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Why I love international veterinary mission trips and you would, too.

Why I love international veterinary mission trips and you would, too.

As a senior veterinary student, I have had the recent privilege of traveling to Mexico on a spay and neuter externship. This is my third international veterinary relief trip, having traveled to Nicaragua with the World

Vets program in 2013 and 2015. On these trips, I learn about the practice of veterinary medicine in each

region, small efficiencies I can bring back to my work, and spread the importance of health care for working

and companion animals. In this short article, I share the things I love most about my trips and lessons

learned from traveling while providing veterinary care.

Merrill SImpson and team prepare to work a head of cattle in Mexico

Merrill SImpson and team prepare to work a head of cattle in Mexico

My favorite part of veterinary missions:

  • Sharing knowledge with an international community. From surgical techniques to judicious use

of antibiotics, insight can be gained from conversations regarding the art of medicine. Personally, I have

learned surgical strategies to save time, and innovative use of pharmaceuticals. Creative use of limited

resources is a vital skill to have while practicing veterinary medicine in certain locations. I’ve seen how

collaboration between local and international veterinary workers can result in quality care for animals

given limited resources.

  • Building relationships across the country and the world. Expanding my veterinary network has

been a gratifying result of volunteering with veterinary mission trips. Working toward a common goal of

caring for animals is unifying. I have met inspiring animal rescuers, students, technicians, and

veterinarians from across the world. Social media allows us to connect and stay in touch when we return

home. Through these trips I have built many long distance friendships that I cherish today. I look

forward to reconnecting with friends I have made during these trips through personal travel,

conferences, and other veterinary student events.

  • The immense gratitude we receive from caring for animals. One experience that is common

among these trips is the expression of gratitude from owners for providing care for their beloved pets.

No matter what that animal’s purpose, be it a companion or a working animal, the owners are always

grateful for the time and energy we put into improving the health of their animal. The ability to provide

care at no or minimal cost eliminates the transaction and allows you to build a relationship with a

person who otherwise might not be able to afford veterinary care.

  • Exploring new locations. #Wanderlust is a common theme of our generation. I have traveled to

places I may otherwise never see and get to experience an area beyond the tourist’s lens. The benefit to

a veterinary mission trip is the immediate access to a local wherever you are traveling. Most of these

trips would not function without collaboration between veterinarians in the area and the international

veterinary community. By traveling with a local, you get insight into the real culture of an area and can

avoid tourist traps.

  • Improved self-awareness. I have found it difficult throughout veterinary school to get enough

experience to answer some tough questions, such as, what type of medicine do I want to practice? Do I

love surgery or does it haunt my dreams? Do I like problem solving with limited resources or do I want

access to all the latest and greatest medical advances? Answering these questions dictates the type of

medicine we want to practice, and where we want to practice. These are important things to consider

when finding a career after graduation. Self-awareness can improve in other ways too, by navigating

difficult situations I have learned about my flexibility, grit, and response to stress.

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