Report to Chancellor Vanderhoef
 Veterinary School Visit, University of Tehran, Iran
Linda S Clark, DVM, MA

Linda with Vet School Hosts

Land of terrorists.
Arch enemies of the United States.
    Or Not.

I recently completed a two week visit (April 25 - May 10, 2009) to Iran under the auspices of Neighbors East and West which combined my interests in veterinary medicine, people to people peace mongering and foreign travel. Neighbors East and West is an organization dedicated to lessening international tensions and promoting peace through sister city and grass-roots people-to-people contacts. In the past they sponsored trips to the former Soviet Union and Cuba.

Prior to leaving I talked with UC Davis Chancellor Vanderhoef, Assistant Vice Provost Robert Kerr and Veterinary School Dean Bennie Osburn about furthering connections between the veterinary schools at UC Davis and those at the Universities of Tehran and Shiraz. I also talked with three Iranian veterinarians currently enrolled in the MPVM (Master of Preventative Veterinary Medicine) program at UC Davis. I made contact with20two veterinarians in Iran, Dr. Vadood Razavilar of the University of Tehran who completed his MPVM and PhD degrees at UCD and Dr. Sadar Jafari who also completed an MPVM at UCD. Both men arranged with their respective deans for me and several members of my group to tour their respective veterinary schools. Unfortunately the two days we had in Shiraz were on the weekend which precluded visiting the school there. Most of the following comments will, therefore, refer to the veterinary school at the University of Tehran although I am confident that much I have to say applies to both schools and likely the other veterinary schools in Iran.

There are five government veterinary schools in Iran and a number of private ones with the government ones being considered more prestigious. Students completing high school take a nation wide college entrance exam. In 2001 something on the order of 1.5 million students took this exam. Their score on this exam determines their choice of university  and also which majors are open to them. The veterinary school curriculum is a six year program resulting in a DVM (Doctor of Veterinary Medicine) degree. Besides courses relating to veterinary medicine students are also required to take courses in Farsi (Persian language), English, computer proficiency, and Islamic studies. While the emphasis is on food animal technology (cattle, sheep, goats, camels, poultry, fish and food safety) equine and small animal medicine is also taught. There are no post-DVM exams comparable to national and st ate board exams required of graduating veterinary students in the United States.

The University of Tehran was established 100 years ago by Reza Shah. The School of Veterinary Medicine there is 70 years old. After the 1978-79 Islamic revolution public Friday prayer was instituted by the government. The University of Tehran campus is one of many places in Iran where these prayers take place. At present there are about 300 undergraduate students and 100 post-graduate students in the veterinary school. At least 50% of the students are female. As in this country when I graduated in 1980, job opportunities for women in equine and food animal medicine and surgery are limited to non-existent. Many women veterinarians look for positions with veterinary pharmacies or in academia.

Ten of our group of 24 people elected to tour the veterinary school. The group included myself, a retired small animal emergency veterinarian, a retired MD internal medicine specialist, a retired nurse, a Montana cowboy, a practicing environmental attorney, a retired college physics professor and several other retired teachers. All of us have an interest in establishing people to people contacts in other countries, especially those countries considered as something other than allies by our government and/or theirs, in the interest of peaceful co-operation between nations. We are also interested in facilitating international exchanges of scientific ideas and information.

VetSchool                                                    Vet Students at Bus Stop

The undergraduate teaching facilities and the small animal teaching hospital are in the city of Tehran  A fascinating mixture of old and new, Tehran itself is one of the largest cities in the world with a population of fifteen plus million. The food animal facilities are on the outskirts of the city. Time constraints did not allow us to visit them.

Linda and host Mohammed

Upon arrival we were ushered into a conference room and presented with coffee and snacks while we discussed the purpose of our visit with Dr. Akhoondzadeh, advisor to the Dean of the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine on International Relations,  Dr. Razavilar, Professor of Food Safety, Dr. Alireza Bahonar, Department of Epidemiology, Dr. Molazem, veterinary radiologist, Dr. Akbarein, veterinary epidemiologist, and Dr. Omid Nekouie, veterinary epidemiology.  

Poster Session

We were then given a tour of several of the teaching laboratories. I was reminded of the facilities in Haring Hall when I was a student in the late 1970’s, that is, old but perfectly adequate for the task at hand even if not “state of the art“ as current students at UC Davis enjoy.  In a food microbiology lab we observed students  plating Petrie dishes with E. coli. We observed one of the food hygiene labs where milk is tested. All milk in Iran, except that produced locally in small villages, is pasteurized. Food safety issues are taken seriously in Iran.
Anesthesia lab
We also visited an anesthesia lab where students were using rabbits to learn about a variety of anesthetic drugs including ether, thiopental, ketamine, and zylazine, as well as intubation tech niques.  As in the United States, Iranian veterinary schools contend with animal rights activists.

After viewing a variety of laboratories we crossed a wide busy street to the small animal teaching hospital. Again the facilities, while clearly dated, seemed both adequate and clean to me. No statistics are kept regarding numbers of pets owned in Iran. Pets include dogs, cats, hamsters, tropical fish, lizards, snakes, and the Persian squirrel. Dogs, but not other canines, are considered unclean in Islam and are technically forbidden under Islamic law. Not withstanding, we not only saw many dogs being used for herding sheep and goats in the countryside (presumably a legal usage) but also talked with many people who keep dogs as pets. Like pet owners everywhere, dog owners in Iran love their dogs. City dogs must be kept inside. It is illegal to walk them on the streets because of the risk of contaminating people. Humane euthanasia is permitted under Islamic law. We observed several canine and feline patients interacting with their concerned owners, and being examined by students and hospital clinicians. We also inspected the hospital surgical and radiographic facilities.
Radiology Lab                                  Linda and Students
Upon returning to the main portion of the school  we saw a small but fascinating museum relating to animals and veterinary medicine before going into the veterinary student cafeteria where we were served a delicious lunch and treated to more conversation with our hosts as well as engaging with several of the undergraduate students.  In the words of one of my fellow travelers,  “I enjoyed the luncheon, and enjoyed the informal conversation that went with it.”
Cafeteria                   Cafeteria
To quote another fellow traveler, “I was certainly impressed with how gracious and welcoming all our hosts were at the vet school. Certainly they treated us like honored guests. They opened the entire school to us and showed us as much as they could.”  This was our third day in Iran. We soon came to realize the warmth and graciousness, the hospitality, the desire to interact with Americans, the concern that we enjoy as fully as possible our visit to Iran was not unique to veterinary school personnel.  Everywhere we went in Iran we were treated the same, often being told “we love Americans.” Iranians have no trouble distinguishing between “official” government policies, ours and theirs, and the thoughts and feelings of ordinary people.

The purpose and significance of the visit to the veterinary school was not, of course, to enjoy Iranian hospitality, as enjoyable as that was for us.  Some additional comments from the group support the primary significance, that of facilitating the exchange of ideas and people between the US and Iran.  “For me the opportunity to engage with the Iranian scientific community (in a very small scope) was one of the most positive aspects of my visit to Iran.” “I was very much impressed with the apparent level of research which they were performing.” “It felt quite comfortable to me that the grad students and professors talked to us about how science crosses political borders and how they very much want more exchanges with their counterparts in other parts of the world.” “I was interested to find out that the areas of animal epidemiology and food safety were combined together as an area of research; perhaps that is common, but it surprised me.” “I was oblivious to the topic of infectious diseases that can occur in human beings and the rest of the animal world; veterinary science is so much more than keeping pet dogs and cats healthy and happy!” I had some good (although short) conversations with a couple of the faculty on brucellosis. That is of interest in Montana, since it is endemic in Bison and Elk, and some controversy exists over the extent to which that can affect the cattle industry. It was interesting to learn that the Iranian approach to the disease is to manage it, rather than try to eradicate it - at least that was my take on the responses I received.

Almost from the beginning of our initial discussion in the conference room it was abundantly clear to me that Iranian veterinarians, from students to senior faculty are eager to engage in new contacts, as well as build on already existing contacts with their counterparts in America, and in particular in Davis. Students want to do externships. They also want to come for the MPVM program and to participate in PhD and post-doctoral programs. (There are Iranian students participating i n these programs at Davis, but not nearly as many as would like to do so.) Faculty members want to come as visiting professors and for sabbaticals. Many faculty members asked that I put them in touch with their respective counterparts at the veterinary school at UC Davis so they may begin an exchange of ideas and discussions of common areas of research and interest. I’ve been assured that UC Davis veterinary students would be welcomed to do externships or other types of studies at the veterinary school of the University of Tehran. Since English is widely spoken they do not envision language differences as presenting problems for Davis students.  I believe, had I had the authority to do so, those with the authority to do so for the veterinary school in Tehran would have signed almost any accords or memorandums of understanding necessary to facilitate these types of exchanges on the spot. They were, I think, disappointed to learn I had no such official capacity.

 I did come back having promised almost everyone I talked with there that I would do everything in my limited power to facilitate such interactions. 
 Here are some thoughts regarding what I can do.

A.    I am putting together a power point presentation of my trip to Iran. I would like to do a presentation for interested
       veterinary school faculty and students stressing the benefits of such exchanges.

B.    I also want to talk with individual faculty encouraging them to engage in contacts with their counterparts in Tehran.
C.    I intend to send letters to the CVMA and JAVMA encouraging practitioners to do likewise. I have talked briefly with
        Dr. Saud Joseph, former chair of the Middle East/South Asia department and will follow up with her in the future.  
        Indeed, that department’s brochure on Iranian studies refers to “UC Davis’ vision of internationalizing the campus with
        academic partnerships, exchange of students and scholars, and cultural cooperation with Iran.”

On the flight home I was fortunate to be seated beside Dr. David Bunn, project manager at the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine Wildlife Health Center. He indicated part of his job is to facilitate exchanges between veterinarians at UC Davis and several African countries and that he is looking to expand those exchanges to other countries. I am open to suggestions as to what more I might do as a private individual or perhaps even as an “official” representative of UC Davis. To again quote fellow travelers, “What I am firmly convinced of is the world‘s crying need for more healthy, friendly contacts among young people in every country!” “I would expect that some kind of exchange arrangement would be good in many ways, since international tensions often can be reduced through academic exchanges, and both sides would profit and learn from the other.”

Postscript: I forwarded a copy or this to the people at the veterinary school at the University of Tehran
hoping to give them the opportunity to add whatever comments they wis hed. Unfortunately pre- and
more particularly post- election turmoil in Iran precludes my chances of receiving such in a timely