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200 Canadian veterinary students ‘take the bull by the horns’ in Calgary

National gathering focuses mainly on cattle welfare, behaviour, and the beef industry

Sarifa Lakhdhir, front row third from right, UCVM Class of 2018, headed up the organizing committee for the weekend event. Photo by Fabian Mayer, for the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine

By Fabian Mayer, for the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine

More than 200 veterinary students from across Canada gathered at the University of Calgary over the weekend for the annual Students of the Canadian Veterinary Medical Association symposium.

Third-year University of Calgary Faculty of Veterinary Medicine (UCVM) students started planning the symposium back in October 2015. Sarifa Lakhdhir, UCVM Class of 2018, headed up the organizing committee.  “We tried to centre it around production animal health since that is UCVM’s focus,” said Lakhdhir.

The two days of lectures, and hands on learning focused largely on cattle welfare, behaviour and the beef industry.

That focus was evident in everything from the symposium’s theme of Take the Bull by the Horns, Take Charge of Your Actions, to a social event at Calgary’s iconic western nightclub, Ranchman’s. “We wanted to show off Calgary’s Stampede western spirit and that’s one of the best places for it,” says Lakhdhir.

The food animal health focus was also evident in the choice of keynote speaker. Dr. Temple Grandin, a renowned animal behaviour expert, talked about cattle handling and understanding animal behaviour and emotions.

“I think using animals for food is an ethical thing to do, but we have to do it right,” says Grandin. “We have to give those animals a decent life and we have to give them a painless death. We owe the animal respect.”

Collaboration more important than ever

UCVM Dean Baljit Singh was excited that students here had the chance to host an event bringing together students from all five of Canada’s veterinary colleges.

“For students to get together from across the country creates a fantastic opportunity for them to network, compare notes and talk about their future career paths,” says Dr. Singh.

“The nature of the clinical, research and societal problems we are facing are so complex that we cannot solve them without networking and collaborating. These types of symposiums create places to form teams and talk about complex problems.”

Singh said he was impressed by the quality of the programming. He believes the time when professionals or professors could do everything on their own is long gone.

Lecture topics ranged from the challenges of diagnosing lameness in cattle to the changing ways animals are viewed as property in the eyes of the law. Labs included demonstrations of bovine hoof techniques and basic alpaca handling skills.

“We hope they were able to learn some things they didn’t get from school or that they’re interested in, as well as some hands-on experience in the labs,” says Lakhdhir.  “And of course, also to be able to form some social bonds with our faculty and other students from across Canada.”

Symposium offers a rare chance to compare experiences

Elizabeth Hartnett is in her third year at the Ontario Veterinary College in Guelph. She said the symposium is a unique experience.

“This is really the only opportunity to be with such a big group of students representing each of the five veterinary colleges,” says Hartnett.

Hartnett also enjoyed seeing how another veterinary school functions.  “You kind of hear things here and there, but it’s so different to actually go to that school and see it first hand,” she says.

Beyond just the opportunity to compare experiences, Lakhdhir says the symposium also helps students think about their future. “It also helps us think about what we want to do after school with internships and residencies as each school has different opportunities they present to us,” says Lakhdhir.