March 29, 2023

Veterinary students win awards in bovine medicine

American Association of Bovine Practitioners present Quiz Bowl, scholarship honours
UCVM students are helping mitigate Canada's shortage of large-animal vets, especially in cattle care
UCVM students are helping mitigate Canada's shortage of large-animal vets, especially in cattle care. Riley Brandt, University of Calgary

From receiving scholarships to winning a knowledge competition, students from the University of Calgary’s Faculty of Veterinary Medicine (UCVM) are climbing the global ranks in the field of bovine medicine, a growing industry in need of new animal health-care workers. 

Five UCVM students have taken home awards from the American Association of Bovine Practitioners (AABP).

AABP 2022 Quiz Bowl

“It was really shocking! We had joked about winning, but I don’t think any of us expected to make it past the first round,” says Jacob Narbonne, a fourth-year UCVM student and one of the winners of the AABP 2022 Quiz Bowl. Narbonne, says he, along with his teammates and fellow UCVM students Cale Toews, James Ritchie and Ryan Koop, won the quiz competition thanks to their practicum rotations together in Alberta and Quebec; the prize was US$250. 

Toews says that, while the team studied intently for the quiz, going head-to-head with 22 American agriculture schools — many of which are much larger than UCVM — was mentally challenging, they were able to stay level-headed under pressure thanks to the support of soon-to-retire UCVM professor Dr. Gordon Atkins, DVM. 

“It was a real honour to have him train us because we knew it was his last year,” says Toews. “He has dedicated his career not only to bovine medicine, but to training the next generation of bovine practitioners. He’s a great person and a great practitioner.”

UCalgary Quiz Bowl Team 2021

From left to right: Ryan Koop, Jacob Narbonne, James Ritchie, Cale Toews and Dr. Gordon Atkins.

James Ritchie

The bovine industry is known to be demanding in nature and presents challenges in striking a work/life balance, however, the four Quiz Bowl winners are passionate about production-animal medicine. “I think a lot of people are put off by large-animal medicine because it’s such tough work,” says Ritchie.

Ritchie, Koop and Toews all come from agricultural backgrounds and had experience working with large animals long before entering UCVM. “I think growing up involved in agriculture showed me from an early age the importance of veterinarians, and specifically large-animal veterinarians in rural communities,” Ritchie says.

Despite being the only member of the team from an urban background, Narbonne says working with large animals was also crucial in shaping his interests. “Having done some mixed practice, I [fell] in love with it,” he says. “That’s the best part of UCVM. You truly get first-hand experience with the people whose livelihoods you’re helping to protect; it’s liberating to not be in a clinic all the time.”

All four members are interested in working with large animals in varying degrees of intensity, but say winning the quiz bowl was an important part of the journey. “We all have varying perspectives, so we all had something to contribute,” says Koop. “It was fun to be able to make the school and our professor proud.”

AABP Bovine Veterinary Student Recognition Award and AABP Amstutz Scholarship

Meanwhile, DVM student Caroline Beninger, MSc’18, has become the first UCVM student to win the AABP Amstutz Scholarship, which provides a one-time cash award to veterinary medicine students with potential to become outstanding bovine practitioners in Canada and the U.S. Beninger also received the AABP Bovine Veterinary Student Recognition Award.

2022 Amstutz Scholarship Winners

Caroline Beninger, front row, left, and other 2022 Amstutz Scholarship Winners.

Layla Simmonds-Short for AABP

“I was in such complete disbelief when I first won the scholarship; I almost thought it was a prank,” says Beninger. She received US$10,500 for the scholarship and another US$5,000 for the recognition award, and plans on investing the money in tuition costs and practicum rotations in the U.S.

Beninger says her path to specializing in bovine medicine has not been a conventional one. “I was initially interested in the complexity of the bacteria implicated in digital dermatitis in dairy cattle,” she says. “But, in studying it, I worked with a lot of dairy farmers and hoof-trimmers, and I found the community to be very welcoming and supportive. I knew I wanted to be a part of it.”

With an MSc in production and animal health already under her belt, Beninger hopes to lend her scientific competence to the bovine industry as a research-oriented practitioner. “Medicine evolves and I think [large-animal veterinarians] will be used less for our practical skills and more for our expertise, especially in production-animal medicine,” she says. “I think the industry will become much more data-driven.”

As far as career plans go, Beninger says she would like to work in a consulting capacity to promote efficiency through a data-driven approach. “The production-animal industry is increasingly challenged by issues like feed costs and reliance on antibiotics,” she says. “I’d like to improve our systems to make things more efficient and profitable for producers.”

For more information on student successes and research excellence, visit the UCVM website.

With Canada’s ongoing shortage of large-animal veterinarians, it can be intimidating for new practitioners to enter the workforce. The UCalgary Faculty of Veterinary Medicine (UCVM) prepares students for all streams of focus including both small and large animals in agriculture and cattle care.

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