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doctors in italy group photo
Jemma Baird (in yellow) with her Doctors in Italy fellowship group.

When University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa alumna Jemma Baird saw the chance for hands-on experience at animal rescues in Italy, she jumped at the opportunity. The animal science (pre-veterinary) major earned her bachelor’s degree in May 2022. Originally from Tucson, Arizona, Baird moved to Hawaiʻi to pursue marine biology, but decided to pursue animal science because of her interest in working with domesticated animals and livestock.

baird carrying a dog

Upon graduating, Baird applied and was accepted to participate in the Doctors in Italy Fellowship Program this past summer. The program, which creates international experiences to prepare future healthcare professionals for their careers, offered a pre-vet track to work alongside veterinarians and animal carers at well-known animal rescue organizations in Italy.

“I came across an email from Doctors in Italy to participate in this ‘life-changing, career-enhancing adventure’ in Italy,” said Baird. “I still had to apply to veterinary school, so in the meantime I thought it would be a perfect option for me to gain more field experience and explore Italy at the same time.”

She participated in a two-week summer program that included a combination of lectures and practical activities held at an animal clinic, a museum of comparative anatomy and at two sanctuaries that hosted equids (family of animals that includes horses), large and small ruminants (mammals that chew cud), small animals, exotic animals and wildlife.

Baird spent her days getting involved with everything from daily care, to special needs and veterinary checks.

“I helped the vets clean wounds on sheep in the fields. I vaccinated horses. I helped feed the animals too. We spent most of our time in sanctuaries,” Baid explained.

Baird with Sea Life Park’s Hawaiian Monk Seal, Kekoa.

“Jemma showed to be a very enthusiastic and proactive student, and had a particular passion towards pursuing a career as cetacean veterinarian,” said Marta Bonsi, a veterinarian and program coordinator with Doctors in Italy. “However, she demonstrated a great interest towards all the different aspects of the veterinary field she was engaged in, from small animal to farm animal and equine practice. I wish Jemma all the best for her future career.”

As a student, Baird was active in various activities and enjoyed her time at UH Mānoa.

“I was an event coordinator in the Pre-Veterinary Club for two years and was also on the UH women’s sailing team for four years. I loved it! I met most of my friends on the team. We traveled to California and Florida for regattas,” she said.

With no veterinarian schools in Hawaiʻi, Baird has applied to various schools on the continental U.S. As she awaits her acceptance, she works as a seabird caretaker at Sea Life Park and provides lectures to the public about their Hawaiian monk seal, Kekoa, and Humboldt penguins. Baird is also a vet assistant at VCA University Animal Hospital, where she assists four veterinarians.

Baird encouraged other pre-vet (or health science) students looking for a study abroad experience where they can shadow doctors in a clinical setting to apply for the fellowship.

“It was one of the best abroad options for pre-vet students at UH,” she said. “It is a great opportunity to meet and learn from vets in Italy and was one of the most memorable trips I’ve ever taken.”

For more information, go to the Doctors in Italy website.

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