Jan. 28, 2021

Vet Med faculty develops virtual experiences for Stoney Nakoda youth

UCalgary initiative brings the spirit of veterinary care to students at Morley Community School via Zoom
Youth at Morley Community School prepare to diagnose a sick dog. Virtually.

The Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM) program is one of the more hands-on programs offered at UCalgary, with many clinical skills courses requiring in-person learning. Over the course of the continuing pandemic, the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine (UCVM) has worked hard to ensure safe and physically distanced ways for students to hone their skills in large and small animal labs.

So, how do you give high school students a similar experience and a taste of veterinary life if you can’t be with them in person?

That was the challenge facing UCVM’s Dr. Catherine Wagg, DVM, senior instructor of clinical pathology, when it came to this year’s school outreach initiative at the Stoney Nakoda Nation.

“The goal is to present veterinary medicine as a potential career option to Indigenous youth,” says Wagg, who along with Dr. Tessa Baker, DVM, a project specialist, and Dr. Aylin Atilla, DVM, associate professor at UCVM, put their heads together to find a creative way to virtually connect with students.

“By going out there and showing them a glimpse of what this profession is like, we hope to break down barriers and help support interested students on their journey to becoming veterinarians.”

PPE and diagnosing Charlie the dog over Zoom

With support from an Ii’taa’poh’to’p Indigenous Strategy Intercultural Capacity Building grant, the team purchased personal protective equipment (PPE) supplies, including masks, gloves, and gowns to help the students feel and look the part.

Wagg says the grant was due to expire in August 2020, but because of the challenges around COVID-19 and in-person community-based projects, the funding was extended until the end of the year. This enabled them to purchase supplies for the student activities, as well as tobacco and honoraria for the Elders involved.

From there the team began to put together a presentation that would walk students in the school’s biology classes through the process of diagnosing a sick dog, making the decision to operate, and eventually extracting an ingested ball from the dog’s intestine.

They had the help of Stoney Nakoda Elder Alice Kaquitts, who has worked with the UCVM team to incorporate Stoney language into past year’s live, and this year’s Zoom, presentations. Wagg says as a member of the UCVM-Stoney Nakoda Advisory Council, she is an encouraging voice to Stoney students who may be considering animal health studies and veterinary medicine.

Tessa Baker (top left), Catherine Wagg (middle right), and Aylin Atilla

Tessa Baker (top left), Catherine Wagg (middle right), and Aylin Atilla created an interactive presentation to virtually walk the biology students at Morley School through diagnosing a sick dog.

Melodie Bingham

“The teachers as well as the principal and vice-principal joined in,” says Melodie Bingham, Morley Community School’s guidance counsellor and school lead for this initiative. “We were all very invested in Charlie the dog!”

Taking their culture with them

Bingham emphasizes how important initiatives like this are to not only bridge barriers for Indigenous students but also show them they can achieve their goals without leaving their culture behind.

“When I was a teacher, back in the day, a student brought a frog back from the river in a jar,” says Bingham. “When an Elder saw that, she returned the frog to its natural habitat, because you can’t take animals out of nature to keep as a pet. Stoney-Nakoda people are stewards of animals and if our students want to become veterinarians, they have to take teachings from Elders as their responsibility to share with others.”

It’s a journey

To help bring veterinary medicine and UCVM to life and contextualize it within the Stoney culture, Wagg and her team have been working with Morley School Elder Duane Mark to translate key aspects of UCVM’s virtual summer camp website into the Stoney language. The website will be provided to students to give them more information and insight into the profession outside of these annual engagements with the faculty.

“This process is a journey,” says Wagg. “We return to the community regularly, each time widening the pathway to those interested in veterinary medicine. It’s about more than just these visits. It’s about mentorship and building relationships between UCVM and Stoney Nakoda students.”

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