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These Summer Camps Bring In Future Vets

The welcome mat was rolled out for some very special guests at three of Canada s veterinary medicine schools during the summer break.

For the 13th year running, aspiring young veterinarians filled vet-med summer camps to the max at the Atlantic Veterinary College (AVC) in Charlottetown, P.E.I., and the idea has now caught on at the Western College of Veterinary Medicine (WCVM) in Saskatoon and the University of Calgary Faculty of Veterinary Medicine (UCVM).

Week-long camps offer students classroom, lab and field instruction from vet student co-ordinators and faculty. AVC hosts three camps for junior high students and one for high school students. WCVM runs four for kids in grades five and six and three for junior high students. UCVM ran its first two junior camps this summer.

The Atlantic program is called the Dr. Tim Ogilvie AVC Vet Camp in recognition of the man who started them. The program received the national gold medal for community outreach by the Canadian Council for the Advancement of Education in 2008 and 2010.

Ogilvie, who was dean of AVC at the time, says the idea of exposing school-aged children to a veterinary career came about through conversation with colleagues. He felt it would be a worthwhile recruitment exercise and provide gainful summer employment for veterinary students who would organize and lead the camps.

He also credits Dr. Lonnie King, then dean of Michigan State University (MSU) and now Ohio State University, for advancing the idea at MSU at the same time he was organizing camps at AVC because they were able to bat around ideas. Two totally different camps evolved with MSU holding a big, one-time blitz each year and AVC offering four week-long camps for about 50 students each in July.

When I open vet camp each week, I always tell the parents that each day when they pick up their camper, he or she will take them by the hand and recount the wonders they learned and saw that day, says Ogilvie, who is currently a professor in large animal medicine with AVC s department of health management. I make it clear that this is a recruitment exercise to show them the breadth and width of veterinary medicine and the interrelationship between environmental, animal and human health and many careers that can come of that.

There have always been far more applicants than seats, so a draw is held each summer to select the lucky campers. Most come from Atlantic Canada but they ve had campers from across Canada, the U.S., Europe, Saudi Arabia and Australia. Usually they mirror the admissions to AVC, which is about 80 per cent female equally split between city and rural.

Campers learn about life as a veterinarian by viewing surgeries, touring anatomy and pathology labs, or learning about radiology, animal welfare, pet first aid, pocket pets, and gain some hands-on experience with microscopes and the maintaining the health of aquaculture systems. Tours of the P.E. I Humane Society shelter and a local dairy farm fill out the program.

Former camper Erin Ramsay graduated with her DVM this May. Another, Tori Hall, returned this year to work with counsellors with an eye to organizing a similar service at Mississippi State University, where she is currently enrolled in veterinary medicine. To read more about the AVC program, visit


Meghan McCarty wasn t lucky enough to be one of the ones s drawn to attend the Atlantic vet camp but she was quick to accept the challenge of creating and leading UCVM s first vet camp this summer. I always knew I wanted to be a veterinarian and this (camp) is something I would have wanted to do, she says.

McCarty and fellow co-coordinator, Melissa Tannahill, set the wheels in motion last November creating lesson plans, arranging for supplies, recruiting other students and staff to assist in specific areas, and organizing the advertising and registration for two separate week-long camps with 24 spaces each. Registration was on a first-come-first-serve basis and within no time, there was a waiting list.

Courses involving live animals were a favourite and provided an opportunity to learn about how to handle animals to keep the stress level as low as possible, McCarty says. But many of the hands-on activities, such as palpating a cow, delivering a calf and milking a cow involved some of the college s life-like animal models professionally designed and molded for use in teaching veterinary skills to college students.

Outside the classroom and labs campers toured the college s wildlife research centre and the Calgary Zoo led by one of the zoo veterinarians.

UCVM plans to offer the program again next year and possibly add more sessions. Updates will be posted on


When WCVM vet camp leader Rebecca Jackson surveys campers at the end of each day to find out what they enjoyed the most dissecting the bovine heart, lung and eyes freshly prepared by a local butcher consistently tops the list, followed closely by a visit to the dairy barn to feel inside the rumen of a canulated cow. On the lighter side, the parasitology plays for which the campers dress up and act the parts of a parasite and host, and making brain caps to learn about the parts of the brain are big hits. The visit to the Canadian Light Source, a national synchrotron research facility in Saskatoon where they are opening a veterinary medicine beam for specialized images, was a unique experience. And any activities involving live animals are always listed among the favourites.

The demand is such that the 132 spots in all seven camps sold out in a week and Jackson suspects they could double up on the numbers as word of the camp spreads. Camp leaders promote all the U of S Sci-Fi camps by hosting satellite workshops in schools during May and June.

Then, we get to put our creativity to work to design our camp programs, says Jackson, who is entering her second year of veterinary medicine. Each week she is assisted by different partners from the full Sci-Fi program, which gives undergrads an opportunity to rotate through various camps to gain experience in different faculties. Many of those who partner with her are already interested in veterinary medicine. Every Friday, faculty members join the group to talk about how and why they became veterinarians.

The goal of the camps is for the kids to have fun and to solidify their interest in veterinary medicine. The two really go hand-in-hand, Jackson adds. Nearly all of the kids who sign up for camp have indicated an interest in veterinary medicine, but to most of them, that means cats and dogs. My personal goal is to show them how broad it is so they gain an appreciation of the vastness of the profession and the spectrum of options in veterinary medicine.

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