In addition to serving as the teaching hospital for students of the #1 ranked veterinary school in the world, the UC Davis veterinary hospital also serves as a center for hundreds of veterinarians each year to receive advanced training. In the spring of 2017, Dr. Uchenna Nlebedum traveled 8,000 miles from his home in Nigeria to pursue a short-term internship with the hospital’s Ophthalmology Service, utilizing a scholarship from the International Society of Veterinary Ophthalmology (ISVO). Each year, the ISVO offers three distinguished scholars the opportunity to study for one month at any center of veterinary excellence in the world.
In Nigeria, Dr. Nlebedum is a professor of Veterinary Anatomy at the Michael Okpara University of Agriculture in the city of Umudike. His practice there sees mainly poultry and livestock cases, as well as dogs, cats, and the occasional parrot.
For his own education, Dr. Nlebedum attended the University of Nigeria, Nsukka. In 2003, he graduated from veterinary school and began work as a general practitioner. He continued this for nearly ten years before pursuing his Master’s degree in Veterinary Anatomy.
It was Dr. Nlebedum’s research for his Master’s program—which focused on the development of the eye in the fetus—that inspired his specialization in ophthalmology and first brought him to the United States. In 2015, he attended an ophthalmology seminar in Florida where he met UC Davis professor Dr. David Maggs.
“The way Dr. Maggs spoke about ophthalmology made it appear as one simple thing, and I really loved it,” said Dr. Nlebedum, reflecting on how instrumental this first trip to America was to his career path.
Unbeknownst to Dr. Nlebedum at the time, the ISVO scholarship would afford him the opportunity to return to the United States and work alongside Dr. Maggs and other UC Davis faculty just two years later. Upon receiving the scholarship, Dr. Nlebedum was tasked with selecting his host university, a decision he did not take lightly.
“I got on the internet to search, and I searched for a long time,” Dr. Nlebedum said, recalling the difficulty of the decision-making process. “I found UC Davis to be not just one of the best, but the best in the world. Nothing was going to stand between me and that learning opportunity, so I chose UC Davis.”
Dr. Nlebedum describes his time with the veterinary hospital’s Ophthalmology Service as a whirlwind of new experiences.
“I saw a lot of fascinating procedures,” said Dr. Nlebedum. “I’ve never seen an electroretinogram performed before, and the microsurgery – of course, we don’t have the equipment for that in Nigeria.”
During his internship, Dr. Nlebedum met Dr. Roy Bellhorn, a professor emeritus of veterinary ophthalmology at UC Davis. After the two veterinarians spent the day together, Dr. Bellhorn came to understand the lack of equipment in Dr. Nlebedum’s practice. Dr. Bellhorn returned the next day with a gift of ophthalmology equipment for Dr. Nlebedum to take home.
“I saw this as not just the gesture of giving me the equipment, but the intent behind it,” Dr. Nlebedum said. “Dr. Bellhorn saw an opportunity to encourage ophthalmology care in a lesser served part of the world. I promised him I would make good use of that equipment.”
In addition to advancing his knowledge of veterinary procedures and equipment, Dr. Nlebedum gained valuable insight into the unique teaching style at UC Davis, in which students and professors interact in an open and conducive learning environment.
“I think it’s a teaching approach I want to take home,” said Dr. Nlebedum. “I appreciated the friendly and relaxed environment in which the students were allowed to learn.”
While Dr. Nlebedum wished he could have extended his time at UC Davis, he was also eager to return home to share what he learned with his students and colleagues. His internship was a powerful demonstration of the global impact of UC Davis veterinary medicine.
“I hope after this visit to UC Davis that I can pioneer new approaches to veterinary ophthalmology care in Nigeria,” said Dr. Nlebedum. “I’ll go back home and encourage other veterinarians to join me in this battle.”
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