October, 13th 2023
By: Alexander Pavlov
I participated in the Doctors in Italy Pre-Vet fellowship from June 12-June 23, which was in Florence. This amazing program consisted of veterinary medicine of horses and donkeys, avian medicine, and the medicine of various domestic species found on most farms. This experience was unlike any that I have had in my entire life. Initially, it was frightening, yet exciting, to think that I was travelling to a foreign country all by myself. I had a lot of expectations for the program, and I was worried that I was expecting too much from a program that only lasted two weeks. I was definitely worried that I was not going to learn as much as I wanted to, and that the information would be underwhelming. However, in those two weeks, I learned more about veterinary medicine that I had ever learned in any American university class.
There were many experiences during my fellowship that both challenged my expectations and opened my eyes to new concepts, ideas, and beliefs. I remember on the first day of shadowing, my group went to the Italian Horse Protection (IHP) to shadow a brilliant equine veterinarian, Serena. Initially, I was absolutely terrified of the horses: I would approach them carefully and even be scared to pet them. When Serena saw this, she told me that if I want to work with horses, I need to be more confident, as horses feed off your energy and can sense fear. It is because of Serena that I now am so comfortable with working with horses and have so much knowledge about basic care, pathology, and horse behavior.
Additionally, almost all of the people we met that were either veterinarians or owners of rescues were completely vegan. I was always skeptical of veganism, but these individuals told me their point of view, and it absolutely astounded me and changed my perspective completely. Their absolute love for animals was enough for them to completely cut meat and animal products out of their diets. They would always tell us, “we aren’t forcing you to be vegan, we just want you to understand where we’re coming from”.
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The fellowship also influenced my personal growth immensely. Shadowing a large variety of specialties truly aided me in comprehending how vast and interesting animal medicine is. I went into the program wanting to be a small animal veterinarian, but I left with a burning passion for equine medicine. Because of my time in Florence, my career path changed completely. Furthermore, it was always a dream to become a veterinarian, but I never thought of opening my own clinic or rescue. After visiting the IHP and the Ohana Animal Rescue and meeting the beautiful people that own these establishments, I realized that I want to do the same thing with my life. I want to share the same dedication that these individuals have in their lives towards the improvement of the lives of animals.
Aside from the shadowing, exploring Florence was probably my favorite part of this experience. Because the group of students and I became very close, we would always go out and explore the city after our work for the day was done. We went everywhere we could: the Ufizzi Gallery, the Santa Maria del Fiore, the Capella Medici, and the Piazzale Michelangelo. One of my fondest memories is when we decided to take a trip to Viareggio, a small beach town about an hour away from Florence. The whole trip was filled with jokes, laughter, stories about our lives from back home, and overall an amazing time. This fellowship helped me make new friendships that I could have never imagined making. I now have connections scattered across the entire United States, Canada, and even Italy.
I would truly recommend any aspiring veterinarian to study abroad, especially in Italy. This unique experience is a once in a lifetime opportunity to make connections abroad, meet amazing people, and improve your knowledge of veterinary medicine. It is also crucial that you immerse yourself in a new culture. Not everyone has the same opinions when it comes to animal care and medicine, especially in a foreign country. Such an immersion, in my opinion, is crucial to a successful career in any field, especially one involving medicine.
To conclude, I want to thank our amazing fellowship coordinator, Margarita, for making this trip such an unforgettable and beautiful experience. I want to thank my group members, Mimi, Nema, Lindsey, Jessica, and Nikki, for making our shadowing days filled with fun learning experiences. I want to thank our vet mentors Sonni, Serena, Luigi and his wife, and Flavio, for taking us in and teaching us about their passions. Finally, I want to thank Doctors in Italy. I am forever grateful for the experience that you gave me.
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