by Heidi Riley
After years of hard work, Alanna MacKinnon of York is seeing her career dreams come true. Alanna graduated from the Atlantic Veterinary College (AVC) this spring.
“It really is a demanding program,” says Alanna. “It tests your strengths and weaknesses for sure. The course load is heavy, but the class size is small. My class started with 68, and 64 graduated. There were fewer than 10 males.
“We students worked really well as a team, and we became very close. There was no competition between us, and we were always sharing notes, helping each other, and holding study sessions. I was not expecting us to become such a family.”
Making the career decision
Alanna earned her undergrad degree in biochemistry at University of New Brunswick. “During that time, I was up in the air as to what profession to go into. I always had a love for animals, and that was in the back of my mind.
“Dentistry was also interesting to me. I volunteered at a dental clinic in Charlottetown, and I did love it. l also volunteered at Abegweit Animal Hospital, and absolutely fell in love with the work. Volunteering there for a couple of summers really opened my eyes to the profession. They helped me develop my skills, and that is when I decided to become a Veterinarian.”
During her years of university study, Alanna worked a full-time job as well as a part-time waitressing job every summer to cover tuition. In addition, she also volunteered one day a week in order to get experience in the field.
Alana says Vets need to know how to deal with people as well as their animals. “Veterinary medicine is centred around people because they are the ones living with the animal and making the decisions, and they know the animal’s history. Vets have to develop a good relationship with their human clients. We are taught to give people as many treatment options as possible.”
The first three years of the program offer lecture-based learning and an introduction to clinical practice. In the final year, students do 30+ weeks of rotations, and get experience in Anesthesiology, Radiology, Companion Animal Medicine, Companion Animal Surgery, Community Practice, Large Animal Medicine and Surgery, Large Animal Health Management, and Diagnostic Services. They also choose other rotations that reflect their specific interests.
“Doing rotations is a chance for students to learn to interact with clients, do physical exams, develop treatment plans, and work as a team with interns, residents and senior clinicians,” says Alanna.
Opportunities for Veterinarians
- Veterinary clinics and animal hospitals for small companion animals or large animal practices with horses, cows, sheep, pigs, and more.
- Primary emergency clinics such as the AVC providing after-hours emergency coverage to veterinary clinics across PEI
- Working at horse racing tracks or other industries
- Research, mobile clinics, specialty areas, teaching, shelter medicine, public policy, public health
- Practice management – combining veterinary medicine with running a business
- Food Inspection roles such as with the Canadian Food Inspection Agency enforce government regulations in disease control and food production including animal or animal-based food inspection.
Choosing an area of Veterinary Medicine
“The opportunities are vast with this degree,” says Alanna. “I really enjoy emergency work. I worked in the ICU at AVC for two summers after my first and second year, and that ignited in me a love for emergency and critical care.
“Graduates have the option of going into general practice, or they can pursue a specialty by doing an internship followed by specialized internship and then a residency,” says Alanna. “The beautiful thing about Veterinary medicine is that you don’t have to choose right away.”
Alanna has been hired by a small animal Veterinary practice in Halifax and will start work in June. “I am going into a general practice which also has an emergency clinic, so I will get experience in both areas.”
Demand for Veterinarians
“Right now, because COVID-19 has seen an increase in pet ownership, there is a good demand for Veterinarians across North America,” says Alanna. “There were several opportunities in Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and other provinces. Here on PEI there were not as many positions available. I would have liked to stay on the Island, but it is also nice to explore someplace new.”
Advice for those considering Veterinary medicine
“I definitely recommend volunteering in a Veterinary clinic before you decide to take that route. The experience opens your eyes to the profession. A lot of people romanticize the role of a Veterinarian, and it is good to see that it is not all puppies and kittens. There are a lot of difficult decisions to deal with as well.”
Alanna says it is also important to realize how demanding the Veterinary program is. “It is a good idea to reach out to the school you are thinking of applying to, so that you can get an understanding of the course load. There is a big difference between undergrad and Veterinary school. In one semester, we had 11 or 12 courses, while a normal undergrad has five.”