URI student gains veterinary experience while studying abroad in Thailand

Eliot, Maine, native gets hands-on with elephants, marine life, dogs, cats

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Sydney Page poses at an elephant sanctuary in Thailand
URI junior Sydney Page poses at an elephant sanctuary in Thailand, where she spent the semester learning about the veterinary care of a wide variety of animals. (Photo courtesy of Sydney Page)

KINGSTON, R.I. – January 7, 2020 – Sydney Page knew from a very young age that she wanted to become a veterinarian. The University of Rhode Island junior also knew she wanted to study abroad sometime during her college years.

So last fall she merged her interests and spent a semester getting hands-on veterinary experience with a wide diversity of animals in Thailand. In an affiliation with the study-abroad organization Loop Abroad, Page was one of 14 students that learned alongside veterinarians from around the globe while volunteering with elephants, sea turtles, zoo animals, and shelter dogs and cats.

“It was exactly what I was looking for, and it was really amazing,” said Page, an animal science major from Eliot, Maine. “All the classes were taught by vets, and we got a ton of hands-on opportunities.”

Every two weeks, she and her classmates visited different animal care facilities to shadow the veterinarians working there, take classes, and volunteer their time and skills. They spent two weeks at a dog shelter while taking a class in small animal management and medicine, for instance, then learned about surgical nursing skills while assisting at a high-volume spay and neuter clinic.

“We served as the vet techs at the clinic and learned all the skills to give pre-medications, monitor the animals through the surgery, administer anesthesia and monitor their recovery,” Page said. “We helped them spay 125 animals in four days.”

Her favorite experience was a two-week rotation studying elephant medicine and management at an elephant sanctuary that included providing the animals with medical treatment.

“You don’t realize how smart elephants are until you meet them,” she said. “You can teach them anything. We trained some baby elephants to present different parts of their bodies for medical evaluations, and they picked it up so fast. And they’re so interactive with people. It was an experience you can’t get back home. And I loved it.”

Page also learned to scuba dive while studying about marine ecosystems and spent two weeks learning about wildlife conservation while working at a zoo.

“I went into it knowing I wanted to be a vet, but I didn’t really know what kind of veterinary medicine I wanted to do, so I was hoping the experience would help me figure it out. And it did,” she said. “I had debated doing marine animals or wildlife, but I realized that I really do love working with dogs and cats. I like the personal interaction you get with animals that are used to being around people.”

Despite the hot climate, Page also loved interacting with the people of Thailand.

“I didn’t know anything about Thailand going in, but I found the Thai people to be so sweet and welcoming,” she said. “Once they learned that I could speak a little Thai, they were so excited. It felt very safe. And Chaing Mai has a café where you can go and pet cats and dogs while you get your coffee.”

With two semesters to go before she completes her URI degree, Page is focusing on some of her most difficult classes – biochemistry, cell biology, genetics and animal nutrition among them – and beginning the process of applying to vet school. She will also continue to sing with the URI acapella group Rhody Rhapsodies and tutor URI athletes.

“I don’t really have a preference for where I go to vet school,” she said. “I’m just excited that I’m now sure that I want to focus on dogs and cats, and I’m ready to get started.”