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Life lessons learned on veterinary missions

Life lessons learned on veterinary missions

As a senior veterinary student at Colorado State, I have recently gained insight into our profession at home from international veterinary mission trips. Here are a few of life lessons I have taken back home with me (along with some cute bracelets):

  • Culture Matters. Cultural perspectives on the ways animals are integrated into society is different. On my recent trip in Nicaragua, I learned a dog may appear to be stray, but might be owned. Some Nicaraguans don’t understand why other cultures keep dogs inside most of the day, when they would rather be out playing with their friends. When I heard it described this way, that the dogs want to explore, so their owners allow them to wander, I gained an understanding of their perspective. I am accustomed to dogs being treated like human children, where they spend more time inside with owners. This is different from Nicaragua, but by being open to conversation without judgment, we can learn a lot about how animals are integrated into society in other cultures. By understanding local perspective and needs we can better serve these communities by tailoring the care we offer.

  • Balance is Everything. While performing free or low cost services in other countries, we are walking a fine line between doing good and harming the local veterinary industry. Every program I have participated in has received some sort of complaint from local veterinarians for hurting their business. These programs have to be aware of their impact and try to provide care in areas where veterinarians do not exist or perform a service that isn’t already offered by the local vets. The intention is never to hurt the local veterinary industry and in my experience, many programs are cognizant of their impact and work to maintain a positive relationship with the local veterinary community.

  • Stay Humble and Open-minded. You can learn a lot and do beneficial work with limited resources. You will be provided the opportunity to learn from a variety of veterinarians who perform medicine in slightly different ways. Being flexible and open to constructive feedback will allow you to improve your skills and learn new surgical methods or use of medications.

  • Keep Your Friends Close. The veterinary industry is small and you will cross paths with the people you meet on international outreach trips again. These outreach trips provide the opportunity to build relationships with people in the veterinary industry across the country and across the world. This is such a unique experience and incredibly valuable to your life and your future career. I cherish my friends in the veterinary industry because they have a keen understanding of my daily challenges and triumphs. There are not very many veterinary conferences and I have already had the ability to reconnect with friends I have made on these trips while traveling for a conference.

I have included some resources that I found help.

Veterinary Mission Resources:

International Veterinary Resources:

International Veterinary Student’s Association (IVSA):

Involvement with IVSA could open up opportunities for international travel and veterinary work. Get

involved on the local or national level!


AVMA International Veterinary Opportunities site:

Copy the link below for a list of international opportunities compiled by the AVMA


SAVMA Travel Grants:

Use the link below and login with your AVMA ID and password to access grants provided by SAVMA. One grant in particular, the International Experience Scholarship, would be applicable to international veterinary-related trips.


Ask your Dean’s office!

Some universities set aside funds for student travel, at Colorado State you can access these funds once if your travel is veterinary related and approved by the Dean. I was able to use these funds to attend a veterinary conference in Amsterdam where my research was presented.

Ask your local SAVMA Chapter!

At some schools SAVMA will provide a stipend for unique educational opportunities. These are travel grants for opportunities you set up for yourself that aren’t part of a conventional program.

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