Charles is a volunteer who previously went with us to the Wildlife Sanctuary in the rainforest of Ecuador. Now finishing his studies and qualifying as a vet, we were delighted to be able to support Charles in a veterinary elective placement, working in a veterinary practice in Mexico.
Charles, Mexico, 2017 :- “I could ramble for ages about specific cases, or adventures outside of the work that made the trip exciting….. but I feel like it is important to keep it real and say that there are highs and lows to working at a vets anywhere and it is no different here.
For every wonderful recovery that you may have been part of, there is a case that comes in that is beyond saving and you just have to do your best whatever that is. A terminal dog came in in my first week with osteosarcoma in its muzzle. The owner was fantastic and tended to her every need and she was still there at the end of my time there (and to this day I just found out!) Seeing her walk into the vet happy as larry despite her condition warmed my heart.
But at the same time I spent 5 hours talking a girl through the process of knowing when it was time to say goodbye to her dog (inoperable adenocarcinoma in her dog’s stomach meaning it couldn’t eat solids and was wasting away before my eyes).
The people are incredibly friendly though. One sad case of distemper that ended up being fatal led me to meeting an English man and Canadian girl from Sayulita that I ended up seeing every weekend for the last month and they were a great source of joy in my life!”
Read the project page for more information on this veterinary elective, listen to Marianna the head vet talk about her practice, and carry on reading below for Charles’ detailed account of the project and his activity in Mexico.
“The application was easy to understand and fill out. The interview felt friendly and I felt comfortable talking.
I felt very comfortably prepared. Greta (the Outreach country coordinator, who is a retired veterinarian) answered my every question and made me feel like I had everything I could need with me. Greta was attentive, helpful, and supportive throughout.
Accommodation was far away from the project but the family took me in like family, I had a large room to myself and never wanted for anything. Only tiny complaint was no internet in the room but this was not an issue as my daily routine frequently had me getting home after 9pm.
Never. Even while out in the touristy parts of town late at night I never felt anything close to threatened.
One thing to be aware of is the attention you can attract. As a white, blonde haired, blue eyed guy I noticed at least a handful of people take notice of me as I walked up the road to my bus. Was never malicious but I was aware of their attention.
At the veterinary clinic there were no other volunteers. They had one local girl on work experience. 10 staff in total: head vet, 2 day vets, 2 evening vets, 2 receptionists, 1 groomer, 1 dog showerer(?), 1 apprentice groomer, 1 mobile groomer.
The staff were keen to help when I was keen to learn. They gave me responsibility once it was earned which was appreciated. However it was not their job to tell me what was happening in the practice. I would have to keep my head up to see if surgery was happening or if there was anything I could do.
My Spanish was not bad when I went out there, but taking a clinical history or observing 2 native speakers communicate at full speed was too much and it was not my place to ask them to speak slower.
To make animals better/beautiful! I feel they did a good job where my English ethics did not clash with Mexican culture (e.g. ear clipping/tail docking may be normal there but I found it rather upsetting).
The day didn’t really start until Mariana (head vet) arrived, which was sometime after 11. I would aim to get there at about 9:30 and would still find myself having a very quiet day before she arrived.
My activity varied depending on cases we had in at the time. If there were young patients that required regular feeds I would be in charge of making sure they were fed and keeping the practice generally clean (poo picking).
Towards the end of my time I joined in with surgery and even performed a solo castrate on my second last day.
A high level of Spanish is absolutely required. I really struggled with my intermediate Spanish to begin with.
Only 1 vet (Mariana) speaks very good English and she specialises in alternative therapy, with another vet having an amount but still communication was tricky.
Justina and her family were utterly delightful, but except for Alysia (daughter) spoke no English which meant initial communication was tricky in the house before my Spanish started really improving.
To be honest the level of Spanish dictates the amount of learning done. If someone spoke no Spanish I’m not sure how much they would learn of veterinary practice unless it was their very first vet practice placement.
Drug names are different in Spanish, anatomical names are similar but the verbal pronunciation is extremely different. High stress situations which require immediate cooperation cannot afford the time it takes to translate new complex words over a language barrier.
I feel like there is a standard of behaviour expected of vets that extends to their students.
Be courteous, polite, and as helpful as possible to the clients. Be respectful of the vets. Ask questions to show the vet you are interested but try not to mob them with questions as it is not their job to educate you.
COMMON SENSE. If you see a job that needs doing and you are capable of doing it, check you’re alright to do it and go do it! Be helpful! Make them happy to answer your questions because you are helping their day run smoother. Help them to help you.
As for behaviour in Mexico in general really read the material provided by OI.
I attended Brazilian Jiu Jitsu classes in Jarretaderas as I train back home and found the friendships made there an absolute life saver. I also made frequent trips to Sayulita (a beautiful surf village outside of Puerto Vallarta) where I befriended permanent residents and tourists from a myriad of different countries.
And in the days when I was working and still felt desperate for English contact I was able to use my phone and communicate with friends in between tasks. It may also be worth downloading a lot of media (films/series) to watch on weekday evenings.
For new students it will all be new/exciting. Experienced students would be able to go beyond typical boundaries set, particularly for students in the UK. Coming home I have been able to go to my next placement having done surgery which has allowed me to scrub in back here, which would not have been possible before!
I honestly don’t know if I could recommend this placement to a would-be vet student who wants to travel and do veterinary but doesn’t speak Spanish. For that person I would recommend doing what I did, go to a wildlife centre instead (mine was lifechanging) and come back with some experience and Spanish under your belt. (Charles previously went with Outreach to the wildlife centre in Ecuador, where there is also a chance to learn Spanish in Quito).
English speakers loved talking to me about their cases with no language barrier. I was able to counsel clients through difficult cases, I helped some animals more directly with assistance in surgery, and even made small changes like giving blankets to obviously cold animals (the bare metal cages were an example of ethical things I disagreed with).
The placement is fantastic for what it is. The staff are friendly and keen to help. However, it was placement that tests one’s durability and intelligence. It is not the local vet’s job to facilitate your trip, and it can be real hard work!”