Exploring the world not only makes us better people, but helps veterinary students become better doctors.
A recent excursion to the Galápagos Islands with NC State College of Veterinary Medicine colleagues reminded me just how much I learn from stepping outside of what’s familiar.
The first thing you feel when you step off of the plane and into equatorial heat is that this place is like nothing you’ve ever seen before. My high expectations weren’t high enough. The group of Ecuadorian islands off South America’s west coast teem with strange, wonderful wildlife and landscapes. You don’t have to be a naturalist to appreciate the ways life has adapted to the challenges of extreme isolation. Perhaps that was the first lesson from the islands: Life can be challenging, but we can adapt when we use diversity of perspective to confront it.
Moving from island to island is leaving the surface of the moon for the jungle. One of the few constants is the character of its human inhabitants. The Galapagueños welcomed us with open arms and minds. One afternoon we excitedly visited one of the only veterinary clinics on the island, Darwin Animal Doctors.
It is extraordinary to witness veterinary medicine’s power to shape the world. Staffed by a volunteer veterinarian from the Netherlands and veterinary student externs, the free clinic provides preventive medical care for pets and prevents disease transmission to native wildlife. The visit reminded me of all the ways veterinarians impact communities.
Another meaningful way we moved beyond tourism and into action was field research. Through a national parks program, Galápagos giant tortoises raised at breeding centers are released onto fincas, or farms. Caretakers ensure a safe, supportive environment for these iconic animals in a semi-wild setting where they once roamed free.
The dedication and cross-disciplinary collaboration cultivated by trip leader Dr. Greg Lewbart, CVM professor of aquatic animal medicine, gave me an opportunity to get hands-on experience through field work. The data collected from that project has already been published in a peer-reviewed journal, contributing to the small amount of information we know about the health status of these animals. It is tremendously enlightening and exciting to conduct research outside of a laboratory environment. Physical and logistical circumstances tested the planning, but it was a nice reminder that not everything has to go according to plan to be successful and rewarding.
The trip refueled my drive to explore the world around me, to contribute what I am able and learn as much as I can in between. That will serve me well as a veterinarian in an ever-changing world.
~ John Griffioen is a member of the Class of 2018 at the NC State College of Veterinary Medicine.