It’s a popular trend among Ross University School of Veterinary Medicine DVM students to go on a volunteer service trip. Costa Rica, Nicaragua, and Guatemala are some of the popular countries to visit on semester breaks. You have to apply early and compete among colleagues for a seat. That was why I never thought I would get to go…until Peru came along. There was a new program on the market, Volunteer B&S, that was founded by a fellow RUSVM alumni and her brother; both Peruvians and both passionate about their country and helping its animals. It was affordable, it seemed like a great opportunity, and my semester break was open so I signed up the same day with only a minimal amount of information about what I was signing up for. With a preliminary itinerary that included things like “CASTRATION!!” one day and “Machu Picchu” the next, I knew this would be a chance to gain priceless hands-on vet experience AND feed my travel bug.
The six of us touched down in Peru with a drive to “get to work,” still not knowing exactly how much we would get to do. Turns out, everything. We worked alongside three small animal veterinarians in a clinic outside Lima. They taught us, guided us, and then handed over the scalpel. It was truly a “see one, do one, teach one” atmosphere. Were we really performing spays and neuters?! It was an exhilarating and pinnacle moment in our education and journey to becoming doctors. We were finally putting our skills to the test. I quickly learned that the thrill and rush of the surgery room was where I wanted to be. I was nervous but confident in what Ross taught me in the Clinical Skills lab so I jumped right in. I was fearless! Patient after patient, my shaking hands became steadier and I started to get into a rhythm. We worked for 9 hours on day one, seeing spays, neuters, tumor removals, an orthopedic external skeletal fixator placement, puppy deworming, a rabbit enucleation, and even got to practice ultrasound skills on a pregnant dog. It was the best day.
The rest of our work in Lima included more spays and neuters with 12-hour days. Our patients were dogs that were rescued off the streets of Peru. The family that takes care of them (100+ dogs on one small piece of land) takes them to the vets we were working with to get them prepared for adoption. After visiting the dogs at their home and seeing where our hard work was going, it made us feel like we were making a difference in the future of these dogs. We were alleviating the future stray pet population and it was a great feeling. More hands to prep, perform, and recover from surgery meant more dogs coming through the door and less on the streets later. Plus, it meant more experience for us so everyone won in the end. Our presence felt appreciated by the vets and priceless to our patients.
It was hard to leave the clinic, we had just gotten comfortable! But we couldn’t depart from such a beautiful country without seeing the Andes Mountains, feasting on authentic Peruvian dishes, learning how the alpaca fleece is turned into clothes, swimming with sea lions, practicing our Spanish and of course… Machu Picchu! Went spent 3 days of our 10-day trip seeing the gorgeous sights in Cusco, Peru, home to one of the 7 Wonders of the World. And it didn’t disappoint. Do yourself a favor and go see Machu Picchu, you won’t regret it. The culture, friendliness of the Peruvians, and exquisite tastes, sounds, and sights made this trip unforgettable. But there is still so much of Peru I haven’t seen so I plan to travel back one day.
My trip to Peru expanded my educational and cultural mind. Practicing medicine in an underprivileged area humbled me and made me appreciate how fortunate I am to attend and be a future doctor of Ross University. I am thankful for this experience and opportunity to see what’s beyond our little island home. Being a part of a bigger picture was deeply rewarding and encouraged me finish vet school strong. It reminded me why I am doing this. And once again, I have never been surer about being a veterinarian and helping people and animals above and below the waves.