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From Utah to Dominican Republic: Animals’ Needs Transcend Geography

Published on April 10, 2013 by Staff Writer

Heather Riggs, Broadview University-Orem’s Vet Tech Program Chair (and favorite teacher among many students), recently took a trip to the Dominican Republic with the HSVMA-RAVS (Humane Society Veterinary Medical Association Rural Area Veterinary Services) International Program, an outreach effort that combines veterinary education and community service in poverty-stricken areas. Heather recounts the trip in her own words below.

About Me

For the past four years, I have been a full-time veterinary technology educator. I spend my days in the classroom or laboratory sharing my love and passion for veterinary medicine with my students at Broadview University. I love teaching, and I especially love teaching veterinary medicine. I’m honored to be present when students learn new concepts and skills. I can’t make them learn it—they have to do that on their own—but I love to be a part of that process.

Service and Applied Learningvet tech program, Broadview University

One aspect of the Broadview University curriculum that I really support is the emphasis on service and applied learning. Students engage in community service projects while honing their skills in their chosen fields. As a faculty member, I am mainly an observer and facilitator of these projects—not an active participant. So when Dr. Susan Monger, Director of the HSVMA-RAVS International Program, called me three years ago asking if I could volunteer in Bolivia, I knew that would be my chance to do some service learning of my own. My trip to Bolivia was such a success that I could not pass up the opportunity to go to the Universidad Autonoma de Santo Domingo in the capital city of the Dominican Republic earlier this year.

The HSVMA-RAVS (Say that five times fast!)

According to the HSVMA-RAVS website, their organization is a “non-profit veterinary outreach program combining community service and veterinary education to bring free veterinary services to under-served rural communities where poverty and geographic isolation make regular veterinary care inaccessible.” All participants in the RAVS programs are volunteers, donating their time, skills, supplies, and knowledge in order to make the program a success.

My Daily Duties

vet tech program, Broadview University

I did not really know what to expect on my first trip to Latin America. I have traveled all over the world, but never as a veterinary technician and educator. The two consecutive trips I took to UAGRM in Santa Cruz, Bolivia, helped prepare me for this year’s adventure to the Universidad Autonoma de Santo Domingo.

Our team consisted of six veterinarians and two veterinary technicians. We taught 20 veterinary students who had spent the previous week studying surgical protocols and techniques, anesthesia, and drug dosing, as well as special ophthalmic techniques and procedures. My job during the week was to oversee students as they performed physical examinations, figured out anesthetic drugs, prepared patients, maintained and monitored the animals throughout the procedure, and helped with the recovery process. In other words, I was doing exactly what I do with my own students at Broadview University.

Overcoming Challenges

There were many challenges involved in operating surgical teaching clinics in the developing country of the Dominican Republic. Limited education, unavailability of supplies and drugs, the health status of the animals, and the inevitable power outages that we experienced every day were among those challenges. Also, did I mention that I speak very little Spanish? Luckily, the needs of the animals are the same regardless of location, so I was still able to share my expertise with the participants in the clinic.

Broadview University

HSVMA-RAVS Team and Students and Faculty of UASD

Closing Remarks

We faced many challenges, performed many much-needed sterilization procedures, and made many lasting friendships that surpassed cultural boundaries. We were united by our mutual love of veterinary medicine and our desire to serve animals. The members of our RAVS team and I all learned something new and were made better in our everyday roles by having been a part of this clinic.

I am truly honored to have been chosen for this team. I have been personally and professionally enriched by being allowed to participate in teaching alongside such an elite group of volunteers. I returned to the States with a renewed passion for service learning, knowing that as my students are able to volunteer—whether it be in our own community or on an international level—they will benefit in more ways than they could ever imagine, and will become better veterinary technicians and teachers, each in their own way.

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