Elevating academics is a priority in Auburn University’s strategic plan with teaching and learning at the heart of the Auburn experience. Strengthening students’ international skills is an initiative of the strategic plan. Approximately five percent of Auburn students currently engage in study abroad. The new goal is that 25 percent of students receive such experience.
At the College of Veterinary Medicine, students have opportunities to travel abroad through externships and missionary trips with a focus on veterinary work. In the summer of 2009 veterinary medicine students travelled to Kenya, India, Japan, Honduras, Bolivia, and Chile.
Many Auburn veterinary medicine faculty go on these trips and mentor students, such as Jason Johnson, D.V.M., D.A.C.T., who completed his residency in food animal theriogenology.
In December 2008, Dr. Johnson and veterinary student Jill Westerholm (a 2010 graduate) travelled to Kenya to assist with herd-animal health. This was not Dr. Johnson’s first outreach trip – he had travelled to Honduras and Venezuela taking students each time.
“One of the most common threads that unites the poor in developing countries is their utter dependence on livestock,” said Dr. Johnson. “All the students come back changed and with a global perspective.”
In Kenya, Dr. Johnson partnered with indigenous veterinarians to help make protein sources healthier by providing vaccinations and dewormings, and providing education in the areas of herd health and animal husbandry.
The Maasai in Kenya are semi-nomadic people and are strongly patriarchal in nature. Their lifestyle centers around the cattle, sheep, and goats which constitute their primary source of food and wealth. Many Maasai believe “all cows are gifts from God and all cows are theirs,” said Dr. Johnson.
Villages are enclosed in a circular fence made of thorned shrubs and trees. At night cows, goats, and other livestock are kept safe in an enclosure in the center.
Because of Dr. Johnson’s credentials as a veterinarian, he helped gain access to the Maasai for the physicians who were with him. The Maasai deliberately stated, you medical doctors can’t look at our wives, our people, unless you address the needs of our livestock. “It’s their identity – the most important thing in their culture,” said Dr. Johnson.
While there, Dr. Johnson hired five Kenyan veterinarians to help his team for a week. Funding and supplies for mission trips come from gifts made by churches, family members, friends, team members, and veterinary drug companies. Veterinarians and veterinary students incur their own expenses and a trip such as the one to Africa can cost approximately $3,000 to $4,000.
Dr. Johnson sees the benefit in international outreach and it is the long-term goal of expanding such outreach that drives him. His work helps to increase the survivability of protein sources globally, empower indigenous peoples with knowledge, and attempt to reduce the spread of animal diseases.
On such trips, veterinary students have the opportunity to see foreign animal diseases firsthand. “They get to witness these diseases in a real-life setting, something that most students only come across in lectures or textbooks in their academic careers,” said Dr. Johnson.
With public awareness of foreign animal and zoonotic diseases increasing and the ever-looming danger of bioterrorism, food-animal veterinarians carry even more responsibility to be the first responders for potential recognition of disease. A veterinarian with this real-world type of practical exposure will have more experience in identifying a foreign animal disease to halt the spread of the disease in our food system.