I will admit, packing my bags and flying to the opposite side of the planet during clinical year was not necessarily a logical thing to do. Nevertheless, for reasons I’ll save for another day, I did just that, and a very long plane ride later, I stepped into a rush of cold, clear air that welcomed me to Auckland, New Zealand.
My first task was to collect the rental car I would be using for the following three weeks. The town where I would be completing my externship was two hours’ drive outside of Auckland. As it had nothing in the way of a public transit system, transport via automobile was pretty much my only option. I remember thinking that if I could slide into the “wrong” side of a manual rental car and drive two hours on the “wrong” side of the road, all while 16 hours jet lagged, I could probably do anything.
During my externship, I stayed with a farming family who lived ~10 minutes from the vet hospital. I picked this particular practice because they have reproductive specialists across multiple species – bovine, equine, canine – but I ended up spending the vast majority of my time with the bovine vets. The Waikato region of New Zealand is known for dairying, so it was a fantastic place to learn about bovine medicine. After arriving in the morning, I would look over the schedule for the three bovine veterinarians and decide which vet or vets to shadow that day. The schedule could be interrupted at any point by an emergency, and, because it was calving season, the emergency was almost always a dystocia (difficult calving). The vets were fantastic about letting me have hands-on experience with these. During my three week externship, I assisted with twelve dystocias, including one ovine (sheep) dystocia and one caesarian section!
Another frequent type of farm visit was to help manage cases of suspected endometritis (inflammation of the lining of the uterus). In New Zealand, the go-to treatment for endometritis is the use of intrauterine antibiotics, which involves placing a pipette through the cow’s cervix so the tip is within the uterus and then passing antibiotics through the pipette. This is not a particularly easy feat to perform at first, but I’m proud to say that by the end of my externship I was able to do it reliably!
The practice provides reproductive planning meetings as part of their herd management package, and I was able to participate in four of these conversations. I really enjoyed these meetings, as they helped me gain a much better understanding of dairying in New Zealand. Almost all dairy farms in New Zealand are pasture-based, so it is absolutely critical to time the calving season with the availability of grass. A cow’s gestation length is 9 months, so getting them to calve at the same time each year requires very careful attention to the details of reproductive management.
After my three week externship finished, my partner flew over to meet me, and we had an epic New Zealand Campervan Adventure in which we zig-zagged down the North Island from Auckland to Wellington. We visited the head veterinarian at the Auckland Zoo, explored the Waitomo Glowworm Caves, found a black sand beach, hiked through Mount Maungatautari (a wildlife sanctuary), met with the Dean of Massey University (which has New Zealand’s only veterinary school), and visited Te Papa (Museum of New Zealand). We had a wonderful time with the welcoming people and consistently breathtaking landscape of New Zealand. We definitely want to go back!
This post is part of a series documenting my clinical year in veterinary school. To read more from the series, please visit the Clinic Series homepage.