Hours in the saddle help B.C. vet in clinic
There’s a certain mystery to working in veterinary medicine, where each new patient can come as a kind of puzzle to solve — discovering the ins and outs of what makes them tick, unlocking whatever issue is at hand and sending them out the door happy and healthy once again.
This process is also part of the reason why Dr. Alex Wales, an equine veterinarian with Panorama Veterinary Clinic near Kelowna, B.C., is so involved in horseback riding outside of his veterinary practice. Scoring a goal in a polo match or exploring the B.C. mountains on horseback are great pastimes, but for Wales, they’re also a way of maintaining a healthy connection to the animals that he works with each day.
“Doing things with the horses helps us to understand their needs and ways and frustrations,” Wales says. “By being around horses outside of just working on them as a veterinarian, it does give you a more complete understanding of them as an animal. Just doing veterinary work, you can become very focused on the diagnosis, the disease and the treatment without ever really getting involved much with the animal itself.”
Wales has had an interest in animals ever since his childhood when he was surrounded by creatures of all shapes and sizes on his family’s farm in rural Alberta. But it wasn’t until he attended the Western College of Veterinary Medicine (WCVM) that this curiosity began reshaping into a specific eye for equine health. At the University of Saskatchewan, he found faculty and researchers whose passion for horses proved instrumental in molding his own aspirations.
“Obviously, WCVM has been the centre of equine health, research and education for Western Canada — the only source, even, up until the time when the University of Calgary’s Faculty of Veterinary Medicine opened,” he says.
Even though it’s been 40 years since he was a student at WCVM, Wales has maintained a connection to the college by serving on the advisory board of the Townsend Equine Health Research Fund that supports horse health research and specialized training. The goal, he says, is to stay informed about what’s going on at his alma mater and to help guide the way that the next generation of veterinarians will grow and develop.
“It gives me the opportunity to keep track of what’s going on at the university on the equine side of things, and also what’s happening with the curriculum changes that are involved,” Wales says. “It’s certainly different than when I graduated, but I’m not one to pine for the old days. I think the changes have been progressive and good, and I think the students at WCVM get a great education.
“I have had the opportunity to interact with graduates from other universities, and I think the graduates from WCVM are strong and holding their own in our profession.”
Wales practises alongside two other WCVM alumni: his wife Susan, who graduated from the college in 1980, and their daughter Jessica — a 2010 graduate. Although the family-owned practice doesn’t formally accept externs, Wales says he regularly encounters WCVM students in his professional life. And when these paths do cross, he makes a point of trying to impart some of the wisdom that’s helped his career in veterinary medicine remain fulfilling even after so many years.
“I’ve enjoyed, and still do enjoy, my career,” Wales says. “I’m one of those people who can say I don’t feel like I go into work each day even if I do go to work every day. I try to let them see that the work can be rewarding and interesting and something that you might want to do for a long time.
“The medicine and the surgery — everyone learns how to do that. But if one can find a way to practise that is rewarding? That’s the best you can do.”
HenryTye Glazebrook is a freelance writer based in Vancouver, B.C.