Class of 2017 Story: Embracing Veterinary Medicine, One Continent at a Time

Kristina Baltutis
Hometown: Orlando, Fla.
Focus and post-graduation plans: Theriogenology and zoological medicine; will work in a small animal practice at Reidsville Veterinary Hospital

Matamata, New Zealand, August 2016

One of my happiest memories is the week I spent outside of Veracruz, Mexico, volunteering at a series of clinics for working equids with the Equitarian Initiative.

Each morning, we loaded into our rented buses and made our way to a different small village where the clinic was set up in a soccer field. On one such bus ride, one of the other participants asked why I was already volunteering in this capacity when I had only started vet school two months earlier.  

In between the bucking and bouncing of the bus, I replied that I wanted to practice veterinary med on every continent (except maybe Antarctica) and I figured I should get an early start. Dr. David Turoff, who was sitting in front of me, turned around and chuckled. “You aren’t ambitious at all, are you?” he said.

And so my international veterinary experiences began. As I think back over the past four years, I find myself thinking of my travels in moments. Biking past sheep fields on the way to the equine hospital in Utrecht, the Netherlands. The absurdity of stepping through a footbath in heels while touring the farm animal facility at the Royal Veterinary College in London. Perched in the back of a truck watching buffalo across a field in South Africa. Successfully passing a pipette through a cow’s cervix for the first time in Matamata, New Zealand.  Bonding with other veterinary students from around the world at IVSA events in Edinburgh, Scotland and Nottingham, U.K. — and getting to see them again two years later when the conference came to Raleigh. 

Matamata, New Zealand, August 2016

Outside Cape Town, South Africa, May 2015

I’m not infrequently asked how I could possibly afford to travel so much. I was fortunate to receive multiple grants and scholarships for these international trips, which covered about 70 percent of the cost, but all told I still took out approximately an additional $3,000-$4,000 in student loans for these experiences. Keep in mind that this is only about 3 percent of my total student loan debt. Because travel is intrinsically valuable to me, I believe that the additional cost is justified.

Cape of Good Hope, South Africa, May 2015

Utrecht, the Netherlands, Summer 2014

For other future or current vet students with a desire to travel, I would encourage you to not to write off these opportunities because of their cost. Look at what funding is available to you.    

If you’re keeping score at home, I still need to practice veterinary medicine in South America, Asia, and Australia. I was originally going to give myself credit for “Oceania” via my trip to New Zealand, but since recent evidence may support that New Zealand as its own continent, I suppose I’ll keep Australia on the list separately.  

Besides, why pass up an excuse to go to Australia?

And please, let me know if you have any leads on Antarctica.