‘Get on the AO VET path’
02 September 2020
Former AO VET Latin America Board member Sergio Arias discusses his commitment to education, the AO VET path that he believes is fundamental to success in veterinary orthopedics, and milestones in his region.
What is your educational background?
I am a veterinarian: I graduated from La Salle University in Colombia in 1997 with an internship in small animal surgery at the University of Buenos Aires (UBA) in Argentina in 1999. I earned a Master of Science degree in veterinary clinics and surgery from the Federal University of Minas Gerais in Brazil in 2001 and a PhD in clinical sciences and pathology focused on orthopedics at the same institution in 2007. During the magister program, I worked on the use of “chondroprotectors” for the treatment of cranial cruciate ligament rupture. For my doctorate, I worked on total hip replacement coated with a bioactive material—biphasic calcium phosphate—and the further radiographic, pathologic, kinetic and kinematic analysis. After that, I made the good decision in 2009 to complete my education through AO VET, starting with the principles course and, from there, several advanced courses, and a fellowship in 2019 at Tufts University in the United States. As a visiting scholar, I did externships at Ohio State University in the United States in 2010 and at Cornell University, also in the United States, in 2012.
Where are you now and what do you do?
I’m a faculty member at the technologic and pedagogic university, Universidad Pedagógica y Tecnológica de Colombia (UPTC), in the small animal clinics area, specifically in the graduate orthopedics and surgery programs. I am the former chief of surgery at the University of La Salle, where I attained the title of titular professor in surgery in 2014. In addition to my UPTC work, I am the director of the referral veterinary center OrthoVet Colombia located in Bogotá, Distrito Capital (DC), which accounts for the bulk of my practice and case load.
What inspired you to become a veterinary surgeon?
Even as I was a child, I enjoyed dogs. As a matter of fact, I decided to become a veterinarian already when I was seven years old. Once, as I was waiting for my school bus pickup, I saw a dog that had been run over and injured. I decided from that point forward to help animals by means of surgery since, sadly, the dog died afterward. So, I pursued my career knowing that I would at some point be a small animal surgeon. When I graduated from the veterinary college and worked for a while with sports medicine in horses, when it came to treating the stable dog that had sustained a fracture, my horse veterinarian boss advised me to switch to small animal surgery.
“As an AO VET Latin America board member, I had the opportunity to persuade others who have experienced the same difficulties we face as surgeons in Latin America to get on the AO VET path that I took on in 2009. I helped them to solve their surgical and orthopedic issues through AO courses, webinars, and workshops where I was faculty or chair.”
How long have you been involved with AO VET, and what do you consider your major milestones with AO VET Latin America?
I first heard of AO VET when a colleague of mine went to the small animal principles course in Cartagena, Colombia, in 2007. I attended my first AO VET course in San Diego, United States, in 2009. So, I became part of the AO VET community in 2009 and faculty in 2011. But I just gave my first lecture in 2017. Between my first AO VET course and my first lecture, I had to change the awful conditions for doing surgery in Latin America—such as the lack of available, certified, and good plates and instruments—by kind of repairing chronic fractures in patients with one month of evolution and dealing with financial issues of pet owners. My major milestones in Latin America in community development were making the region self-sustaining in terms of AO VET courses activity, persuading surgeons with a low income to become involved with AO VET, and expansion and strengthening of the AO brand.
What achievements are you most proud of at AO VET in general, and in particular in community development, over the past years?
As an AO VET Latin America board member, I had the opportunity to persuade others who have experienced the same difficulties we face as surgeons in Latin America to get on the AO VET path that I took on in 2009. I helped them to solve their surgical and orthopedic issues through AO courses, webinars, and workshops where I was faculty or chair. I strived to strengthen the AO VET name in every single talk in each country I visited all over Latin America, whether they were AO VET events or not. I worked with associations of veterinary medicine and Latin American veterinary colleges looking for young surgeons, as well as veterinarians, residents with special focus in orthopedics. I am proud that all the courses that were held in Latin America that I went to as AO VET faculty were full and I am proud of making AO VET Latin America self-sustaining. That´s why the Latin America region is one of the most growing and important communities within AO VET.
Why should a veterinary surgeon get involved in AO VET governance and apply for a leadership position in our organization?
I think people certainly go through their lives in the cycle of learning and improving; otherwise they would not be open to change and progress with humility. I am committed to continuous self-improvement in order to achieve high quality standards in small animal surgery; one of the ways to do this is by teaching others, since when you teach someone else you improve the most, and if someone has taught you, it is reasonable that you pass to others what you have learned. There is a saying, “The individual might pass and die but institutions do not; they must remain.” In the case of the AO history, this is a given and the legend is ongoing. These are the reasons for one to taking part in AO VET governance. Regardless of one’s age—just have this mindset.
“For those who do not know where they are heading, any bus is good. But if you have a fixed destination, you for sure know what kind of transport is required. Education is the starting point, followed by dedication, and knowing how to do it. Education is the power and the key to success in veterinary orthopedics.”
What does or did being part of the AO VET governance mean to you personally?
I am very thankful to the AO for all of these opportunities provided to me by belonging to the AO VET Latin America Board. This has been my channel for improving my community and region. AO VET was my reason for improving after I graduated with my PhD in Brazil. All the time that I was a member of the AO VET Latin America Board yielded the net outcome of getting to know Latin American veterinarians even better and creating a huge network of friends where everyone comes through for education of the others. It was an excellent opportunity to hear them and became a representative of the culture at least in the northern part of Latin America where, as matter of fact, the problems—such as scarceness of education, implants, and so on—are profound. This was a good opportunity to begin to decrease the region’s differences and bring the region to world standards of care for the veterinary orthopedic patient.
What advice would you give a young veterinary today and what's the best professional advice that anyone ever gave you?
My best advice for a young veterinarian is to follow what he has decided to be in the future and do what it takes to achieve it. So, if a young veterinarian has decided become a veterinary orthopedic surgeon, he or she must do everything that it takes to be a veterinary orthopedic surgeon, and—of course—get on the AO VET path. For those who do not know where they are heading, any bus is good. But if you have a fixed destination, you for sure know what kind of transport is required. Education is the starting point, followed by dedication, and knowing how to do it. Education is the power and the key to success in veterinary orthopedics.
“I am very thankful to the AO for all of these opportunities provided to me by belonging to the AO VET Latin America Board. This has been my channel for improving my community and region. AO VET was my reason for improving after I graduated with my PhD in Brazil.”
SERGIO A. ARIAS Esp MS PhD
UPTC - Masters of Science Small animal Surgery professor - Orthopedics
ORTHOVET Colombia Referral Center - Director