By Julie Thompson, UGA CVM, class of 2018
During my second year of veterinary school, there was a certain point where students in my class came to the realization that, "NO NO NO THIS IS OUR LAST SUMMER EVER." Once we returned to class the next fall, clinics would soon be upon us thus signaling the beginning of this thing called "adulthood" I keep hearing about. At this point in 26 years of existence, I felt pretty accomplished simply because I had finally learned how to spell "diarrhea." Ahhh yes, I have learned so much in vet school... "Epididymis" is next on my spelling list, along with figuring out how horses still exist. So aside from the endless horse riddle, what does a public health vet student do with their last summer?
They shamelessly email CV's to anyone and everyone all spring with the hope that an internship or shadow opportunity might formulate. Or at least this is what I did.
Amazingly enough, it worked. Three months, one grant application, and 21 hours of flying later, I found myself in Hanoi, Vietnam. While here, I had the privilege of participating in an internship with the USAID funded PREDICT Project, which is a program that aims to strengthen the global capacity for detection and discovery of zoonotic viruses. Because many zoonotic diseases originate from animals, PREDICT aims to be proactive and monitors the human-wildlife interface to identify any viral pathogens (novel or known) of pandemic potential (i.e. Influenza, Ebola, etc.). This interface is particularly evident in Vietnam as many areas of the country are actively involved in wildlife hunting, trade, trafficking, and consumption.
This photo was taken while collecting biological samples from a pangolin, a critically endangered animal in Vietnam. Pangolins are highly valued for their scales, and this one in particular was confiscated from the illegal wildlife trade. We collected samples not only for the PREDICT Project, but also to determine if it was healthy enough to potentially be returned to the wild. Photo by Julie Thompson.
During my 8 week internship here, I was able to assist the PREDICT team with a variety of tasks. I assisted with a non-human primate necropsy (in full PPE in 90 degree weather), helped collect biological samples from critically endangered species, and actively participated in the composition and editing of various USAID-PREDICT monthly and quarterly work reports, regional presentations, necropsy reports, and a weekly One Health media digest. This aspect of my work was certainly a new experience for me and was also quite a challenge, as I had to quickly learn the appropriate development terminology and professional standards expected from these documents. I learned/Googled several new *adult* phrases like "capacity building" and "coordinated, concurrent, longitudinal surveillance" and wore far more business casual attire than I ever would back home. By assisting with these tasks though, I had the amazing opportunity to attend several collaborative meetings and workshops and to interact with representatives from USAID, the CDC, FAO, WHO, and many other organizations that play pivotal roles in both the human and animal health sectors. I was like a shameless fan-girl and felt like I was a child being promoted to the big-kids table at Thanksgiving dinner. Employ me later please?
Ultimately, the experiences I gained during this trip were incredibly valuable not only for my professional development, but also because the cultural emersion of living in Vietnam has to date, been one of my favorite experiences abroad. A noodle dish called Bun Cha might be my favorite food ever, and it is almost humorous that the most significant "cultural clash" I encountered while traveling was my host family continuously trying to feed me entirely too much food. Three meals a day and even some snack times in between, we would have the same debates about how much food I was physically capable of eating, which ironically taught me more about negotiating and low-balling than any market I have encountered in Southeast Asia. Fun fact: to say, "full" in Vietnamese, you pronounce the word, "no." So even with a language barrier, theoretically I would say, "No, I am full"- a phrase my wonderful host family would promptly disregard and then bring out a new full platter of meat pate.
Hanoi by night. When the streets of the Old Quarter are not packed with motorbikes and cars, locals and tourists alike populate the roads at the Night Market. Photo by Julie Thompson.
Overall I am so thankful for the experience, the delicious food, and generally how overwhelmingly kind the Vietnamese people are. I was interested to see what the general attitude was towards Americans considering the American War (as it is called in Vietnam) was relatively recent, but most people I met were just excited to practice their English and would tell me all about how President Obama was recently in Hanoi and how much he liked Bun Cha. (Me too, Mr. President. Me too.) Even with all the challenges one typically encounters abroad, this internship was nothing short of incredible and has undoubtedly reaffirmed my desire to pursue a career in veterinary public health and global epidemiology in the future.
For more information about the USAID PREDICT Project in Viet Nam:
Though I worked full time Monday through Friday, I tried to take as many weekend trips as possible. This photo was taken in Halong Bay, a UNESCO World Heritage sight in northeastern Vietnam. Photo by Julie Thompson.
By Casey Wesselman, UGA CVM, class of 2018
I heard about the Freeman-Asia Grant and the wonderful people at the Univerisiti of Putra Malaysia from my classmate Julie Thompson, and decided that what I wanted for my last "free summer" of veterinary school was to travel far...far away. The application process for the Freeman-Asia Grant was very straightforward and left me with a lot of freedom to set up a quality experience abroad. I requested funds for 6 weeks of travel and ended up spending all six doing a mix of clinical work (4 weeks) and research (2 weeks). I have an interest in small animal medicine and parasitology, and when I expressed this to the host institution they paired me with Dr. Puteri, a small animal parasitologist who got me involved with two of her projects during my two weeks of research.
This honestly was the best of both worlds for me. I got 4 weeks of interaction with fellow students, doctors, owners and real patients. I spent one week in the clinics performing physical exams and helping take histories. It was a wonderful way to see the human-animal bond in action in a culture outside of my previous experience. Malaysia is a majority Islamic country, and I happened to plan my trip from the beginning to the end of Ramadan. This was a totally new and incredible experience, and with every person I met there came an opportunity for cultural exchange.
I spent two weeks in the intensive care unit learning how to triage and create treatment protocols for patients in a setting with much sparser resources than what we are lucky to have in the US. I was impressed with the ingenuity of the veterinarians and staff and loved getting to know them through work and over some great meals. I had some experience with PCR prior to this summer so the first project I helped with was optimizing protocols for the detection of Leishmania in canine and feline blood samples. This was part of a new surveillance project to assess this parasites prevalence in Malaysia. The other project involved screening blood smears for microfilaria of the parasites that cause heartworm disease and elephantiasis from cats and dogs as part of a One Health effort to understand their life cycle in rural Malaysian communities.
Meals. Where to begin. Malaysia is a mélange of cultures given its relatively high GDP and immigration rates from Indonesia, Bangladesh, India, China, Thailand and several other southeast Asian nations. Consequently, there wasn’t really a language barrier since English was the common tongue. Malaysia has its own delicious local cuisine as well as a bursting fusion scene that is absolutely mind-boggling in variety. I made many friends and shared a lot of laughs over meals with second and third year veterinary students, doctors and my research compatriots. These meals coupled with some pretty incredible weekend adventures (pictures included!) were what made the trip for me. I was blessed to have all the veterinary experiences that I did, but the people I met were some of the most welcoming I have ever come across…and I’m from southwest Georgia so you know that’s saying something.
I want more of my veterinary student peers to travel abroad. It’s a challenge that helps you grow as a person, exposes you to ideas you’ve never encountered before. I strongly recommend the Universiti of Putra Malaysia Faculti of Veterinary Medicine because it’s the flagship vet university of Malaysia and has an incredibly welcoming atmosphere to visitors. Please contact me personally if you want to know more, I would love to help convince you to take your next great adventure to Malaysia!
By Scott Epperson, UGA CVM, class of 2018
Prior to starting vet school at UGA in the fall of 2014, I worked in the Influenza Division of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) tracking the spread of influenza viruses throughout the U.S. each flu season. While I mainly worked on activities in the U.S., I also had the chance to work with several foreign ministries of health on their influenza surveillance programs and this started my interest in international work.
A couple months after starting school I was contacted by a former colleague from CDC who asked if I would be interested in working in the CDC office in Dhaka, the capital and largest city of Bangladesh, over the summer on an evaluation of their avian influenza surveillance system and helping to revise their protocol for investigation of human infections with avian influenza viruses. I knew almost nothing about Bangladesh, but I did know I wanted to work overseas during the summer after my first year of school and the projects they asked me to work on seemed to fit perfectly with my previous influenza experience and my desire to work in veterinary public health after graduation. I accepted the offer and was able to secure the Freeman Asia grant through the UGA Office of International Education which covered the majority of my expenses.
CDC’s Bangladesh office is housed within the International Centre for Diarrhoeal Disease Research, Bangladesh (icddr,b) which is an international health research organization located in Dhaka. While I worked day to day in the CDC office, I was a participant in icddr,b’s student field experience program (http://www.icddrb.org/what-we-do/training/student-field-experiences) which is a program open to students from around the world to come to icddr,b to gain experience in public health research. As a member of both the CDC team and the Zoonotic Diseases Research Group within icddr,b’s Centre for Communicable Disease, I was able to see how both organizations functioned independently and how they worked in close collaboration to design and implement a huge number of research and surveillance projects.
I arrived in Dhaka in mid-May and was met by an icddr,b staff member at the airport and transported to the student apartment where I would be staying for the summer. Once a the apartment I found out that my roommates were not due to arrive in Bangladesh for a couple weeks, so I was left on my own to explore the neighborhood, find the grocery store, get a SIM card, and, most importantly, find the best coffee place (that turned out to be the most difficult goal since Bangladesh has such a strong tea culture). Eventually my roommates arrived, with even more student interns arriving as the summer went on. There were several student apartments scattered throughout the neighborhood, but most everyone was within a short 15 minute walk. By the time I left Bangladesh in late July I made more friends and met more people than I could have possibly imagined when I was planning my trip.
My first days in the office were hectic with meetings and introductions, setting up the structure of my projects, and my first ever visit to a live bird market. In order to perform an evaluation of the avian influenza surveillance system I needed to understand the poultry raising and selling practices in Bangladesh, and so this required visits to a number of live bird markets both inside and outside of Dhaka. During these market visits I learned more about the concern for avian influenza and the potential for human infections with these viruses.
Bangladesh is one of 6 countries in which avian influenza is considered endemic meaning that it can be found every year throughout the country. Also, the infrastructure for selling frozen or refrigerated meat is not widespread meaning that most people purchase their birds from a live bird market where the bird is slaughtered and butchered in front of the customer to take home, or the live animal is purchased, kept at the customer’s home, and slaughtered before eating. The combination of this level of contact between people and animals, the high population density (approx.168 million people living in an area slightly smaller than the size of Iowa) along with the endemic nature of avian influenza in Bangladesh make it a potential hot spot for spread of avian influenza from birds to people and demonstrate why surveillance for avian influenza viruses is critical.
Over the course of the next 2 months I continued my market visits, including visits to several towns and villages in the more rural areas of the country. I met with stakeholders of the avian influenza surveillance system, including representatives of the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) and departments within the Government of Bangladesh representing both human and animal health, to get their view on the usefulness and strengths and weaknesses of the system. I was also able to make progress revising the outbreak investigation protocol for detection of avian influenza viruses in humans. There was also a bit of fun mixed in with a lot of work. I was able to go to a Bangladesh national team cricket match and over a long holiday weekend I went to Malaysia with several other icddr,b student interns.
Overall, my experience in Bangladesh was incredible. Not many foreigners make it to Bangladesh and so pretty much everywhere I went I was the only non-Bangladeshi in sight. People were incredibly generous and seemed genuinely interested to find out what I was doing in their town, and, almost always through an interpreter, I was able to talk about my work and find out a little bit about their lives as well. Some of the most memorable experiences from my trip aren’t the ones that involved sightseeing or a weekend getaway, rather the simple moments that gave me a greater insight into people’s daily lives and the Bangladeshi culture: eating mangoes straight from the tree in a mango orchard in Rajshahi, hearing from an elderly woman in Netrokona about her time fighting in the war for Bangladesh’s independence in 1971, and breaking the fast at sundown during Ramadan. While the work was interesting and challenging, and I am grateful for the friends I made, these memories are the things I will take with me and which continue to fuel my interest in international veterinary medicine.