We take the „tram“ to the biggest canteen almost every day, in the „F building“. This one has better food, the others say, than the one at the faculty of veterinary medicine. There is a third one somewhere in between, where I sometimes buy lunch on my way to the animal hospital. And I think I saw a forth canteen in the main administration building. And I’m not sure at how many places you can get coffee, but that doesn’t really matter anyway, since the best coffee shop is located just outside our workplace. The tram takes about five to ten minutes from our end of the campus to the other. The footpath next to the road is covered by a roof to protect people from the sun. Every twenty meters, there is a speed bump. You can study IT, engineering, veterinary medicine and business administration in one of the big buildings that are named only with letters, R being the last, the main vet med teaching halls at the very end of the campus. There is a campus police, lots and lots of tables and benches under simple roofs where you can eat, study or just hang out, two sports fields, an outdoor gym (of course) and a big gym. When I walk home in the evenings, there is always a soccer game going on, basketball practice or a match, Thai boxing, badminton,… and on the outside of the court, people are jogging.
Welcome to Mahanakorn University of Technology, Nong Chok, Bangkok, Thailand.
At every tram stop, a big sign reminds you of the dress code. White shirt, black trousers or skirt (yes, Thailand may be very open regarding gender identities, but if you’re born female, you have to wear a skirt), closed shoes. The vet students also have white and blue uniforms, to be worn according to the classes they have at the time – blue for large animal lectures, white for small animal lectures. In sixth year, when the rotate through the clinics and only do practical work, they get to wear jeans and scrub suits, whichever color they choose.
Almost all of the students live in dorms, close to campus. Some of the vets do, too. Some dorm rooms are shared by two people, others are actual apartments with kitchens, and some, like mine, are somewhere in between, like mine: no kitchen, but my own bathroom. And, it may be random or my lucky number that I didn’t know about: I live on the fourth floor again, just like last time I went abroad and lived in a dorm. And Thailand, like Estonia, counts the ground floor as first floor (unlike Germany). Some students walk to school, some drive (car or scooter), only very few ride a bike, and sometimes, they take a taxi. I have pretty much tried all of these ways to get there, as somebody always seems to find me halfway.
The students that I encounter in the large animal hospital are shy at first, but after a week, we start talking more, and it turns out that their English is way better than they think. There is even one guy that I didn’t even notice in the first two days, but now we talk every day. The student from other years are curious about the farang, too, invite me to sit with them during lunch and walk up to me to talk. And then, of course, they get to make fun of me, because of course they all remember my name, and just can’t seem to remember any of theirs.
Friday night is usually the night for going out, and we’re all lazy (or afraid of the foreigners in this area…), so after dinner within a ten minute walk, we’ll have drinks at the bar at the dorm, where they just put up more tables and chairs in the parking lot when it gets crowded. And of course, the students are not much different from others – when they say “let’s go out at nine”, it means “not before ten” – when will I finally learn?
Taking care of me (as in “the guest”) is in their culture, and being nice and helpful is probably in their genes. But sometimes I can’t be sure if they do things because they want to (like accompanying me to sightseeing in Bangkok) or if they feel obligated to do that so that I won’t be alone. Trust, who organized my placement, assigned a student to take care of me, like a tutor, but I still haven’t figured out what exactly she feels she has to do and what she wants to do.
Classes are from Monday to Friday, normally, but sometimes they have to go in on weekends as well, to take care of animals, for weekend shifts at the hospital, or for tests.
|Birth in the middle of the afternoon!|
About eighty students start vet school every year at Mahanakorn University of Technology (MUT). Three years, they are in preclinical classes, and three years in clinical, the sixth year being the one where they rotate through the clinics in groups of ten to fifteen people. They tell me there has to be at least one man in every group, to handle the large animals.
They study small animals (cats and dogs), horses, Ruminants (cattle, sheep, goats), swine, obstetrics and reproduction, aquatic animals (fish), poultry, and exotics (rabbits, guinea pigs, hedgehogs, wild birds, pet birds, elephants, hamsters, squirrels,…), and they can of course also do placements in zoos or laboratories. During their holidays between terms, they can also do placements, and most of them do, gaining experience in smaller clinics, practices and abroad. On campus, two teaching buildings and three clinics are located: The small animal clinic, the equine clinic (that includes a procedure room for exotic pets), and the ruminant clinic. Some of the swine practice and almost all of the obstetrics/reproduction also takes place on campus. There are further partnerships with a buffalo farm, an exotic pet hospital, and the Khao Kheow Open Zoo (the vets who work in these places teach classes at MUT, and they take students for placements). Around fifteen Brahman cows, eighteen horses, some pigs and goats belong to the large animal hospital (that sums up equine and ruminant clinic) and during their studies, the students have to take care of these animals, feeding them, cleaning, exercising the horses. They are assigned an animal for a period of three months, and every student, by the time they reach sixth year, knows how to drive cattle, exercise horses and has been on a horseback. In the clinical years, they then get to practice on these animals – examining them, drawing blood, analyzing feces, practice their ultrasound skills, and so on.
The students also have to present cases during their sixth year, and sometimes the teachers will make them do so in English, just for practice. That’s of course good for me. Most of their course material is in English as well, so if I join lectures, I may not understand anything, but at least I can read along. The cases presented by the students include the patient’s history, a problem list, results of examinations, diagnosis and some information on differentials, the treatment, the status quo and the future plan. But what is different from case presentations in Germany is that they will also include the costs here. The doctor’s fee, the ward costs, ultrasound, injections, medications, and so on. I am reminded how important it is to know about the finances… In Thailand, being a vet means good money. Not exactly how it is in Germany!
There is one group if students in the equine clinic (also treating the hamster and the turtle that are currently in the exotics room), and one group across the street in the ruminant clinic, but of course, they help each other out, and the “equine people” will admit a goat that arrives while the “ruminant people” are all in lunch break, and if there is nothing to do with the horses, they will walk over and look at the newborn calf. As I’m just generally in the “Large Animal Hospital”, I get to choose where I think it is more interesting – the wound dressing of the pony or the pregnancy checks in the cows. When I arrived, there were two patients in the equine clinic, one postoperative colic and one with a large infected wound, and on average I see two new patients per week. But in the afternoon, the estrus cycle of all of the university’s horses is evaluated by rectal palpation and ultrasound, so we get to practice – and this is really something that needs to be practiced again and again and again.
Crossing the street. There is the buffalo with the broken leg, the bone has grown back together, but he developed an abscess. A small cow came in with chronic diarrhea, and after none of the treatments showed a big effect, I witness an explorative surgery – “scrub and put on sterile gloves, than you can reach in here and feel the alteration on the liver!” – well, nobody has to tell me that twice!
Many of the school’s own cows are pregnant, and I get to observe a natural birth in the middle of the day (which is unusual, normally cows calve at night) and four caesarian sections. The calves here (by now there are five), are allowed to stay with their mothers for approximately seven months, they can feed naturally on their mothers’ milk and in the afternoon, all of the cows go out on the pasture to eat fresh grass in addition to their normal hay and silage, and play with each other. I help the other students in assisting classes for the juniors, explaining how to detect and score lameness in cows, and practicing blood draws in goats with them. The professors also ask me every day: “Have you done a palpation in this cow? Compare her pregnancy status to Botun over here, what do you think?” They don’t explain, and they don’t go ahead themselves – they let us students do the work, tell them what we found and, if we are not sure, they will double check. In only two weeks, I have become much more confident in this sort of examination. Most of the clinical work is actually done by the students, they will administer the daily drugs, clean wounds and change dressings, the vets only dropping by on occasion to see if everything is going well. When a new patient comes in, like that calf with the neck trauma, or the sheep with the swollen udder, or the seizing calf,… the students talk to the owners, examine the patient and discuss the therapy options with the teachers. Two of the vets go as far as only wearing suits and never actually getting their hands dirty – they will watch closely and jump in with advice, but the students make the first decisions and do all the work.
This is how we learn.
And it is how we should always learn.
We have been given all the theoretical knowledge, but it is of no use if we don’t get to utilize it.
So we examine the swollen udder, milk it and decide that it is not a mastitis (inflammation of the udder), but a milk obstruction – so we can take the milk out with a catheter, double-check that it is of normal color, smell and texture, and feed it to the lamb. We administer IV fluids to the seizing calf, assess the high body temperature as the most critical symptom and thus cool the patient down, monitoring heart, lungs and temperature closely.
We treat, we practice, we learn.
And when there is nothing to do, we cuddle all the animal babies, of course.