Olá Medicina Veterinária: A Clinical Experience in Brazil

Jun 6, 2018 / Student Blogs

Holland in Brazil

In May, two classmates and I embarked on a study abroad experience in Curitiba, Brazil. (In the photo above, we are in the center: Paige Coody, second from right in the first row, petting the dog; directly behind Paige is Abbie Janisch, and I am just left of Abbie.) The experience was organized as a cooperative effort through veterinary faculty at the University of Illinois and the Federal University of Paraná, including Dr. Marlos Gonçalves Sousa (at right in the photo).

A Passionate People

Robin Holland with clinical pathology residents

What defined the quality of the experience was most certainly the people. Everyone we met, from the moment we arrived at the airport to the first day in the hospital and throughout, was absolutely wonderful. The sheer kindness and love that we received on a daily basis made for a wonderfully memorable adventure, with new experiences and new friends.

Abbie, Paige, and I—all members of the Illinois Class of 2020—arrived in Curitiba, where our hosts were waiting for us with a warm welcome, hugs, and “Welcome Illinois Students” signs. After arriving at our hosts’ homes and settling in, we explored the city and were then given a tour of the veterinary hospital. Because we arrived on a Saturday, the hospital was largely empty. After we visited the various areas, one resident went to check in on her patients while the rest of us visited the wildlife and zoological medicine patients (which included some unimaginably adorable baby bunnies).

A Critical Case

When we finished with the wildlife patients, we returned to the clinical medicine room where our host and several staff members were gathered around a rather ill dog on an exam table. The dog was small, grey-white mixed breed, perhaps partially lhasa apso. The dog was laying on her side, struggling to breathe. Abbie, Paige and I assisted our host to drain fluid from the dog’s chest, when her heart suddenly stopped. We stood back and watched as everyone in the room dropped what they were doing and immediately began CPR. As we just finished our second year OSCE and learned proper CPR procedure, it was impressive to see the team work in such precision and coordination in giving excellent CPR to this patient.

Unfortunately, the dog did not respond, and after considerable time, our host decided that the dog was gone, and the team stopped. She placed her hand on the dog’s head and gave her a gentle kiss, saying goodbye. It was in that moment that I saw what so many people in Brazil are like. They are loving, caring, and compassionate people. Life matters, whether it be a spouse, parent, friend, wild parrot, or dog, and we should live our lives to make the most of our experiences with those we love, and provide the best possible life for those creatures without a voice.

Blood smear from clinical pathology: even Brazilian blood cells are full of love

Clin Path in Brazil

My first week at the veterinary hospital was spent in the clinical pathology lab, and I loved every minute. The residents were so welcoming and kind. My Portuguese was poor, and the residents stated their English was poor (although in my opinion it was quite excellent), but with a little patience, and working together through a topic that we shared a common passion, we were able to communicate rather well.

We laughed together frequently, making fun of immune cell morphologies or urinalysis crystals. The residents did a phenomenal job teaching me how they process samples, which diseases they more often see in Brazil, and how they diagnose those conditions. I saw cases of severe leukemia and anemia, a basophil (!) from an otter, all urine crystals except for cystine (but I do have a personal promise to receive a picture of cystine crystals once the lab finds it), and cases of Leishmania, Babesia, Hepatozoon, and Mycoplasma from a beautiful library of blood smears collected in the lab.

I processed blood from a lion, practiced countless blood smears, hematocrit, and urinalyses, and performed various specialized stains and diagnostic tests. The residents did a phenomenal job explaining everything to me, and I will always remember their kindness and I am grateful for their friendship.

A sample of the local pastries: Brigadeiro sweets

Surgery Rotation

My second week was spent with the surgery group. Although the week was cut short due to a holiday, the few days I spent observing surgeries were wonderful. I shadowed a TTA (tibial tuberosity advancement), TPLO (tibial-plateau-leveling osteotomy), correction of an inguinal hernia, and an endoscopy and retrieval of a foreign body from a tiny and adorable Yorkshire puppy.

I was very impressed by the quality of their surgical suite, equipment, and practices in performing various procedures. In our time outside of the hospital, with many different residents, students, and professors, we enjoyed trying a wide variety of foods, shopping, and visiting a zoo, animal sanctuary, and various parks and gardens around the city. Through all of those experiences, I continued to be impressed by the passion that people showed for each other.

A Tremendously Valuable Experience

Botanical gardens of Curitiba

This experience was outstanding in all aspects. I was able to directly apply concepts and techniques that I learned in my coursework to a clinical setting. I learned new skills, how to diagnose a wide variety of diseases and work through clinical cases, and how to communicate through what was at times a language barrier. Being able to intensely experience a profession that one loves in another country is tremendously valuable. We are able to share commonalities and teach each other about differences in a way that ultimately improves both approaches to veterinary medicine. I am forever grateful for this opportunity, the events I experienced, and the friends I have gained.

Muita obrigada, Brazil.

—Robin Holland, PhD, DVM Class of 2020