I spent four weeks at the Currumbin Wildlife Foundation (CWF) located in Currumbin, Australia. A major perk of working in Currumbin was the city itself – the beach with perfect warm water and huge surfing waves was a five-minute walk away, the “coldest” temperature was 80F, and it was always sunny! The small city has a lot to offer to keep things lively, as well as maintaining a quiet suburban community too.
The CWF includes a hospital and the Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary, which focuses on public education and conservation of native Australian species. It was one of the best experiences of my life! The hospital’s externship policy is to have only one veterinary student at a time, so it was a huge honor to be accepted into the program. The hospital and sanctuary are open 364 days a year (they close for Christmas) and there is a lot to do every day. The CWF provides veterinary care not only to wild animals brought in by the public, but also to the permanent sanctuary resident animals.
Even though the externship required only Monday-Friday participation, I worked six days a week. Daily hours were from 8 am to 5:30 pm. There were two or three veterinarians present each day to help balance the caseload — during the month I was at Currumbin, we saw over 1,000 animals!
Every morning there was an all-staff meeting to go over scheduling for the day: vet nurse students, volunteers, ambulatory drivers, and morning vs. afternoon shifts. Additionally, we discussed the day’s veterinary procedures, animals scheduled for rehabilitation or release, animals already brought into the hospital, any clinical pathology results, and post-mortem examinations to be performed.
What I focused on each day depended on the number of veterinarians, volunteers, procedures, and animals. Sometimes I helped the wildlife vet nurse with morning treatments: administering medications, weighing the animals, and cleaning cages. As a veterinary student who has a background in wildlife and exotics, I was given a lot of independence. The fact that I was trusted so much really helped in my confidence as a future veterinarian.
Other times I shadowed the vets during their daily ICU duties. Some patients were stable enough to warrant vet checks less frequently (e.g., every other day); other patients were more debilitated and required vet checks daily or twice daily. Another morning duty for the vets involved discussing with the vet nurse which animals were ready for rehabilitation or release back into the wild.
Part of the day was also dedicated to performing procedures on current patients and sanctuary residents, as well as seeing regularly scheduled sanctuary animal appointments. One section of the hospital was dedicated to wild animals, the other to the sanctuary – they were strict on separating wild from sanctuary animals to prevent disease transmission, which is another really important aspect of wildlife medicine and conservation.
I triaged wild animals presented to the hospital by performing initial physical examinations and routine diagnostics (blood work, radiographs) on a variety of animal species – small perching birds, parrots of all sizes, raptors, mammals, and reptiles. I also administered medications, euthanized as needed on a case-by-case basis, trained vet nurse students, and performed a surgery on my own. I monitored anesthesia for several reptile, bird, and mammal procedures, assisted with a Cesarean section on a blue-tongued skink, and performed several post-mortem examinations. There were many learning opportunities each day, and the veterinarians were always very willing and enthusiastic in their teachings.
A principal goal of the CWF is public education. One whole side of the hospital was a glass window, through which visitors could view initial physical examinations and treatments on wild animals, appointments with sanctuary residents, and any procedures. The surgery suite not only had two glass walls, but also had an intercom so that the veterinarian could speak to the public on the other side of the wall while performing a procedure. One of my responsibilities as a vet student extern also involved walking outside to explain to visitors the background on some of the animals, what procedures were being performed, and why we were treating the animals with certain medications.
Best of all, the people I worked with were amazing, dedicated, kind, and willing to teach. They were patient, understanding, funny, energetic, and happy. A lot of them are friends, and the whole community definitely viewed each other as family. I hope that soon other American students will be joining Currumbin Wildlife Foundation’s wonderful community!