U of C’s first veterinary medicine graduates

By Michael Grondin

Animal health affects the economy, tourism and environmental health in Alberta. The University of Calgary recognized this and established a veterinary school in 2008 to give students hands-on, relevant training. On May 10, the first graduates of the veterinary medicine program will cross the stage.

“It was a new program. It was an adventure and a risk, and I think we were all risk takers getting into the first class,” said Kelsey Shacker, one of the programs first 30 graduates. “We’re all glad we went through it.”

According to the faculty of veterinary medicine dean Alastair Cribb, in the early 2000s many diseases — like mad cow disease and the West Nile virus — struck the animal population in Alberta which meant that strong veterinarians were needed.

“Everybody realized that we needed more veterinarians in Alberta. We weren’t educating enough, and we weren’t educating veterinarians with the right interests and the right set of skills,” said Cribb. “We want to make sure our graduates have the ability to do the things they need to do while having a strong scientific foundation.”

The veterinary medicine program is unique, in that it integrates basic clinical science with theoretical and hands on learning, research and communication skills, said Cribb.

Students have the knowledge to help animals and the technical skills to carry out their work.

There is a large range of different areas of study — everything from animal production, ecosystem health, public health and several other clinical areas. The program currently has 90 graduate students researching animal health.

“It is a broad, comprehensive program, so the students can pursue any career path in veterinary medicine they want,” said Cribb.

The program is spread across two campuses — one is at the Foothills campus and the other is at Spy Hill campus in Calgary’s north, a large research facility with plenty of land, up-to-date equipment and animals on site.

Shacker said the program gives students a chance to follow their dream of helping animals.

“Students are proving people wrong. Whatever you dream of, dream big and go for it — don’t let anyone stop you,” she said. “We’re doing something we all love to do and we all want to do.”

Shacker said the program gives students several practicum, internship and other off-campus work opportunities to branch out in the field.

“The thing that’s different with our program, [compared with] another veterinary program or school, is the amount of hands-on training we receive with the animals from the get-go,” said Shacker, adding that she will begin work at a small animal clinic in Olds. Veterinarians are in high-demand and most of her classmates will be working throughout the country within the next month.

Cribb said the program has exceeded expectations, and what the students have learned has given them many opportunities.

“There is a much better understanding that there is a very close relationship between animal health, human health and the health of our environment,” said Cribb, adding that the program will continue to strive for excellence in educating veterinarians in Alberta. “If our students can understand these relationships and their impacts, we can increase health in all of these areas.”

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