April 29, 2022

Vet med student answers the call to serve his country while finishing studies

UCalgary graduate did double duty as pandemic hit, juggling role as army reservist in support of Operation LASER
Ryan Morgan
Ryan Morgan’s very first rehab case during 4th year UCVM rotations was a dog with a fractured scapula. The lucky dog recovered full use of his limb. Ryan Morgan

When COVID-19 hit Canada in early 2020, the Canadian Armed Forces called up its reservists to help respond to the pandemic. One of those reservists was Captain Ryan Morgan, who was finishing his third year of studies in the University of Calgary Faculty of Veterinary Medicine (UCVM) when he got the call. Morgan was called into service as 41 Territorial Battalion Group Operations Officer for Operation LASER, which saw members of the Armed Forces ready to respond to whatever task any government may need during the crisis.

Operation LASER

Brigade Public Affairs

  • Photo above: The Canadian Forces held an event at Mewata Armoury to recognize UCalgary’s support of Ryan Morgan’s participation in Operation LASER. From left: Lt. Colonel Daryl Watts,  commanding officer, King’s Own Calgary Regiment; Dr. Renate Weller; Dr. Robert McCorkell; Scott Sheperd, national chair, Canadian Forces Liaison Council; Capt. Ryan Morgan.

“Essentially, I was the chief planner,” says Morgan (who is now Dr. Morgan, DVM, a graduate of UCVM’s Class of 2021). “The role is sort of a hybrid between being an executive assistant and also having significant responsibilities for planning and executing all tasks.” In Alberta, those tasks included transporting truckloads of personal protective equipment, helping with field hospitals, and being trained and ready to respond to any emergency. 

His military job ramped up in mid-March while he was finishing classwork and studying for his exams in April. “It was a bit insane,” Morgan says. “I was balancing both school and army which was quite a lot. But I felt like I was doing something important.”

And it was a really good opportunity for me to grow personally and professionally by stepping into this role; it was quite a bit outside my comfort zone.

Morgan worked full-time with the military until July 2020. UCVM delayed his fourth-year rotations to start later in the summer. “I started a few months later than the rest of my classmates and gave up some break time,” he says. “I’m very appreciative the faculty was supportive and approved my request. I think they realize that to be a good veterinarian, you need to be a well-rounded person and that's going to look different for each individual.”

“It was an important and confusing time with COVID rearranging everyone’s life. Ryan had an opportunity to contribute and was keen to do it. We recognized immediately that this was something we needed to support, and we worked with Ryan to make it happen,” says Dr. Robert McCorkell, DVM, PhD, associate dean, academics at UCVM. “Serving the community is something that veterinarians do every day and Ryan’s service to his country was a natural extension. We were happy and proud to facilitate.”

Ryan Morgan

Ryan Morgan on a military training exercise near Caroline, AB.

Ryan Morgan

“Ryan is a great example of the tremendous impact our students and alumni have in the community,” says UCVM’s dean, Dr. Renate Weller, DVM, PhD. “Veterinary medicine is a diverse profession and it’s both gratifying and humbling to see the myriad ways our graduates are making things better for animals and people.”

Morgan enrolled in the Canadian Armed Forces in 1999 and transferred to the Army Reserve in 2015. “Every male in the generations before me on both sides of my family served in the military,” he says. “It's really had a big part of shaping who I am and, and why I do the things that I do. It's also allowed me to grow and get a lot of leadership experience.”

His time with the military has given him skills that make him a better veterinarian — more adaptable, less risk-averse and better able to communicate. “A lot of what we do as veterinarians is education. In the army, I spent a lot of time as an instructor and supervisor coaching and mentoring people. I use those skills every single day.”

Morgan practices at the Westmount Animal Clinic in Kensington, has finished certifications in rehabilitation medicine including Veterinary Spinal Manipulation Therapy (“animal chiropractic”) and is almost finished his training in veterinary medical acupuncture.

“I appreciate the way that UCVM sets new veterinarians up for success by being really practical and trying to be at the forefront of how veterinary medical education is delivered.” Being a veterinarian was his “childhood dream. The fact that I’m doing this work now, at 41, is really wonderful.”