First Person: Claire Brunner, V24

International externship experience reinforces purpose as a doctor
A smiling student with short brown hair dressed in a long sleeve gray shirt wearing glasses and holding a small brown puppy with white paws
Fourth-year D.V.M. student, Claire Brunner holding a puppy she spayed during one of her surgical campaigns. Photo: Monali Faldu

In her own words, Claire Brunner, V24, recently returned from a fourth year externship and reflected on her experience.

Leaving for the airport to fly to Ecuador for my Amici Cannis externship, I was exhausted. I was exhausted from a grueling medicine rotation, feeling disconnected from my purpose as a veterinarian, and an insufferably long winter in Massachusetts. For months prior, a sense of apathy and detachment from my future as a veterinarian had plagued me and left me questioning if this path was right for me. I boarded the plane with few expectations and was mainly looking forward to nice weather and good food.

When I landed, I found a warm and welcoming team that embraced me with open arms, an incredible community of people nestled between stunning mountains, and a population of animals that needed our help. Throughout my weeks in Cotacachi, I received phenomenal surgical coaching. I transitioned from needing direct supervision on every surgery to confidently tackling ten spays in a row by myself, including pregnant dogs, pyometra, and dogs in heat. I managed trauma cases, sepsis patients, and parvo. I learned about resourcefulness and creativity in the face of limited funds and materials. The depth and quality of my medical and surgical experience will set me up for continued success in entering my first job after school. Knowing that I am prepared and competent as a veterinarian has given me the confidence to step up to the surgical table on that first day.

Working with the patients at Amici Cannis furthered my medical skills and reconnected me to my purpose as a doctor. The impact we made daily was palpable, and the work I did every day felt meaningful. Working with local community members while teaching and learning from each other was incredibly rewarding.

While it would be easy to say that the best part about my experience was the medicine, that is far from the truth. The most important lessons and wonderful memories came from the people. With a bit of effort (and some messy Spanish), I could engage with and learn from so many people who were different from me. Hearing their stories while sharing food, taking a cab ride, or strolling through town rapidly expanded my worldview. It taught me more about community, family, and cultural values than I expected.

On the drive to the airport to fly home, I used my rapidly improved Spanish to chat with my taxi driver. I told him about the adventures I had, friends I made, and patients I saw, and he asked me when I would be returning. As I turned back to watch the lights of the Cotacachi disappear between the volcanic peaks, I smiled and said, “Soon.”

Education through service

Tufts University Veterinary Alumni Association’s International Alumni-Student Service Program sends fourth-year D.V.M. students on two-week externships in Ecuador each spring. Students gain valuable primary surgical experience caring for street dogs at the Amici Cannis Hospital in Cotacachi. Mentored by Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine alumni, students are introduced to a different perspective of veterinary medicine in a global setting. Interested in supporting this program?

Every year, we look for alumni to mentor student participants. We will be matching students with their alumni mentors in the next few months for Spring 2025. Scholarship funds are also needed each year to make this opportunity accessible to all students. Please contact Dr. Katie Holmes, V13 at for more information.