Starting veterinary school is a new challenge under any circumstance, but taking your first semesters entirely online is a particularly unusual situation.
For Patricia Fawley, attending Ross University School of Veterinary Medicine on St. Kitts and Nevis holds the added allure of studying on an island in the Caribbean. Before she could travel there to pursue this next chapter in her career, however, the COVID-19 pandemic altered how she would begin her studies.
“I’ve been taking my DVM 100 per cent online, which can be really taxing,” said Fawley, who grew up in Winnipeg.
“Hopefully we can go out next semester. We’re still waiting on the government to open up to students, for the school to open up and allow students to come back to the island.”
Fawley’s journey to a veterinary school by the ocean begins in a very different place — the Australian Outback. Her first experience with livestock came while backpacking in Australia and working for a while at a pub.
“The people that I worked for had a farm, and they invited me out to one of their dehorning-branding days, and I was a little hesitant because I didn’t really know what to expect,” she explained. “Pretty much that day I was hooked.”
She was excited to learn more about beef production and lived on a small beef operation for a while during her trip. Upon returning to Canada, Fawley decided to pursue this new passion further and studied animal science at the University of Manitoba. She then moved to Alberta to work as an embryo technician at Bow Valley Genetics at Brooks, Alta.
“I thought that the embryo transfer was pretty much the perfect job for me in combining my love of farming and my love of science,” she said.
“There’s so many different aspects to it, which is also what I loved because it wasn’t very monotonous. It would range from working hands-on with the animals and the veterinarian or being in the lab.”
Although Fawley, who was selected as a Cattlemen’s Young Leaders participant in 2019, loved working as an embryo technician, she became more interested in the veterinary medicine aspect of Bow Valley’s work. It was then that she decided to apply for veterinary school and set her sights on Ross University.
“It was a really hard decision just because I love the embryo side of it so much,” she said.
One of the veterinarians at Bow Valley was an important mentor for Fawley, particularly when making her decision to attend veterinary school. “I only knew her for a short time, but I went to her a lot for advice on what a future in veterinary medicine would look like for a female,” she said.
For example, after being accepted into her program, Fawley was told that this path would be too time-consuming and costly to have a family in the future.
“[This vet said] if it’s something you really want, don’t worry about what other people say. You will make your life happen the way that you want it to. So that meant a lot to me,” she said. “That was very helpful for informing a decision of going to school or not.”
Pandemic presents obstacles to hands-on learning
Like many post-secondary students in Canada, Fawley is facing a different reality with a new school year, though veterinary school presents its own challenges. “We were supposed to do anatomy hands-on obviously on-island, but this semester they’ve decided to give us our first term of anatomy online, and it’s definitely proven to have its challenges because I’m a very tactile, visual learner,” she said, noting that her instructors are doing the best they can given the situation.
“We just had a palpation lab online…talking about trying to pretend you’re palpating inside a cow and grab different objects around the house so you can measure them and feel what an ovary size is like.”
It’s not just the lack of hands-on learning that has been challenging. “You don’t see other people struggling, so you’re just sitting at home in front of your computer, struggling alone,” she said.
Reaching out to other students through social media has been helpful while studying at home. “It’s been pretty beneficial to my mental health, connecting with other vet students who are in the same boat and other beef producers who are trying to work through these really weird times.”
Right now, Fawley isn’t limiting herself to the area of veterinary medicine she’d like to practice upon graduation. “My love is in large animal health and large animal medicine, so I’d ideally like to try to hang onto that as a future, but I am super open to any opportunities and availabilities.”
Learn more about Fawley, Bow Valley Genetics and how new audiences are finding value in embryo transfer in the December 2020 issue of Canadian Cattlemen.