Samoa's only vet appeals to next generation

The country’s sole veterinarian has appealed to young Samoans to consider taking up veterinary science as a profession.

Having more vets in Samoa has the potential to boost the country’s livestock production and contribute to the agriculture sector over the long-term.  

Dr. Harriet Thornton of the Animal Protection Society (A.P.S.) made the appeal when speaking of the challenges that they currently face during an interview with the Samoa Observer.

Japan International Cooperation Agency (J.I.C.A.) volunteer and A.P.S. colleague, Dr. Rei Kashiyama, completed her two-year contract this month and returned to Japan.

Vet Renee Orange, who was with the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries (M.A.F.), has also left, Dr Thornton added.

Except for another vet who works with the M.A.F. and is based in Savai’i with the Ministry’s Livestock Division, Dr Thornton said she is now the island’s only domestic animal vet.

And while the APS has benefited over the years from the work of visiting vets who filled the gaps, they are finding it difficult to recruit staff on a long-term basis.

"We have been very lucky to have a lot of international volunteers who keep coming back to us to donate their time for which we are very grateful,” she said.

However, promoting long-term staff recruitment also has its challenges, she added as the organisation is a not-for-profit and they do not have funding to pay vets’ salaries.  

But that has not stopped the organisation from moving forward with a plan to boost their capacity, with Dr Thornton revealing that they hired two local clinical assistants, who have been undergoing training in recent months.

Tino Tuionetoa and Faaofo Rachael Allen are A.P.S. staff at the animal protection clinic at Vailima.

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In an interview with this newspaper, both Faaofo and Mr Tuionetoa said they are enjoying the experience despite their lack of education in the subject. 

Faaofo said she is learning as much as she can from Dr Thornton and Mr Tuionetoa said working at the clinic gives him an incentive to gain experience. 

"Both of us have a very small medical background and here we learn as assistants and learning how to help in cleaning wounds, and having many Samoan clients who we try to educate them as we continue to learn,” Mr Tuionetoa added.

The two local staff said they can already see themselves working fulltime as veterinarian assistants. 

Faaofo and Mr. Tuionetoa were picked out of nine applicants for two vacant positions at the clinic with  Dr Thornton indicating they are currently undergoing training. 

"We are training them in very specific responsibilities, and they help me enormously as it's impossible for me to be everywhere at once." 

The clinic has scaled back home visit services but the clinic opens from Monday to Friday. They can also provide emergency home visits, on top of visits to desex animals, but Dr Thornton said they would appreciate people bringing their animals to the clinic. 

"Time wise, the best way for me to help as many animals as possible is for me to be here,” she added. 

And while Dr Thornton and her two staff continue to provide a much needed service for Samoa’s animals, the dream of getting Samoan youngsters to acknowledge the importance of veterinary science is a lifelong passion.

The Samoa Government currently offers a scholarship for anyone keen on taking up the profession, which Dr Thornton described as a highly valued qualification.

"It is a very amazing opportunity not only to go overseas, but get a very highly valued qualification,” she said. "We've had a couple of young teenagers come in and see what we're doing, to encourage them to come in and get them interested in veterinary medicine as a career. It will not only serve them well here, but will also take them around the world." 

According to Dr Thornton, the field of veterinary science opens the door to working for the Government in research and drug development. 

She said her degree enabled her to work in several continents and countries before coming to Samoa.

Update: This article has been amended to reflect the fact that the A.P.S. employs two full-time staff at its Vailima clinic. 

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