In January 2011, four veterinary students travelled to the Caribbean to help Biomedical Sciences PhD student Miguella Mark-Carew conduct field research for her Fulbright project addressing public health risks in Trinidad and Tobago. Second-year student Jasmine Bruno (pictured at the left, on the left) and third-year students Sarrah Kaye, Erin Lashnits (pictured at the left, on the right), and Sarah Dumas spent two weeks on the islands collecting parasite samples from dogs, cattle, and water buffalo, processing samples in the lab, counting roaming dogs in the streets, and volunteering in an intensive marathon spaying and neutering event.
“I found out about the opportunity through an informal lecture by Miguella explaining her project and asking for help from the veterinary community,” said Bruno. “The perks were learning parasitology, free housing and transportation, and island fun. It also gave us a chance to compare the veterinary setting at home with that in Trinidad, and to experience field research first-hand. ”
Mark-Carew’s project investigates intestinal parasites in dairy cattle and dogs on the islands. These parasites can pass on to humans, posing a serious public health risk. Further risks arise from the islands’ rising population of strays and freely roaming dogs, which Mark-Carew aims to quantify.
“The stray surveillance study interested me the most,” Bruno said. “We worked in the city of Waterloo, a notorious dumping area for unwanted dogs and puppies. Throughout the day, we were able to cover the entire city and counted over 90 roaming dogs.”
The students spent their last two days at the Tobago SPCA staffing its biannual spay and neuter clinic event. They worked side-by-side with students from the local veterinary school and other volunteers, both local and American. Strapped for space and low on staff, the students worked in rotations to field a rising tide of patients.
“We split up between intake, surgery, and recovery,” recalled Bruno. “We were essentially our own doctors and technicians. The first day we were there from 8 AM to about 10 PM and the second day we stayed until almost 11 PM. But we were rewarded with the satisfaction that the harder we worked, the more neuters and spays we got through, and the more animals we kept off of the streets. The hardest part was working under limitations. We had limited light once night fell, limited space to hold all of the recovering dogs, and limited experience since many of us were students. There were only about two experienced doctors working per day, and they stayed in surgery all day.”
One of those doctors took special notice of the four students. Dr. Lisa J. Kerwin-Lucci was volunteering at the clinic through the Humane Society International, and working with Cornell students for one day left a remarkable impression, which she shared in a letter to Dean Michael Kotlikoff in February.
“The clinic received invaluable and enthusiastic support from your students, and I was both grateful and impressed,” she wrote. “These students assisted with exams, anesthetic induction, monitoring and recovery, and participated in supervised procedures, and were critical in recognizing and rescuing a spay complication. They worked very long days, but were eager to learn all they could.
“My experience with them left me indelibly impressed and proud to have worked with such dedicated, skilled, and compassionate individuals. These women are excellent examples of the type of professionals veterinary schools should aspire to train. I commend your program on such fine students and hope their experience encourages other students to pursue similar opportunities in veterinary medicine."
Lessons learned abroad can carry far, and Bruno, Kaye, Lashnits, and Dumas have brought their newly earned experience back to their veterinary training. “As demanding as the work was, it taught us the endurance to work with what was available,” said Bruno. “It was a very fulfilling experience.”