Taxidermy and veterinary medicine may have little in common, but when Cassie Tompson took an aptitude test in her first year of university, her love of animals and attention to detail pointed to a career in the art of preserving animals for display.
Instead, she took her aptitude for science and love of animals and is now in her first year at the Western College of Veterinary Medicine (WCVM) at the University of Saskatchewan.
“I took two years off after high school before deciding to continue my education,” said Tompson. “In 2008 I enrolled in the science program at Okanagan College. I have always been interested in medicine and science. I completed several aptitude tests, all of which suggested taxidermy. Needless to say this was not very encouraging.
“When the aptitude tests didn’t help me, I listened to my mother and my friends. My mother wanted to be a vet so it was always her suggestion for me. Also I grew up on a ranch so veterinary medicine seemed like a better fit than taxidermy.”
A member of the class of 2015, Tompson was one of 79 first-year students welcomed into the program during a white coat ceremony in September, in which all students received their personalized lab coats and stethoscopes from representatives of national and provincial veterinary medical associations. Tompson joined the 235 veterinary students already enrolled in the four-year Doctor of Veterinary Medicine program.
Tompson attended Okanagan Landing elementary school and graduated from Clarence Fulton secondary school. At UBCO, she completed three years of a bachelor of science, majoring in biology, before applying to WCVM.
“There are two years of prerequisites needed before applying, however they usually accept students that are closer to a degree or have a degree,” she said. “Experience with animals and at a veterinary clinic is also considered necessary.”
Prospective students must complete an online application and supply three reference letters, including one from a veterinarian. Once final grades have been submitted, interviews are conducted by three professionals in veterinary medicine — 20 students are accepted into the program from B.C. every year.
Tompson was interviewed in Vancouver and appreciated the preparation she received from family friend Peggy McShane as well as numerous tips and advice from the Wales family, local veterinarians.
“My first year has been an adventure! Moving to Saskatoon after living in Vernon my whole life was a big change; lucky for me, my family, fiancé and friends are extremely supportive and helped me with the transition.
“Also, being in classes all day was a big adjustment, and free time has a new meaning to me now. I didn’t really know what to expect, I knew it was going to be a lot of hard work and long days so I adjusted fast with minimal tears! The labs at WCVM are organized extremely well and have definitely been an interesting experience, especially anatomy lab. I have never taken such an in-depth anatomy class before so it’s been great.”
A highlight for Tompson is learning material that is 100 per cent relevant to her future profession, building on the basics throughout the year.
“Also at WCVM they have complemented the courses so that when we are learning about the heart we are learning about it in many other subjects just in a different context, such as anatomy of the heart, physiology of the heart, and so on.
“What I enjoy the least about my studies has been the lack of hands on, but I know it will come soon enough and we have to have a strong foundation to build on. The first year is mostly theory and focusing on what is ‘normal’. We had a lot of animal handling labs at the beginning of the year which were fantastic but other than that the hands on will come in later years.”
Tompson said at veterinary school, there isn’t really such thing as a typical day, since the class and lab schedule vary from week to week. The only constant is that each class contains the same people every day and in the same classroom.
“There are weeks that most of my classes are in only a few subjects and others where it has a mixture. I am in class from 8:30 to 4:30 almost every day except we get Wednesday afternoons off.”
Growing up on a ranch, Tompson was surrounded by animals, including cats, dogs, chickens, peacocks, canaries, cockatiels, budgies, horses, cattle, rabbits, and guinea pigs.
“Currently in Saskatoon I have my ferret which sleeps the majority of the day so I don’t feel bad being at school all day and leaving him alone.”
After graduating, Tompson’s dream is to return to the North Okanagan and work at a mixed animal practice to gain more experience, with her ultimate goal to focus on large animals.
“I have always pictured myself in the Okanagan so returning home after I graduate is a top priority. It will be nice to live in the mountains again.”