Experience Uganda Student Story
Posted on Jan, 23 2012
How does getting bit by a dog turn into world travels and a future career in veterinary medicine? For Justine Ma, UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine student and participant in the 2011 Experience Uganda study tour organized by NDSU Distance and Continuing Education, the two make perfect sense.
Years ago, while volunteering at a humane society, Ma got bit by a dog. Instead of being worried for her own health and safety, she was more concerned about what could potentially happen to the dog. This is not the normal reaction for someone that has just been bitten by an animal, but one that Ma credits as the main reason she decided she wanted to become a veterinarian. The remaining question is how does a student at UC Davis in Southern California team up with North Dakota State University in Fargo, ND?
Ma graduated from UC Davis with a bachelor’s degree in wildlife, fish, and conservation biology with minors in animal science and leadership. During her junior year she was able to study abroad for three months in Kenya with a group through Boston University. While in Kenya, Ma realized the “intimate interconnection between animals, humans, and the environment.” While she was in Kenya there was a widespread drought that wiped out the livestock population which the native Maasai people relied on. Through this experience Ma said she learned of a way to combine working with humans and animals through the field of veterinary public health.
When Ma came back from Kenya she wanted to get involved and learn more about veterinary public health, so she helped in the Veterinary Medicine Extension at UC Davis doing education outreach developing a bio-security curriculum involving zoonotic diseases. After graduation, Ma decided to take a few years off to gain more experience working with animals so she worked at a wildlife rehabilitation facility as a triage manager. She also volunteered with the former California State Public Health veterinarian and witnessed the impact he had on the state of California in regards to protecting human and animal health through zoonotic disease control and prevention. After two years of work, Ma applied to veterinary school and was accepted. Though she was active in organizations promoting public health and veterinary medicine, Ma was once again looking to get some hands on experience. Not being a stranger to seeking out well-known programs, Ma began to search for a way to gain more public health experience and came across the Experience Uganda trip led by well-known veterinarian Ludwig Seifert.
The Experience Uganda study tour is possible through a collaboration between Makerere University in Uganda and North Dakota State University, Fargo, ND. The program focuses on international animal production, disease surveillance, and public health, which was just the experience Ma was looking for. Ma said that the most valuable part of the trip was the experience to learn and interact with Seifert. He made the connection between wildlife veterinarians and public health very clear as they learned and witnessed the conflicts that can occur between wildlife, domestic livestock, and humans. Ma also enjoyed learning about Uganda and “seeing the beauty of the country with regards to the people, cultures, animals, and the environment.” She “especially enjoyed interacting with the different communities, learning about what they do, their struggles, and ways to help improve their livelihoods.” While on the trip, Ma felt she made a personal contribution to the awareness and importance of biosecurity with regards to animal diseases like foot and mouth disease.
Without this trip Ma said she may have never made as good of a connection between her interest in wildlife and public health combined with helping in developing countries. The contacts she made during the trip and career options she is now interested in are some of the most valuable take aways from the trip along with everything she learned and experienced. Ma had the following advice for someone considering going on the trip: “It was great to meet, interact, and make lasting connections and friendships with the faculty and students from NDSU and Makerere University. I was very impressed by how safe the environment was and how everything was pretty much taken care of for me with regards to housing, money for food and transportation. This program allowed me to see and experience things that people usually don’t experience in the United States. I got to visit some beautiful areas throughout Uganda, from the different national parks to historical sites. The wildlife and animals I saw on the trip were absolutely amazing. It was really interesting to learn and see diseases foreign to the United States. Lastly, it was very interesting to learn about the people, their mindset, and cultural attitudes. All people interested in animals, humans, public health and international infectious diseases should definitely take a look into this program.”
The Experience Uganda study tour is offered annually. NDSU invites students and professionals nationwide in the fields of veterinary medicine, food safety, microbiology, public health, or other related fields to participate. The study tour can be completed as a non-credit option or for graduate or undergraduate credit.