Members of the WCVM's Class of 2016 (left to right): Darius Khambatta, Kyla Johnson, Renae Zook, Kara Rutherford and Jon Katzman. Photo: Debra Marshall.

Finding the next generation of vets

As manager of admissions and recruitment at the Western College of Veterinary Medicine, Heather Mandeville is used to answering hundreds of questions from prospective students.

Most queries are about topics that Mandeville can easily talk about such as required courses, transcripts, interviews and provincial residence rules. But every once in a while, she still gets stumped.

"One student asked me, ‘Does the WCVM offer farrier training?' and all I could think was, ‘Fairy what . . . ?'" recalls Mandeville with a grin.

"I've grown to love these types of questions because they remind me how broad the study and practice of animal health really is — and how much I can learn from the students in return."

Mandeville, who previously worked in admissions at the University of Saskatchewan's College of Medicine, came to the WCVM in late 2010 after the veterinary college's longtime admissions person — Elaine Angielski — retired. The original role was expanded to include student recruitment, reflecting the WCVM's plans to make this area a priority.

Since coming to the veterinary college, Mandeville has worked with Dr. Bruce Grahn —WCVM's associate dean, academic — to plan a recruitment strategy that includes visits to high schools, universities and communities throughout the four western provinces. Another recent addition to the recruitment team is admissions assistant Sandy Knowles who took over the job after another veteran employee, Norine Demeria, retired in August.

"Maintaining, or even increasing, applicant numbers is vital for the future to ensure that the best students are applying and being admitted to the WCVM every year," says Grahn. "The practice of veterinary medicine is changing, and the college continues to strive at selecting the best individuals who will be successful students as well as future leaders."

By emphasizing recruitment, the college is documenting increased numbers of qualified applicants and is emphasizing diversity, especially Aboriginal student applicants. At the same time, the WCVM's increased recruitment efforts are helping to provide all prospective students with valuable advice and guidance on navigating the college's application process.

Besides ramping up its recruitment activities, the college made the switch to electronic admissions in 2011 — another positive change that has helped to make the application process more user friendly.

Visiting students in their own communities plays a huge role in recruitment. For example, in the past few months, Mandeville (who's often joined by Grahn and Knowles on her provincial treks) made presentations about the WCVM's DVM program at five universities in Manitoba and Alberta. She also travelled around Saskatchewan to attend career fairs in Prince Albert, Regina, Yorkton, Warman and Muenster.

Back in Saskatoon, Mandeville organized information sessions during the University of Saskatchewan's "Experience US" event and helped organize a pre-veterinary information night for 140 people during Vetavision (WCVM's public open house) in September. She also attended the Canadian Medical Hall of Fame Discovery Days in November — an event that attracted a number of Aboriginal students to the U of S campus for information sessions hosted by the university's health science colleges.

"Offering in-person presentations to prospective students allows us to showcase what the WCVM has to offer and give detailed information on how to gain admission to the DVM program," explains Mandeville. "It also provides the college with invaluable insight into what prospective candidates are out there and what questions they have."

Based on the veterinary college's latest admissions statistics, the long days spent travelling to communities across the West appears to be worth it. More than 400 aspiring veterinarians applied to the WCVM for the 2013-14 academic year — the highest number of applications received from western Canadian residents in the college's 48-year history.

This is the second year in a row that the WCVM has enjoyed an above-average year: 340 applicants applied for the college's 78 student seats available in the 2012-13 academic year.

The WCVM usually receives about 325 applications per year for its four-year Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM) program.

While other factors have contributed to the rise in applications, feedback from students, teachers and counsellors has confirmed that the WCVM's efforts to meet prospective students in their own communities has been helpful.

Meeting students face to face also gives Mandeville the chance to dispel some myths. For example, she remembers one student asking whether it was true that the WCVM admission process involved pulling names out of a hat.

"The actual process is simple and straightforward," points out Mandeville. "We look at two components — academic and non-academic — which are then broken down further into grades obtained in university, completion of required courses, reference forms and the interview."

Another misconception is that students need extremely high marks to be admitted to the WCVM. "It saddens me to hear students who have already given up on their dream of becoming a veterinarian before finishing Grade 12," she says.

A minimum grade point average of 75 per cent is required to apply to the WCVM and to be competitive for an interview (however, the average required to be competitive for an interview offer varies from year to year and province to province). High marks can help to give applicants more room in their interview scores, but grades aren't the only factor considered in the admissions process.

"While some applicants with average grades in the high 80s are turned down every year, many applicants with marks in the high 70s are admitted. Performance in the interview doesn't correlate directly with a student's grades — and the interview has a significant impact on the rank order of applicants."

Besides addressing the question of marks, Mandeville talks to students about required courses and what students can do to gain more animal and veterinary experience before applying. She also addresses the issue of whether students should enrol in a science or agriculture program for pre-veterinary studies.

"Either program is equally acceptable," points out Mandeville. "Students should select their program based on personal preference and interest, plus they should also consider alternate career plans if they aren't admitted to the WCVM."

Mandeville encourages university students to apply the WCVM as soon as they have the required courses and grade point average versus waiting until they complete their degrees.

Statistics show that 10 to 15 per cent of students are admitted with only two years of university while nearly 50 per cent of successful applicants have completed degrees. "But the earlier an applicant applies in their undergraduate program, the sooner they may be admitted to the college — or gain useful feedback to benefit them in future applications," says Mandeville.

With the WCVM's annual December 1 application deadline past, Mandeville is now focused on the next phase of admissions: ranking all of the applicants in each province and determining who qualifies for interviews this spring.

But it won't be long until members of the WCVM recruitment team are back on the road. Mandeville and Grahn are meeting with prospective students at three B.C. universities in January while Knowles will travel to Brandon, Man., for a large career symposium in March.

They're looking forward to answering another year's worth of students' questions — and helping a new group of applicants follow their veterinary dreams.

For more information about the WCVM's Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM) program, visit the WCVM website or contact Heather Mandeville (306-966-7413).
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