Seal laying on the beach in the Galapagos Islands
Black and White headshot of IndeVets Employee Courtney
Words by:
Courtney Norjen, DVM — Veterinarian

I recently had the incredible opportunity to travel to the Galapagos Islands to volunteer with World Vets! World Vets is an international veterinary aid organization that operates in over 45 countries. Their goal is to provide veterinary care to underserved areas of the world through volunteer programs and in-country veterinary training programs for sustainable continued care. The care their teams provide to companion animals, livestock, and street animals helps to keep animal populations healthy and helps to protect the public health in these communities.

A dream trip come true

I had wanted to volunteer with World Vets since before I was even a veterinary student. I wrote about using my skills as a veterinarian to benefit animals and people worldwide by volunteering with World Vets as part of my personal statement for my vet school application. Two years after I graduated from veterinary school, I signed up for my first World Vets trip. I was going to travel to Cusco, Peru, for a spay and neuter campaign and to teach veterinary students small animal surgery. I was SO excited. Unfortunately, this was scheduled for May 2020, and COVID interrupted those plans. Earlier this year, World Vets started opening up international volunteer opportunities again. About 6 minutes after I received the email that there was a trip to the Galapagos Islands in December 2022, I signed up and booked my flights.

Not only had I wanted to volunteer with World Vets for years, but the Galapagos Islands have also been my dream destination since I was a kid. I’d read so much about the unique wildlife species that call the islands home. As a veterinarian and lover of all animals, I wanted the opportunity to see these animals in their natural habitats. Traveling to the Galapagos Islands with World Vets was an absolute dream come true!


Exploring the Galapagos

The trip was ultimately the perfect balance of work and play. Nineteen volunteers from all over North America arrived on San Cristobal Island the weekend before the campaign for orientation and some group activities. We went to the veterinary clinic where we’d be working that week to learn the flow of the clinic and become familiar with the equipment we’d be working with. After our orientation day, we traveled to the Centro de Crianza de Tortugas Terrestres (Giant Tortoise Breeding Center) to see the Galapagos Giant Tortoises! It was AMAZING. After going on a short hike through the tortoise habitat and seeing plenty of these magnificent creatures, we traveled to a beautiful beach. We saw sea lions swimming in the water and napping on the beach. Little did I know that this would be a common sight throughout the week!


Time to practice vet med

On Monday morning, our work began. We arrived at the clinic early in the morning to start receiving our patients for surgery. All of our patients on this campaign were dogs and cats owned by the people living on the island. We had a team of volunteers checking patients in and giving them their pre-medications for surgery, another group inducing anesthesia and prepping the patients for surgery, a couple of doctors performing spays, neuters, and other necessary procedures, and a final team recovering the patients after surgery. While the protocols and equipment used on our patients on this campaign were much different than what I’m used to for my patients that I perform surgery on in Virginia, all our patients did wonderfully throughout surgery and recovery and went home to very grateful owners. Over the 3-day campaign, we spayed and neutered 150 dogs and cats. This prevents certain medical issues and cancers that unspayed and unneutered dogs are predisposed to, but it also helps to keep companion animal populations in check. The Galapagos Islands are home to many unique species of animals. Keeping the populations of these animals balanced is extremely important for the islands’ biodiversity.

Veterinarians performing surgery


In the end

At the end of the campaign, we had a few days left on the island to explore! We went snorkeling, walked around the island for wildlife spotting, relaxed on the beautiful beaches, and explored the many places to eat and drink in town. The 19 volunteers who came together as strangers at the beginning of the week parted ways as friends. The entire experience was incredible, and I can’t wait to sign up for another World Vets trip when the opportunity arises!


Veterinarinans volunteering for World Vets in the Galapagos Islands