International Programs

Fiona Whitton

Sri Lanka

I spent the summer in Sri Lanka exploring the country’s veterinary industry, educational system and wildlife conservation programs. My goal for the trip was to gain an understanding of the interplay between professional health sciences education (veterinary, medical, dental, and agriculture) and the overall health of a middle income country. We also wanted to explore the possibility of setting up a One Health partnership between UC Davis and the University of Peradeniya, which houses Sri Lanka’s only veterinary school.

            We spent the first two weeks exploring the southern region of the country. We visited dog shelters, national parks, elephant orphanages and went on farm calls with a government veterinarian. We learned a huge amount about how important animals, both wild and domestic, are to the livelihoods of individual families and to the Sri Lankan economy. The richness in the diversity of the wildlife was incredible. We saw elephants, buffalo, peacocks and even a leopard. We spent a few days with a wildlife veterinarian who works to rehabilitate orphaned elephants and learned about the Human Elephant Conflict, a concerning trend that is heavily affecting the people and elephants of rural Sri Lanka.

The next week was spent in Kandy, the cultural center of the country, at the University of Peradeniya. We met Dr. Michael Wilkes (UCD School of Medicine) there, and throughout the course of the next week, we met with various faculty members and students from the medical, veterinary, dental and agriculture schools. We discussed curriculum reform, health sciences education, the concept of One Health in education and the possibility of forming a partnership between our two universities.

The highlight of our week in Peradeniya was getting the chance to teach a One Health case study involving conservation, the bushmeat trade, a disease outbreak and global economics. Students from the veterinary and medical schools came together to discuss the case, and we led them through a series of exercises about interdisciplinary collaboration and how to address global health problems on a more holistic level. It was my first time teaching, and it was a wonderful experience. This exposure has encouraged me to include teaching in my career goals.

Overall, my experience in Sri Lanka was fantastic. I learned a huge amount about the culture, people and history of the country, and met a number of incredible people. I enjoyed the beaches, wildlife and delicious food (we even had time to take a cooking class!). The trip helped me re-define my career goals and gain a better understanding of the type of veterinarian I want to be. As we continue to work on building a partnership between our two universities, it is looking promising that there will be more possibilities for further exchange and collaborative research. I hope to be able to return to Sri Lanka in the future to spend some more time at the University of Peradeniya and strengthen the relationships we began to build with the faculty and students there.

Fiona Whitton's trip presentation (pdf.)

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