June 22, 2020

Class of 2020: Hands-on labs broaden horizons of Veterinary Medicine graduate

Jesse Pawlak had to follow career path to see where it went

Dr. Jesse Pawlak, DVM, grew up in Red Deer surrounded by animals — dogs, guinea pigs, even a few budgies over the years.  When he started at the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine (UCVM) after finishing a BSc at the University of Alberta, he had little interest in working with cattle or other food production animals.

He was planning to build a career working with small animals. “To be honest, when I got into vet school, I was 100 per cent sure I was going to do small animal medicine,” says Pawlak. “Spays, neuters, ear infections, that sort of thing. And only with dogs and cats.”

But during his first year at UCVM, he and his classmates spent a lot of time in labs working “hands on” with dairy cattle, and that experience broadened his career horizons. “It was really new to me and it was really exciting, and that was when I knew that I had to follow that path and see where it went,” says Pawlak. “It was basically the enthusiasm of our production animal prof at UCVM, who pointed me in that direction and opened me up to that new experience.”

Dr. Serge Chalhoub, DVM, a small animal internal medicine specialist and senior instructor at UCVM, mentored Pawlak over the course of the DVM program and watched as his clinical acumen and confidence grew. Pawlak’s career trajectory doesn’t surprise him.

“I’m excited Jesse has found his passion,” says Chalhoub, “and that’s one of the incredible parts of our training program and profession.

There are so many exciting career paths in veterinary medicine, and our program allows students to be exposed to them so that they can truly have a sense of what each of them entails.

New grad applies enthusiasm for cattle and other livestock

Pawlak is applying his experience with, and enthusiasm for, food production animals at Central Veterinary Clinic, a mixed animal veterinary clinic in Ponoka that treats small animals along with a lot of dairy cattle. “It's going really well,” says Pawlak. “There's a huge learning curve when you take the step out into practice. But the veterinarians out here, the partners, and the associates have been super supportive, and there's always people to bounce ideas off and ask questions. This is where the real learning begins, I guess.”

Pawlak is happy to be back in Central Alberta — "it just feels like home” — but like so many others in UCalgary’s Class of 2020, he’s disappointed he can’t graduate shoulder-to-shoulder with his classmates. “You're so used to seeing all your friends all the time and they're the ones that get you through vet school,” says Pawlak.

"But with the pandemic, with all the social distancing, we didn't really get a chance to say goodbye. That's hard because we started the program together, but we weren't able to finish it together"

A community within a classroom

Pawlak and his classmates are keeping in touch and he is looking forward to the day, hopefully in just a few months, when they can meet, catch up and congratulate each other in person. The best part about attending UCVM, he says, is the sense of community fostered across campus and within the faculty.

“It's a community within the class. You know your classmates really well,” he says.

They support you academically, they support you professionally and socially. But beyond that too, you have professors that you will always have access to, even when you graduate to bounce questions and ideas. It feels like a tight-knit community, for sure.

No amount of physical distancing will break those bonds: “We're definitely looking forward to swapping stories in the fall.”

Chalhoub, too, looks forward to congratulating Pawlak, who earned UCVM’s Class of 2020 Gold Medal, in person.

“Jesse is a wonderful human being. It’s been simply amazing to get to know him and watch him develop into the veterinarian he is today. I am very happy for him and hope we can continue to not only be colleagues, but also friends."