What makes a good veterinarian or doctor? According to Maya Scott, a clinical professor in the department of physiology and pharmacology at Texas A&M University, a vital ingredient is the ability to think on your feet and solve problems. That’s one of the reasons Scott believes every student should have an opportunity to study abroad.
Scott, a veterinarian in the College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, says she most enjoys teaching and sharing what she knows with students. For the past two summers, she has been the faculty advisor for a total of 12 Texas A&M University undergraduate students who attended classes at the University of Padua in Italy, an experience she believes builds tremendous self-confidence in her students.
“My students have competencies they didn’t have before,” Scott states. “Their problem-solving skills, along with the knowledge that they can handle situations on their own, are all qualities that will be invaluable to them throughout their lives.
“The students bring those skills back to Texas and to their medical or veterinary practices. Those are the people you want to be your doctors or veterinarians.”
Cameron Lancarte, a senior biomedical science major from Flower Mound, Texas, agrees. “I’ve been a Fish Camp counselor for two years and nothing I’ve done could have prepared me for Italy. As Aggies, we are confident in doing things on our own. We have mastered all sorts of subjects, classes and skills. But throw in a different country and it’s like starting from scratch. It’s learning all the time. Traveling abroad helps a student develop into a master planner, gain more critical thinking and a faster decision-making skill set, and that’s only the tip of the iceberg.”
Scott says she jumped at the chance to teach her class at the University of Padua, a renowned 800-year old university in northern Italy.
“At Texas A&M, I usually teach large classes. I incorporate clicker technology (wireless handheld response devices used by the students) in order to get immediate feedback. I like knowing if my students are ‘getting it’ or having trouble right away, so I can tailor my teaching accordingly,” says Scott.
In Italy, the Aggie students, along with a group of veterinary students from Padua, learned about Scott’s specialty, pharmacology, in a small class setting. “Teaching a complex subject to a small group is a wonderful experience,” Scott states. “You get to know your students really well. It’s hard to hide in a group of nine students, so if there’s a problem I can address it quickly.”
“The Texas A&M students were a mix of vet-school and med-school hopefuls, all of whom need grounding in basic pharmacology,” Scott explains. “They need to understand how drugs interact, their adverse effects and when certain drugs are indicated depending on the presenting disease. I always choose diseases or medical issues that affect humans as well as animals so that my non-vet students are getting what they need to know.
“Because it was a small group setting, I was able to be the facilitator. I watched our Aggie undergraduates and the Padua vet students help each other work out problems and come up with solutions,” says Scott. “The students bonded with each other, and I bonded with all of them.”
Studying in Italy also provided Aggies with opportunities to visit pharmacies, drug companies and research laboratories and compare the differences in drug availability and handling in Italy and the United States. Scott says, “They were able to observe the healthcare and insurance systems of the two countries as well as explore the differences in the European and American drug approval processes.
“This is important, because many of my students will continue their studies in professional programs – medicine, dentistry, veterinary medicine – and the opportunity to study in an international setting not only broadens their perspective, but also emphasizes the need for cooperation between countries to impact global health,” adds Scott.
It’s possible the trip to Italy might intimidate some students because of the costs or the logistics involved, Scott says. “In the case of this program, the University of Padua helped offset some of the costs for airfare and housing in order to make the program more accessible for our students. And Study Abroad handled all the visas, housing and money-related issues; they know the protocols for everything. In fact, anything I might have worried about, the Study Abroad team has already thought of and can provide the answer.”
But that doesn’t mean Scott always provided those answers to her students. She says she left much of the problem-solving to them as part of their learning experience.
Lancarte adds, “We were treated as adults from the start, so the entire experience was high-impact learning. Dr. Scott was the perfect “consultant,” but we had to try to plan everything not school-related on our own, from plane tickets to getting bus tickets from the local convenience store. We were assigned things to do that required us to interact with the Italians to make us break out of our bubbles. Spanish was my back up language after my Italian failed me, but the Italians I met tried their best to understand what I wanted and helped me out.”
Scott says that her students were encouraged to travel to new places every weekend. “They navigated international trains, buses and taxis on their own and that was empowering. The program wasn’t just about the classroom; it was about learning all you can about where you’re living and the people who live there. The interactions between the Aggie students and the people of Italy proved to them that they could integrate into a different culture, a skill that will be critical to them in their future careers.”