Haiti’s Animal Health Hero: An Interview with Dr. Bradley Coolman, DVM

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In Haiti, the current economy largely depends on agriculture, and with about 2.5 million Haitians living in poverty, owning animals is an important part of people’s livelihoods.

In this interview, Dr. Bradley Coolman, DVM, discusses his work to provide and teach veterinary medicine in Haiti, and the lasting impact veterinarians are making in the country.

This is our entire team of Veterinarians and students this summer. The Haitian man next to me is Acky Fracertine. He is a "veterinary agent". He built the "Ag Horizon Veterinary Training Center", which is the building in the background. I am certain that this is the nicest veterinary clinic and training center in Haiti.

How long have you been working in Haiti, and how did you get started?

The first time that I went to Haiti was actually about 20 years ago when I was a veterinarian in the U.S. Army, but I’ve always had an interest in developmental work and had hoped for an opportunity to go back.

In 2008, an organization called Christian Veterinary Mission (CVM) put out a request for veterinarians to come down to Haiti and help teach basic surgical techniques to veterinary agents (people who have had veterinary training, but are not formally doctors of veterinary medicine).

Our goal was to help them have hands-on experience — doing basic surgery, performing castration, spaying a dog, tying a suture — so they could develop skills that would help them to grow their own practices.

Since that first visit, I’ve gone back six times. We’re always geared towards education and continuing to support those who we’ve helped in the past with their skills and practices.

Here I am teaching our class of veterinary agent students, using a dog with a deep machete wound as a live demonstration. After teaching them about physical examination and patient restraint, we then showed them how to anesthetize the dog and demonstrated the proper techniques to close a deep wound. The dog did great and was returned to its owner the next day. Henry Schein donated some of the supplies that were specifically used in this training and surgery. Thanks!

How would you describe the need for veterinarians in Haiti?

Certainly in most of the world and some of the more impoverished areas like Haiti, people’s own health and their livelihood is closely tied to their animals. Their goats, their pigs, their cattle, their donkeys, their horses, their oxen – if they can have healthy animals, that’s where a lot of their wealth is.

But there aren’t very many veterinarians in Haiti. One of the main problems is that Haitians who have education tend to leave the country. That’s part of the reason for the perpetual poverty and challenges that people face there.

So one realization for veterinarians in Haiti was that if they can enhance their skills, they can provide themselves with a better income and better quality of life, which would also be better for their community.

That’s what makes our work so important. We’re not just treating sick animals. We’re teaching the necessary skills to veterinary agents in Haiti who can continue to help their own communities and make a living.

Here is a 4th year veterinary student working with a goat we had operated on the day before. We had just taught the students that morning about using a stethoscope and thermometer. The students were practicing checking the temperature and listening to the heart and lungs on this patient. Most of these students had never used this type of equipment before. Each student was given his/her own stethoscope and thermometer, along with a "doctor bag" thanks to generous donations.

What makes the work of Christian Veterinary Mission so special?

There are a lot of projects that we’ve been able to help with that are ongoing.

When I went on my first mission in 2008, I met a young man, Acky, who was just out of high school when he came to training for the first time.

Since then, he has been actively involved with CVM and works with the full-time vet down there, Dr. Kelly Crowdis. He’s developed a tremendous vision for wanting to help his country and educate people.

Acky has now built a vet clinic and a school in his hometown. I attended the school’s “kick-off,” with a class of 20 veterinary agents beginning a six-month training program.

Standing there as we were teaching this new class of students, I just thought about how eight years ago this man was just a kid, a student, and now he’s built this incredible facility and is starting a training school.

And I was looking at the 20 students who are from all over the country, and thinking about how many of them will go back to their hometowns with their new skills, and have a vision to help their own communities, too.

It was incredible to me to see how we’ve impacted one person’s life, and now he wants to give that gift to many more people. 

Dr. Coolman is a small animal surgeon in Fort Wayne, Indiana, and an adjunct professor of Veterinary Clinical Sciences at Purdue University. He is actively involved with Christian Veterinary Mission, a nonprofit that helps students and professionals serve their local and global communities by using their veterinary skills.