Vets around the World – Mariana

20 August 2020 – World Vets

Hello to all readers, I’m Mariana, a Portuguese aquatic animal veterinarian, currently working on the sunny Caribbean island of Curaçao. I graduated back in 2014 at UTAD, Vila Real Portugal.
I knew since I was a kid that I would work with marine mammals so I dedicated my vet school years to learning as much as possible about marine mammal medicine. Attending conferences and engaging in special courses on the topic was a great way to start connecting with veterinarians and professionals in this field. I wrote my Master’s thesis on dolphin milk composition and initial guidelines for a zoological milk bank while doing my clinical rotation at Zoomarine, Portugal. I presented it at the 2015 EAAM Conference in Sweden, and while I was there, I found out about this tiny island off the coast of Venezuela.
Three months later I started my first job as a junior veterinarian/dolphin trainer. This professional mix was for sure interesting and challenging, and I realized how much time I had spent learning about dolphin diseases and, there I was, not knowing much of their normal behavior and social interactions. As this was my first year out of school, I decided to complement my knowledge and skills by volunteering at a small animal/exotic practice that also rehabilitated wild fauna! A year later I was hired as a part-time associate veterinarian.
This kept me pretty busy (most of my weeks, I would have a half day off), and so far, it all sounds like a dream come true. Well, it did not come without some challenges… I moved across the Atlantic by myself, and it wasn’t long before I missed my family, friends and the feeling of being home. Curaçao has a Dutch cultural presence alongside the African-Caribbean, and these two cultures could not be more different! Adjusting to the two at the same time was not an easy task. It took me two years until I felt completely adjusted to the island, mostly due to the social component. Learning basic Dutch (the official language on the island) proved to be easier than expected, and Papiamento (the local official language) is very similar to Portuguese and Spanish, so it was always fun to learn new words.
I have been in Curaçao for five years and I am now head veterinarian at the local aquarium, caring for an amazing dolphin family, sea lions, nurse and lemon sharks, green and loggerhead turtles, southern stingrays, and hundreds of Caribbean fish species. My job could not be more diverse, challenging and rewarding! Being on this tiny sunny island has also made possible for me to establish relationships with so many people from different origins and backgrounds. All of the life experiences and the knowledge that I have gathered are so special and unique! It has made this whole experience so worth it, and the easy and hard lessons have made me a better veterinarian, and more than that, a better human.
Looking back, this was the best decision that I made for my professional career and personal life. I hope my story helps you to challenge yourself and take an opportunity outside of your comfort country.