Travels without Charlize: More from Uruguay

We discovered veterinary medicine in Uruguay is alive and well. The college of veterinary medicine was started in the second decade of the 20th century and is part of the Universidad de la Republica, the National University. It is the only veterinary school in the country. We found it while on one of our extended neighborhood walks, an easy 20-minute amble from our hotel

Here is a photo of my bearded self with the sign for the veterinary school:

After meeting and talking to both students and faculty, I discovered all education in Uruguay is free. Primary school for six years, secondary school for another six, then a choice between a variety of trade schools or university. I neglected to find out if that choice is determined by an examination, as it is in Europe, or is just a choice by the student. Entrance to veterinary school is directly from secondary school and it is open enrollment. Anyone who graduates from secondary school, on the academic track, is admitted if they apply. Currently anywhere from three to six hundred students enter the program each year. The two faculty members I talked to both said they never know until the first day of school how many students will be present. The second year they lose quite a few students by failing exams or giving up, but still have a heavy load for faculty. Each year the number of students who manage to stay in the program decreases and after five years plus one more year of “thesis” work they usually graduate about a hundred students with a dual degree in veterinary medicine and animal husbandry. The “thesis” work involves doing a project, sometimes what we would call research, and writing a paper about what they accomplished.

The good news is there is full employment for the graduate veterinarians. During our extended walking tours in Montevideo, usually four or more hours each day, we seldom go more than eight to 10 blocks without encountering a veterinary clinic, almost always associated with a pet store and boarding facility. We have not seen a pet dog here that was not well cared for. Even the street dogs and cats appear to be in reasonably good shape. Many of the veterinary students find work in the agricultural industry. Family farms and ranches that they go home to manage, large agribusiness companies that employ them as managers, and plenty of small and large dairy farms –both cattle and goats — provide employment in addition to the pet practices, “mascots” they call them.

Dr. Rodolfo Ungerfeld is the Head of the Department of Physiology. A very kind and friendly Reproductive Physiologist who does some interesting work.

Here I am with Professor Ungerfeld on my right and one of his graduate students on my left:


One of his many project involves reproduction problems in Pampas Deer, a species that used to number in the hundreds of thousands in Uruguay and is now down to only a few thousand. A herd of several hundred are kept in La Reserva de Flora y Fauna del Cerro Pan de Azucar, a zoo/reserve near Sugarloaf Mountain. Pan de Azucar is the third tallest mountain in Uruguay, about 500 or 600 feet above sea level). The place is only a couple of hours from Montevideo by car, so we rented one and took a road trip.

Here is one of the tiny but magnificent Pampas Deer:


We also walked part way up the mountain and got an overview of the reserve.


The other faculty member I had a productive afternoon with is Professor Alejandro Benech. He is in charge of the small animal clinic but taught cardiovascular and respiratory physiology for many years and does some interesting research on ischemia/reperfusion injury of the heart using a sheep model. From the data he showed me, he could be looking at some very important results.

We only have three more days to enjoy Montevideo and we plan to make the most of them. My new friends have graciously invited me to return and give some lectures to their graduate students. We couldn’t do it this trip because next week the whole country shuts down for “Easter Week.” They call it “Tourist Week” because of the serious legal separation between church and state. I hope I will be able to return and give those lectures.

— By Dr. David Gross

Retired veterinarian Dr. David Gross writes about his adventures on the road — this time without his dog Charlize.

  1. Thanks for sharing your experience in Uruguay. I wonder what the unemployment rate is. It appears that their children are able to get an education fairly easily. I wonder what we can learn from their practices.

  2. Always good to hear from you David.I know very little or nothing of Uruguay,so thank you for this.
    Education wise at least it seems they are very evolved. I wonder if that extends to normal medical school as well.
    Are their humans as well cared for as their animals?
    I wish you a good continued trip and a good voyage home.

  3. Overall unemployment in Uruguay is very low. Fewer street people than we see in Seattle for certain. There is a building boom but it seems to take a long time to finish a job because the workers get hired away from the job they are on to work on a new job. The trade unions are very strong as well and most jobs are unionized. Salaries are highly regulated by the government. ALL education is free, including medical school. All citizens are provided with health care and hospitalization free but everyone has the option of private care. The average private health insurance costs, I’m told, are about $100 US dollars per month. Of course taxes are very high. The sales tax for most goods (except food) is 20%, 10% for food. Luxury items are 30%. There are also property taxes and income taxes. The country is quite socialized and many things are controlled that we would probably not be happy about, but the people seem very happy and content with their lives. There are going to be elections soon and there is a lot of politicking at the local level. One day in 2005 the President of the country decided the Government was spending way too much money on tobacco related diseases so he banned smoking in any building, even in the home. Amazingly it works, nobody smokes indoors here, but still more smoking in the streets than we see in Seattle.

  4. I’m told that medical care here is quite good, but I cannot vouch for that. I’m pretty certain you can get very good care buy finding the best specialist you can and paying for his or her services directly, also much better hospital care if you can go to a private hospital rather than one of the many public hospitals.

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