The Doctor of Veterinary Medicine Program at Colorado State University has solidified an international service-learning course based at the CSU Todos Santos Center and now is providing regularly scheduled externships for veterinary students.
The CSU veterinary externships are optional learning opportunities and are offered in partnership with Universidad Autonoma de Baja California Sur (UABCS), a Mexican university with a veterinary training program. The UABCS campus in La Paz is about 50 miles from the CSU Todos Santos Center, allowing for seamless collaboration between the veterinary programs.
Each 10-day externship includes training in livestock production and handling alongside Mexican veterinary students, as well as surgical experience at free spay-neuter clinics for dogs and cats in local communities.
The externships are unique because they are offered regularly, are provided in partnership with a Mexican veterinary school, and are based at CSU’s international center; these qualities lend expertise and stability to benefit vet students.
“We are pleased to formalize this externship opportunity because many of our students would like to pursue international veterinary work, especially in the area of global One Health, which integrates human, animal and environmental health,” said Dr. Mark Stetter, dean of the CSU College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences.
“Our students benefit tremendously when they learn about livestock production in a developing nation from experts at an established veterinary school,” Stetter said. “They also gain from surgical experiences that promote clinical skills while also serving communities by helping people and their pets.”
First international center for ongoing teaching
The CSU Todos Santos Center – the university’s first international center to house ongoing teaching, research and outreach programs – officially opened in April 2015. It is home to projects developed across the CSU campus and is designed in keeping with goals established by the U.S.–Mexico Bilateral Forum on Higher Education, Innovation, and Research, which advocates educational cooperation and economic benefits for both countries.
The center provides an ideal base camp for the newly established veterinary externships, with ease and feasibility of access; proximity to the UABCS veterinary program; and opportunities for students to gain both clinical skills and cultural literacy through service learning.
Colorado State has worked for about four years to develop the DVM externships based in Todos Santos. The veterinary school scheduled four externships during the 2015-16 academic year. That number will increase to seven trips involving a total of 21 veterinary students during 2016-17; this reflects the ongoing schedule.
Officials also hope to begin offering a rotational experience for UABCS students at the CSU Veterinary Teaching Hospital in spring 2017.
Supporting pet health and education
During one recent externship, three CSU veterinary students helped spay and neuter 134 dogs and cats in Todos Santos. The free clinic is an annual community effort, which aims to curb an overpopulation of unwanted pets and is staffed by volunteer veterinary professionals and residents of Todos Santos; organizers invited CSU veterinary students and staff to help.
Supporting the local spay and neuter clinic were several notable officials, including Municipal President of La Paz, Armando Martinez Vega; Delegado of Todos Santos, Jesus Ramon Beltran Guluarte; and President of Todos Santos Ejido, Professor Jesus Fruto Contreras.
“We are excited to participate because it’s a great educational opportunity, and students can learn about all parts of the process, from animal prep to surgical recovery,” said Dr. Danielle Straatmann, a veterinarian and director of international student experiences for the CSU College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences.
“The additional benefit for students is the international exchange – the opportunity to understand another culture,” Straatmann said.
Kaytie Magnum, a fourth-year DVM student, plans to practice medicine with small animals and exotic pets. Her externship in Todos Santos will make her a better veterinarian, she said.
“It was amazing to see veterinary medicine in another culture – another country – and to make a big difference for a lot of animals, even without all the resources we normally have,” Magnum said.
Jen Earnest, who plans to practice large-animal medicine, said the experience offered an important lesson in “being able to meet a community where they’re at and being able to provide care to the animals.”
Stetter said CSU veterinary students have asked for enhanced international opportunities and hands-on experiences. “Our new externship through the CSU Todos Santos Center provides both, and it is both accessible and affordable,” Stetter said.
Will Pass, another CSU veterinary student, said he sought the Todos Santos externship after visiting Nicaragua and contemplating the importance of service learning.
“Because CSU is here, I have the opportunity to maintain ties with Latin America,” said Pass, who plans to practice small-animal medicine and is eager to return to Todos Santos as a collaborative veterinary alumnus.
“Relationships are built with time, and what CSU is doing down here is a long-term investment and a long-term relationship with Todos Santos,” he said. “This is just the beginning of what we can work with the community to create.”
Tiana Nelson contributed to this report.