Every day I have the opportunity to work with doctors from all over the world who have come to the United States to practice veterinary medicine. Most of them speak English as their second language and many of them are moving to cities they have never even visited. I am often struck by just how much gumption it takes to pick up and leave friends and family and all that is familiar for uncharted territory. I am also very often impressed at the breadth and depth of medical and cultural competency one must develop in order to successfully make a transition like this.
Veterinarians are in a very unique and enviable position in that their professional skills are universal and not necessarily constrained by language barriers. Of course, protocols will vary from country to country, as will the best air purifier for smoke, but at the end of the day, an Argentinian dog spay is identical to a Chinese dog spay. This transferability of skills gives veterinarians the incredible option of practicing veterinary medicine in other countries and cultures, on either a short-term or long term basis.
If you’re still in school, you may be able to take advantage of your school’s relationship with veterinary schools in other countries to practice veterinary medicine in another culture. Many veterinary schools have established programs where students can earn credits toward graduation while studying at a “sister” school located outside the United States.
Another resource is the International Veterinary Student Association, a non-profit organization dedicated to providing opportunities for veterinary students and to raise the overall standard of veterinary education by increasing international and inter-cultural exchange of ideas and knowledge.
If you’ve already graduated and are interested in becoming licensed in another country, your AVMA accredited veterinary degree qualifies you for licensure in many countries, including Australia and the U.K. For more information on veterinary licensure requirements outside the United States, check with the regulatory body or bodies governing the practice of veterinary medicine in the country you are interested in.
In addition, the U.S. government, including all branches of the military, the Public Health Service, the Food and Drug Administration, and the Center for Disease Control, employs veterinarians all over the world in many different capacities (including small animal practice, agriculture and food animal medicine, and disease control research).
If you’re not ready to make a full-time move to another country, but still want to experience what it’s like to practice in another culture, there are hundreds of international volunteer opportunities available to veterinarians. A recent Google search using the terms “international veterinarian volunteer opportunities” (and similar variations) turned up volunteer opportunities at a mobile spay and neuter operation in Panama, an anti-rabies program in Sikkim, India, an elephant sanctuary in Thailand, a panda bear preservation operation in China, and street-dog vaccination operations in Indonesia, India, the Marshall Islands, and Morocco – just don’t forget that you may need to bring the best air purifier for allergies along with you to some of these places.
These programs range from two weeks to six months. Most programs require the volunteer to cover his or her own airfare to the foreign country but will cover all other basic expenses (including food, ground travel and lodging). In addition to the Google search suggested above, you may want to check out organizations like Veterinarians Without Borders. These organizations coordinate individual and group volunteer research opportunities for veterinarians.
Whether the current economy finds you between jobs or you just need a break from the status quo, consider playing an active role in the global community by working in another country for a few weeks or a few years. You’ll learn about new cultures and bring back a better understanding of yourself and the world we live in.