to communicate with clients in a small animal practice. Ecuador is known for having clear spoken Spanish and was the perfect place for me to improve my language skills.
I found Experimental Learning Ecuadorian Programs by reading through experiences from past SVM international scholarship recipients and talking to a couple students whose program I was interested in. In particular, I spoke with Kate Farrell who highly recommended the program to me. ELEP provided me with housing, daily Spanish lessons and volunteer work at a small animal clinic.
At Clinica Veterinaria Bassets, I worked under the supervision of Dr. Anibal Rodriguez and four other veterinarians who spoke only Spanish. My responsibilities at the clinic included helping perform physical exams, administering medications, scrubbing in and assisting in surgeries, monitoring anesthesia and assisting in emergency house calls. The doctors were very patient with me, worked with me to improve my Spanish veterinary vocabulary and were eager to discuss clinical cases with me. During my externship, I got to see a variety of cases that I had never seen at home including several pyometras, prostatic tumors, strychnine toxicity, warfarin toxicity, urinary calculi, distemper and a variety of traumatic injuries including hit by car, dog bites and fracture repairs. In addition to learning more about the above illnesses and injuries, I also learned about different cost effective techniques the clinic used as well as cultural differences. For instance, I learned about different surgical approaches to feline castrations and became acquainted with the administration of halothane anesthetic in contrast to the typical sevoflurane and isoflurane used in the states. I also learned about the disparity of cost of education and salary compared to the United States as well as how receptive and personal veterinarians are in Ecuador by providing their cell phone number to all their clients. These lessons allowed me to appreciate all the resources and tools we have at our disposal as well as how much more efficient we can be with our supplies.
My externship in Ecuador allowed me to improve my clinical skills, but also gave me the wonderful opportunity to learn more about the Ecuadorian history, culture, values and traditions. ELEP provided me with daily Spanish lessons that gave me a great insight into the history and geography of Ecuador, food as well as their favorite pastime—Salsa dancing. In addition to reviewing grammar and learning various tidbits about Ecuador, we took numerous field trips to the market where I learned and sampled the many delicious fruits of Ecuador. I also learned more about the culture and traditions by living with a host family that only spoke Spanish. My many meals with my host family gave me an opportunity to talk about cultural differences between my home and Ecuador over delicious traditional cuisine. Taking Spanish lesson and living with my host family gave me the full cultural experience that I was looking for.
My time in Ecuador was an unforgettable experience that helped me build my clinical skills while gaining exposure to a different culture, language and lifestyle that I would not have been able to get at home. I am extremely grateful for this opportunity and strongly believe that this international experience has not only allowed me to grow as a person, but as a future veterinary practitioner as well.