MINERAL WELLS - A local veterinarian recently returned from a veterinary mission trip to the Dominican Republic to teach veterinary students how to spay and neuter cats and dogs.
Leslie Elliott, DVM, has been owner of Mineral Wells Veterinarian Clinic since 2007. She made the trip with the Humane Society Veterinary Medical Association, or HSVMA.
Elliott said the students they worked with were not unlike senior veterinary students in the U.S.
Veterinarian Leslie Elliott and her son, Simon, 10, at the Mayan ruins of Tulum, Mexico, in January. (Photo Provided)
Dr. Leslie Elliott, a veterinarian from Mineral Wells, and Dominican student Kenia Tavares perform surgery. It was Tavares’ first spay procedure. (Photo Provided)
"They are just starting out and learning how to spay and neuter," she said. "They don't have a lot of equipment like veterinarians here have. We took a lot of equipment and suture materials and surgical instruments and they got a chance to learn how to spay and neuter."
Elliott said while the students' education is similar to what one would receive in the U.S., they don't have the chance to perform the procedures.
"No doubt we have a horrific unwanted animal problem in the U.S. but it is in shelters, not all over city streets," she said. "They don't have the equipment to learn how to control it."
Elliott said it was strictly a dog and cat spay and neuter techniques trip through the Rural Area Veterinary Services, or RAVS.
"The director of the program, Dr. Susan Monger from Austin, Texas, said several years ago if you sweep in and help 100 and go back, you help 100 only; however, if you show others how to do it, you can help more than 100 animals," she said.
Elliott worked with the Peace Corps in Guatemala between earning her B.S. degree in agriculture from Ohio State University and her DVM degree from the same university in 1996. She is a graduate of St. Marys High School.
"We can do more by teaching these young veterinarians," she said. "I plan to go back with the group; they were a very nice group of people."
There is a RAVS unit in the U.S. to Indian reservations but Monger handles the international unit missions, Elliott said.
"The RAVS has a big presence in Bolivia, El Salvador and Mexico, and has been to Ethiopia twice," she said. "But because of language, it is easier to find Spanish-speaking veterinarians to go to Central and South America."
Elliott said one major difference between the veterinarian education in the U.S. and the Dominican Republic is the educational requirements.
"As far as I know they are not required to pursue a four-year undergraduate degree," she said. "It is a five-year program but they do not have to apply to be accepted because of the free universities. In the United States you need a four-year degree and go through an application process."
Elliott enjoyed her time in the Dominican Republic.
"They were wonderful students and staff," she said. "They are our colleagues and are very welcoming."
Elliott said they encountered one small problem while there.
"We tried to use anesthesia medications they have available since we did not bring any on the trip; we had to use what was available," she said. "We left some equipment along with suture supplies and surgical instruments."
They worked with two groups of 20 each.
"One group was on Monday and Tuesday and the next on Wednesday and Thursday," she said. "On Friday we worked with the professors and did surgeries with them."
Elliott was one of five veterinarians from the U.S. on the trip.
"We had two veterinarian technicians with extra accreditation in anesthesia," she said. "Eight were on a team that is teaching with extra certification. One fun and amazing part ... we had people from Massachusetts and New Jersey, two from Texas, Kansas, Utah and San Francisco."
Elliott said everybody on the team was between 40- and 55-years old.
"We were all from very different backgrounds," she said. "We all believed in rescue and shelter work and love Spanish, but we were all at different levels of fluency. Two were not fluent but are learning; all enjoyed the different techniques."
Elliott said her favorite part was working with students 22 and 23 years old who were excited about learning good techniques in spaying and neutering.
"They were a very busy, friendly and happy people," she said.
"All were really nice, from taxi drivers to waiters to hotel staff; they seem to be happy and easy going - happy and nice."