African Odyssey a real boost for Connie

African Odyssey a real boost for Connie

Connie Nicholl, a budding local vet who is currently studying in the Caribbean, has just spent an enlightening two weeks in South Africa where she had the opportunity to get hands-on experience treating an array of unusual wildlife

ASPIRING Whiteabbey vet, Connie Nicholl, was last featured in NI Veterinary Today when she told us about life on the sunshine island of Grenada, where she’s currently enjoying a once-in-a-lifetime chance to pursue her doctorate in veterinary medicine at the prestigious St. George’s University.

This summer, however, Connie had another opportunity to get involved in a unique project when she spent two weeks in South Africa, working hands-on with a variety of big game animals under the expert eye of renowned wildlife vet, Dr William Fowlds.

Connie was in South Africa to participate in the Vets Go Wild programme – a two-week module organised by specialist study tour firm, Worldwide Experience, and aimed at students undertaking veterinary or wildlife-based studies at university.

Based at Amakhala Private Game Reserve and the 260,000-acre Addo National Elephant Park as well as Bayworld Oceanarium in Port Elizabeth, students have the rare opportunity to undergo theoretical and practical training which focuses on the role of veterinary science in the context of African wildlife conservation.

Connie got involved in the programme after reading about it online:

“It’s something that’s different from other placements,” she told NI Veterinary Today recently. “It offered a very hands-on approach and it was being led by Dr William Fowlds, who is a very famous wildlife vet in South Africa who really puts his heart into his work with rhinos.”

There were 16 veterinary students on this year’s course, including participants from universities in England, Columbia and Brazil. All of them had paid around £2,500 for the experience.

Connie says that she was surprised by just how much was involved in the programme and by the extent of the hands-on work that they were able to do:

“I didn’t think that it would be as intensive as it was,” she concedes. “From the very first day, we were put into two groups and we were immediately helping to separate and re-located black wildebeest, including making all the calculations for the drugs that would be needed.”

Throughout the trip, Connie and her colleagues worked with a variety of big game animals including black wildebeest, white rhino, lions and buffaloes.

“There was also a marine element to the work that we did,” she adds. “We went to Bayworld, which is a rescue and rehabilitation centre, where we were able to work with seals and penguins and I had the opportunity to be involved in a necropsy. It’s very unusual to get a chance to do that and to work so closely with all this marine wildlife. It was just everything we thought it was going to be.”

Connie (21) is now in her final year at St. George’s University in Grenada. She became eligible for a fee-paying place at the US university when she completed her pre-veterinary science certificate at the University of Nottingham, which is affiliated to St. George’s.

Veterinary studies are a break with family tradition for Connie, who comes from a family of dentists, but she says she had no hesitation in accepting a place at the Caribbean university once she found out that she was eligible:

“The course structure is actually very similar to studying in the UK, although it would be a bit more full-on here,” she said recently. “I do four months in St. George’s at a time and it’s a mixture of all the basics of veterinary medicine together with all the practical aspects.”

At the end of Connie’s time in Grenada next year, she will come home to the UK for a clinical rotation year and after that, she’ll be free to pursue her veterinary science career.

As for the trip to South Africa, Connie says that this – and the opportunity to work with Dr Fowlds – was “a real confidence booster” for her:

“I made some amazing contacts and I was able to network with the people from South Africa as well and the others who were on the trip. It was very reassuring for me personally to be able to put everything that I had learned into practice. I was taking bloods while under pressure and administering medication in a very fast-paced environment and you have to be very confident in what you’re doing.”

An internship is available to those who have completed the course which Connie did and she says that this is something she would definitely consider:

“This was such a worthwhile experience and I would really love to go back,” she added. “I have to say that doing this has opened my eyes. I am in the position that I don’t have to focus on anything specific right now and I know that there are lots of different avenues that I could go down. I really want to explore everything that I can before I make a final decision.” NIVT