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Excellent externships

Dr. Chris Bell during surgery.

WCVM graduate Dr. Chris Bell during a large animal surgery. Photo: Michael Raine.

After the last celebratory toast had been made and the Western College of Veterinary Medicine’s Class of 2006 had paid off their grad party expenses, they were faced with a decision: what should they do with the leftover money?

It was a problem that previous graduating classes had solved through donations to the WCVM or to the College’s Veterinary Medical Centre. But this time Drs. Chris Bell, Sylvia Carley and Nick Huggons, the students charged with distributing the money, decided to do something different.

Their solution was to set up the WCVM Class of 2006 Externship Award that provides $500 each to two senior veterinary students with approved externships. The cash awards help students pay for expenses related to their externships.

“We agreed that students benefit greatly from external rotations that supplement the fourth-year clinical rotations and teachings from the clinical program,” explains Bell. “They also get the opportunity to visit potential internship locations – practices that often require an externship when they’re looking to take on interns.”

Bell had experienced their value first hand: His externships at an equine veterinary service in Alberta and at an equine medical and surgical clinic in Arizona had provided in-depth exposure to areas such as nuclear scintigraphy. Working at a busy practice had also given him a “real world” perspective, and his Arizona externship was pivotal to his securing a one-year clinical internship at the Arizona Equine Medical and Surgical Center.

Since its establishment in 2007, the WCVM Class of 2006 Externship Award has benefited eight WCVM students. “Award winners have travelled all over the U.S. and Canada,” says Bell. “Their externships have included veterinary aquaculture, zoo medicine, intensive dairy medicine, advanced diagnostic imaging and specialized small animal cardiology and oncology. They tell us their experiences have been outstanding and invaluable to their extended veterinary education.”

Dr. Tyler Stitt (WCVM ’08) used the award to help fund his externship with the senior veterinarians in charge of fish health and aquaculture for the British Columbia Ministry of Agriculture. “I wanted to work in B.C. and thought it prudent to have insight into an industry that plays a prominent role in the fabric of B.C. politics, societal values and economics,” recalls Stitt. “I worked at remote locations along the Vancouver Island coastline at commercial aquaculture facilities and at the Ministry of Agriculture pathology lab. I even spent time at the Vancouver Aquarium.”

Those experiences led to his employment with the Centre for Coastal Health and provided valuable background for his work on fish health and risk assessment contracts. Stitt is now setting up an equine field service clinic with hopes of pursuing both clinical work and population health research.

“Veterinary medicine is a fascinatingly varied career choice with many pathways that can be taken after graduation,” says Stitt. “I’d recommend an externship to anybody with the caveat that they choose a placement that provides a unique and complementary experience to that received at the WCVM.”

Dr. Kirby Penttila (WCVM ’08) used her award to help fund an externship at Idaho Equine Hospital. For her, the experience was an integral part of her education that allowed her to see new and varied methods for treating diverse disorders, opened her eyes to new technologies and provided her with lifelong career contacts.

It also led to her internship at the same hospital. “The internship played a huge role in shaping me into the competent and confident clinician that I am now,” says Penttila, now an associate at Burwash Equine Services in Calgary, Alta. “I’m so glad the Class of 2006 started this legacy fund. Being a student is financially draining, and this money was a great contribution to helping me realize my dreams.”

Now, five years down the road, Bell is planning to head a fundraising committee with the goal of raising $10,000 from the Class of 2006 to ensure there’s continued support for the award. His own experiences have reinforced his commitment: Bell’s externships launched a highly successful career that has included a three-year equine surgical residency program that was supported by the EHRF’s fellowship program. Bell is now a board-certified equine surgeon at Elder’s Equine Clinic in Winnipeg, Man.

Are you a WCVM graduate who would like more information about establishing a class award or bursary at your alma mater? Contact Melissa Mann, WCVM’s development officer (melissa.mann@usask.ca; 306-966-7426) for more details.

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