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Student-run International Veterinary Outreach Program Returns to Nicaragua

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In Nicaragua, UC Davis veterinary students Tracy Huang and Heidi Denenholz, class of 2015, learn surgical skills by helping perform a spay procedure. The students worked under the supervision of Dr. Jeannette Goh and Registered Veterinary Technician Jane Townley of the San Francisco SPCA. Photo courtesy of David Kim.

Editor's note: The following first-person article originally appeared on the website of the Humane Society Veterinary Medical Association. The author, David S. Kim, is a member of the Class of 2014. Thanks go to the association for permission to reprint the piece in its entirety.

September 18, 2012

As I walked along the dirt road going from house to house one day this past August, letting people know in my broken Spanish that International Veterinary Outreach was having a free animal clinic, I thought about my last experience there. Seven months ago, we arrived in Jiquilillo and Padre Ramos, two rural fishing villages on the northwest coast of Nicaragua, for our first trip to provide free veterinary care, and now we had returned in the summer for our second trip. As I told the natives what our clinic offered, I saw a bemused look on many faces. I knew what it must look like, a chinito gringo trying to speak their tongue. But I didn’t care. It felt good to be back.

Compared to our group of nine in December, this time we had a total of 14 volunteers: nine veterinary students and three veterinarians – Dr. Jennifer Scarlett of the San Francisco SPCA and HSVMA Leadership Council Member, Dr. Jeannette Goh also of the SF/SPCA, Dr. James Lutz, a small animal veteranarian from Florida – and two RVTs – Melina Stambolis and Jane Townley, also from the SF/SPCA. With our increased group size we were able to visit five communities, even travelling by boat one day to a small island. In total, we saw 278 animals in a 10-day span – 100 more animals than on our winter trip. Most of the animals had never been to a veterinarian, either due to cost or distance as the nearest city was an hour away. Like our last trip, we focused on physical exams, vaccinations, parasite control, and sterilization. It was great to see familiar faces and animals, and have the people remember us as well.

We wanted to focus more on owner education this time, so we created pamphlets on reasons to spay and neuter, as well as coloring books to teach basic animal care to kids. We’d like to measure our long-term effects on the communities we serve, so we created surveys assessing owners’ views on animal care and welfare. It will be interesting to compare data over the years as we continue toserve these communities. And as we plan our next trip, we are working to create relationships with local veterinarians and veterinary students to not only start an exchange of culture and knowledge, but to also create sustainability of care in the areas we visit.

The work was hard, especially being out in the hot sun and humidity all day, but in reality, most of the work for IVO was completed in the States as we planned protocol, inventory, budget, and permits. Raising enough money to have a 10-day clinic was an especially difficult challenge. But thanks to everyone’s efforts, our second trip to Nicaragua was a success. I can’t help but feel a sense of pride over what my friends and I have accomplished over the past year and a half, and I look forward to the growth of our project in the years to come.

Special thanks to our team of veterinarians and veterinary technicians for their guidance and leadership, HSVMA for allowing us to share our story along with their generous donation, SF/SPCA and PJ Jamison for helping us with ordering inventory, RVETS, the UC Davis International Animal Welfare Training Institute, especially deputy director Tracey Stevens, Hill’s, Boehringer Ingelheim, Dr. Richard Bachman, all our wonderful friends and classmates from UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine, and to everyone else who supported us to make this project possible.
David Kim is in the class of 2014 at the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine, and a member of the UC Davis Humane Society Veterinary Medical Association, Student Chapter.

International Veterinary Outreach is a student-run nonprofit organization that provides free veterinary care to underprivileged communities abroad, allows veterinary students to develop clinical skills and build intercultural relationships, and promotes animal welfare with community education. For more information about the Nicaragua effort, please contact David Kim,