Alice Whittle, one of our recent vet volunteers, tells us about her placement as a vet volunteer at our SPANA centre in Morocco, what she learned from the experience, and the impact it’s had on how she feels about her career.
Q: What made you want to become a vet?
A: As a child, I always wanted to be a vet because I loved animals. I spent most of my holidays at my grandmother’s in Wales, chasing after geese, chickens and sheep.
Then, when I was a teenager, I met an inspirational lady called Margaret Williams who became my mentor. She showed me the exciting life of a vet in rural Wales – she had such a passion for improving animals’ lives and serving the local community.
Q: How did you hear about the SPANA volunteering opportunity in Morocco?
A: I have been aware of SPANA since being at university, where one of the veterinary programme advisors did a talk for us. I was inspired by the role, which seemed to combine being an animal welfare advocate with international travel, and I knew I wanted to start in mixed practice and work towards a role in international veterinary development, so it seemed ideal.
Q: How did you find the experience?
A: My experience was very positive, although seeing animals suffering was difficult. The work was very practical and hands-on. I improved many clinical skills, including carrying out physical examinations, therapeutic skills, anaesthesia and wound management. It also provided opportunities to collaborate with other vets, technicians, visiting vets and students. Overall, it was a great insight into working equines and the work that SPANA does.
Q: What kinds of cases did you see and treat?
A: I saw a variety of cases that differed hugely to what you might experience in the UK. There were a number of cases of colic caused by animals eating rubbish and plastic. Wounds were also a serious problem, mostly from pulling heavy loads when working. Thankfully, the clinic gives working animals a safe space to heal and get some well-deserved rest! I also saw a case of tetanus in a donkey, a bacterial disease that equines are at risk of in the UK but that we rarely see due to vaccination. Straight after treatment, he became more interested in food, which was a good sign, and a week later he was moving better and could turn his neck. He was on the road to recovery!
Q: What did you learn from the placement?
A: I learnt the importance of treating the animals of people who otherwise could not afford veterinary care. The vast majority of problems are preventable, so training local communities is so important in the long term. I also realised that animal welfare charities must fight to alleviate poverty, because people living in poverty don’t have many choices – if they are struggling to look after themselves, how can they care for their animals?
Q: Would you recommend the experience to other aspiring vets?
A: Definitely! And go before you take on a full-time job; free time is rare once you are in practice. As well as developing clinical skills and a hands-on approach to learning, you meet people from different cultures and develop the ‘soft skills’ you need as a vet.
Q: Did the experience change what you want to do as a vet, or where you want to work?
A: It made me feel lucky to be in such a diverse and caring profession, and to have an animal health system in this country that strives to improve animal welfare and health. I would love to share this privilege with others who have more difficult lives, and to be in a role that puts animal welfare centre stage, but also goes towards improving human lives and the environment.
I’m hoping to do more volunteering with SPANA, maybe in Botswana next time, and to go on a mission to Malawi to help train animal health workers and be part of a new vet school.
Vet volunteer scheme
Our vet volunteer scheme allows recently graduated vets from the UK and other countries to undertake a placement helping us with our work in Morocco. SPANA benefits greatly from their skills and time, while the volunteers gain valuable clinical experience and an insight into veterinary care in other countries. We also hope these placements help to highlight the plight of working animals abroad.