Sept. 8, 2020

Expanded UCalgary vet med class kicks off Day One with hands-on learning

Mid-pandemic, Faculty of Veterinary Medicine welcomes first 51-student cohort in the program’s history
First class
First class

Even without a global pandemic, 2020 was going to be different for incoming first year students at the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine (UCVM). The Class of 2024 has the distinction of being the largest cohort of new students in the faculty’s history, with 51 future veterinarians, up from the previous 30.

The expansion of the class marks a significant investment in funding and a vote of confidence from the Government of Alberta, says Dr. Baljit Singh, dean of UCVM. “Our college’s teaching research programs have attained a degree of program quality and international recognition that the Government of Alberta recognized and saw as an opportunity to further invest in a unique homegrown program that graduates veterinarians to support communities across the province.”

To accommodate the larger class size, UCVM’s Spy Hill campus has just completed a significant expansion. Over the last three years, there has been nearly $26 million of construction, including $8 million finished this summer.

“The expansion of the program would not have been possible without the support of the university, and provincial and federal governments, as well as the Alberta Veterinary Medical Association (ABVMA),” says Singh.

  • Photo above: First-year Vet Med students participate in their first anatomy lab. Photo by Adrian Shellard

Second-year student checks on a dog.

Adrian Shellard

More Alberta veterinarians and veterinary technicians

“UCalgary is so proud to welcome 20 additional students to the Class of 2024,” said Dr. Dru Marshall, provost and vice-president (academic). “This additional investment by the Government of Alberta will result in an increased number of veterinarians, which will directly impact and improve animal welfare in our province.”

The larger class size means more veterinarians serving Alberta in the future. It also means hiring extra faculty and support staff to bolster teaching and research, which will result in more knowledge and community support for animal owners.

This is a big win in the eyes of Dr. Kirsten Aarbo, president of the ABVMA. “We’re very excited about the expanded class,” says Aarbo. “There is a shortage of veterinarians and veterinary technicians in Alberta and the support of UCVM and the government to help fill more seats in veterinary programs with more bright minds is a positive step.”

Aarbo sees this as great progress towards the ABVMA’s goal of Alberta becoming a leader in veterinary research, especially in the field of zoonotic diseases (those transmitted from animals to people), which is critical to the health of both humans and animals, and to preventing future outbreaks like COVID-19.

Second-year student gives a horse a check up in clinical skills lab.

Second-year student gives a horse a check up in clinical skills lab.

Adrian Shellard

Donor-supplied equine teaching equipment 

A timely donation of $100,000 from the Equine Foundation of Canada (EFC) enables UCVM to buy valuable equine teaching simulators to help in educating the expanded class. This includes a clinical teaching package with equine GI tract and colic simulators, power float dental kits, digital stethoscopes, and an ECG.

“These are really fabulous teaching models with realistic parts,” says EFC President Bob Watson, of the equine simulators. “The EFC board is really happy that students will have more of these useful learning tools.”

The EFC is a longtime supporter of UCVM, funding some $273,000 in equipment and student scholarships since the faculty’s inception. And while the EFC supports all Canadian veterinary programs, Watson particularly likes UCVM’s emphasis on building patient relationships and providing the opportunity for hands-on learning in the veterinary practices that comprise the Distributed Veterinary Learning Community (DVLC). Students spend their final year honing their skills in DVLC practicum rotations across Alberta.

“People are really attached to their horses and it’s important that students get lots of practical experience so they can learn good bedside manner,” Watson says. “The focus UCVM puts on that is invaluable.”

Derrick Zhang and Brooke Whitmarsh pictured outside the anatomy lab on their first day in the vet med program.

Derrick Zhang pictured outside the anatomy lab on his first day in the vet med program.

Adrian Shellard

Bigger class size still feels intimate to first years

For first-year UCVM students Brooke Whitmarsh and Derrick Zhang, the expanded class still feels small compared to their larger undergrad programs.

“Everyone has been super nice,” says Whitmarsh. “My undergrad program had 1,500 people in it, so this feels small to me, actually knowing faces when I come into the building.”

Zhang agrees. “I came from a faculty of just under 200 students,” he says. “I’m looking forward to meeting everyone and actually being able to put names to faces. Everyone has been super nice and helpful. I really enjoy working with my classmates.”

As for starting school in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic, both are optimistic, even if it’s caused a few obstacles.

“Just today I went out the door to go to my first anatomy lab and forgot my mask. I had to turn around and that’s why I showed up a bit late,” Zhang explains to Whitmarsh, who was one of his anatomy lab partners. “Hopefully, as we continue on through this pandemic, things will get a bit smoother and we’ll continue to help and support each other during this tough time.”

“It’s been a little chaotic,” adds Whitmarsh. “I think for the faculty, as well, just trying to figure everything out. But you can’t ignore the opportunity to go to vet school. It’s not how we wanted it or expected it, but we’re trying to make the best of it as it is.”

Despite pandemic issues, their enthusiasm for starting this program hasn’t been dampened. In fact, it’s palpable.

When asked what they were most looking forward to they had this to say:

“Working with live animals,” says Zhang emphatically.

“Starting a program that’s oriented towards my profession,” said Whitmarsh. “I’m excited about every class on my schedule.” Zhang nods in agreement.

Derrick Zhang and Brooke Whitmarsh pictured outside the anatomy lab on their first day in the vet med program.

Brooke Whitmarsh outside the anatomy lab.

Adrian Shellard