Juliet Penaliggon is a vet returning to general practice after 25 years and was inspired to join one of our surgical training programmes! Juliet details her experience below, offering a different perspective to the university students that often attend WVS courses and it’s clear to see she’s as passionate about animal welfare as we are!
I have just returned from an amazing trip to Thailand with WVS. I was a participant at the International Training Centre (ITC) in Chiang Mai, on a practical course offering hands-on surgical and anaesthetic training (spays and castrates) as well as a wonderful insight into the work of WVS and Mission Rabies. I became aware of the course six months ago when, after nearly 25 years working in the animal health industry, I decided to make a change in direction and to return to clinical veterinary practice.
The WVS team in the UK were really helpful in providing lots of up-front information about the course and the centre in Thailand. The course is mainly aimed at veterinary students near the end of their training or new graduates wanting to get a bit more experience. However, it is also ideal for anyone who has taken a career break and is looking to re-gain some surgical confidence before taking on a veterinary job again. As I had only been in practice for just under a year and my experience was so long ago, I jumped at the chance to join the course and to improve my surgical skills. I was also intrigued by the work of WVS and keen to learn more about their ABC (Animal Birth Control) and rabies programmes.
The course runs for two weeks and includes the opportunity to do an average of 11 spays, 4 castrates and the same number of anaesthetic monitoring. Our course included 10 students – 8 of which were international students from the University of Glasgow entering their 4th year and a graduate from Liverpool who was just embarking on her first job (if any of you are reading this, I was hugely impressed by you all – you were a great advertisement for Glasgow and Liverpool vet schools). The scary thing is that not only was I almost twice the age of the students, I was almost twice the age of most of the vets and nurses. However, I can’t speak highly enough of the team of staff and volunteers; whether they were ITC international staff of the local Thai team, their professionalism and dedication was contagious, and the culture of supported learning was really noticeable – not just for the ITC students but equally for the younger vets and nurses on staff.
With the jet lag still in full force and lingering self-doubt about my own abilities after so long away from practice, I can honestly say that I was pretty terrified on the first morning. However, we were broken in (relatively) gently with a short, written test to gauge the level of the group, followed by an introduction to the protocols used at the Chiang Mai centre and finally a demonstration spay and castrate in the afternoon. Day 2 was straight into surgery; we were split into pairs, one working on surgery and one on anaesthetic monitoring. Each pair had a WVS vet (fully scrubbed up) supervising and assisting as needed for each surgery. Each day thereafter was two surgeries and two anaesthetics for everyone plus a number of lectures such as antibiotic resistance, Mission Rabies, wound management and others. Day 10 was our last day, celebrated with a final surgery each and a final exam.
During the programme each of the five pairs also spent a really interesting day at the neighbouring WVS dog shelter helping with the in-patients and out-patient clinic. Our day was TVT day (Transmissible Venereal Tumours are pretty common among the local dog population) which meant that we worked with the on-duty vet and animal handlers to examine each patient, place IV catheters and administer the weekly chemotherapy as needed. With no prior sedation of even the more aggressive dogs, this was great practice for accurate catheter placement under pressure, made hugely easier by the great skill of the WVS animal handlers in restraining our patients.
I learnt a huge amount on the course, everything from top tips on how to manage ovarian ligatures without three hands and the best way to deal with a maggot infested wound, to the techniques to use to estimate local dog or cat populations for a rabies control programme. But more than anything, the ITC course has given me the confidence to take the next step back into clinical practice. I can honestly say that I now can’t wait to get started and to practise my renewed surgical skills!
I need to finish with a huge thank you – to Dr G, our course leader, and the wonderful staff and volunteers at WVS Thailand and in the UK office – to the rest of my group for putting up with an old crumbly cramping their style – and particularly to Stacy, my room-mate and WVS staff vet from Goa, India, who was not only a great room-mate and teacher, but also saved my sanity at numerous moments during the course!
I have been completely inspired by WVS and all you do, and I sincerely hope that I have the opportunity to return in the future.
If you have been inspired by Juliet’s experience and are looking to go back into general practice, take a look at our courses based here in Chiang Mai, or apply to join any other of our surgical training courses in Goa, Ooty (India) or Thailand.