Conservation Veterinary Medicine Field Externship

A veterinary externship on the front lines of conservation

Veterinary Medicine has emerged as a key conservation discipline helping to combat the decline of species and habitat worldwide. You will gain a profound perspective into delicate tropical ecosystems, and the conservation challenges we face in biodiverse, less-developed settings. Different than a volunteer program, CARES is centered on your personal and professional development, and the development of leadership skills and creativity required in any area of veterinary medicine.

CARES Project is an applied conservation medicine program in a field setting so that you may put yourself in the shoes of the veterinarian. The conservation veterinarian may have many roles such as:.
Wildlife Medicine
Although our focus is on the big picture of conservation and ecosystem health, we care for individual animals to: prevent suffering of injured and orphaned animals, return reproductively viable animals to fulfill their niche roles, and very importantly, observe these animals as sentinels to maintain knowledge about what is occurring in the environment.

Other roles of the conservation veterinarian include:
Supporting biologists and the other conservation disciplines, in research, captive breeding, animal management and monitoring
Educating the local community as well as generalized audience.
Protecting public health, we encounter the One Health concept everyday
Controlling pet animal population and disease- with limited veterinary access in a developing country we often pitch in.
Participating in board decisions, project design consultation, grant oversight

CARES Project Costa Rica seeks to support students studying veterinary medicine at AVMA-accredited schools, and the minimum standards set by the AVMA Council on Education. CARES Project veterinary care is founded upon the AVMA Animal Welfare Principles, for humane and best practices. You will observe how these principles translate to an international field setting.


CARES Project Costa Rica is specialized into tracks specific to:

If you have a date conflict, and must attend a specific month you may inquire about availability.

1. Pre-Veterinary students

Full Externship 4 weeks Summer, Condensed Externship 2 weeks Winter and Summer. May be granted credit by your home university, or as a guest student at our affiliate US university to transfer. 

2. Veterinary 1st and 2nd year

Full Externship 4 weeks Summer, Condensed Externship 2 weeks Winter and Summer

3. Gap Year students

Full Externship 4 weeks, inquire for dates

4. Veterinary 3rd and 4th year students

Full Externship Rotation 4 weeks, inquire for dates (May fulfill a full block clinical out-rotation, inquire with your college)


Student programs differ in what is expected:
  • clinical skill level
  • degree of responsibility
  • medical roles such as surgical assistance, injections and administration of medicines and fluids
  • level of knowledge of anatomy and physiology, infection control protocols, pharmacology, parasitology
  • project and presentation


We know there is a variation in prior experience, and a lot with which to become comfortable. You will have hands on instruction, guidance, and always someone to ask!

There are always aspects of each externship that are unique, seasonal, or unpredictable. Cases and nature are both unpredictable, and as a rescue center we are prepared to be spontaneous responders! 

All Attendees will:

Participate in:

  • Wildlife ICU and rehab center shifts
  • Care of two primate species with distinct physiologies and problems
  • Surgery and emergency procedure assistance 
  • Patient rounds
  • Topic discussions and presentations
  • Onsite labs and demonstrations
  • Offsite field trips
  • Execution of a project described in the syllabus Full externship
  • Evaluation and feedback meetings at weeks 2 and 4

Gain a deeper knowledge and appreciation of the following:

  • What is conservation medicine and how does it differ from exotic and zoo medicine
  • Role of the veterinarian in conservation
  • Which animals can or cannot return to the wild and why
  • Proper protocols to prepare an animal to return to the wild
  • Most common wildlife medical problems 
  • Creativity in medicine; what happens when you don’t have what you need
  • Species anatomical, physiological, and behavioral differences
  • Wildlife care- appropriate enclosures, husbandry, stress reduction, and nutrition
  • Tropical biodiversity, ecological niches and adaptations
  • What threats create conservation problems; the preventions and solutions
  • Primatology as a large part of our patient population
  • Breeding for repopulation of native Scarlet Macaws
  • How sea turtle conservation is performed (July-December)
  • Dogs and cats as invasive species, community medicine in less developed countries, common pet diseases in the tropics

Improvement of skills including:

  • Execution of clinical treatments for wild animals
  • Proper restraint techniques especially with new world primates, what to do with 5 limbs that act as hands
  • Physical exams and hands-off evaluation techniques
  • Identification and treatment of parasites
  • Considerations for, and administration of, medicines to wild species 
  • Suturing techniques
  • Fluid administration
  • Necropsy
  • Syringe and tube feeding techniques
  • Precautions, assessment and resuscitation at site of rescue
  • Care of neonatal and pediatric wild life patients
  • Wound repair and medical care, identifying stages of healing
  • Case management of the most common medical problems we see in wild animals (head/neurological injury especially arboreal species, hit by car, attack wounds, electrocution, orphans)
  • Record keeping
  • Researching and accessing information sources, when there's no reference guide for your species and everything is off-label