Left to right: Dr. Collin Lawrence (WCVM '05), Dr. Jim Lawrence (WCVM '78), Dr. Robert Lawrence (WCVM '08) and Eric Lawrence, WCVM Class of 2013. Photo: Roxane Lawrence.

My three sons, veterinary style

When a young Eric Lawrence heard his father — veterinarian Dr. Jim Lawrence — get called in the middle of the night to handle an animal health emergency, Eric remembers that his dad never seemed to get grumpy about losing a good night's sleep.

"Dad was always happy doing his job," recalls Eric, who is now a fourth-year veterinary student at the Western College of Veterinary Medicine (WCVM).

His dad, a 1978 WCVM graduate, is the senior veterinarian and a partner at the Westlock Veterinary Center in Westlock, Alta. "He's always been a very popular man in the Westlock area, and everybody knew that my brothers and I were his sons. We wanted to be just like dad," says Eric.

That childhood dream has become reality for all three of the Lawrence boys, and when Eric graduates from the WCVM in 2013, he will join brothers Collin (WCVM '05) and Robert (WCVM '08) in carrying on the family tradition.

And it's a tradition that dates back to Jim's grandfather who was known for using home remedies to treat sick animals. Years later as Jim grew up on the family's mixed farm, he observed the local veterinarian and realized that everyone respected him for the important role he had in the community. So when Jim had the chance to further his education, he decided to pursue a career in veterinary medicine.

That career began right after his graduation from the WCVM when he accepted a position in Westlock working with Dr. Dennis Bichel.

"My wife Roxane and I came on a stormy day in February, and I started right into calving season," Jim recalls. "It was a mixed animal clinic, and in the beginning I'd be working on a cow one minute and looking into the ears of a dog the next."

Three years later, Jim became a partner in the practice which has since expanded to include five partners and three associates as well as a number of other employees.

As the clinic has grown over the years and the clientele has evolved to include more small animals, each of the veterinarians has been able to concentrate on a particular area of interest. That works well for Jim who has maintained his interest in dairy cattle and horses.

"I like running around the country, driving out to a farm and doing the work there with my clients — they've become lifelong friends. There's something different every day, and every day is a little exciting."

Jim has also contributed to the profession through his involvement with the Alberta Veterinary Medical Association. In 1998, he served a term as president of the association, and in 2008 he was named the AB.VMA's Veterinarian of the Year.

With such a positive role model for a father, it's no wonder that Jim's three boys wanted to be just like their dad. And although Jim doesn't recall having any expectations about his sons following in his footsteps, he says there were some indications that they were interested in veterinary medicine.

"There's a picture of Collin when he was about five. He's got a bread bag on his arm, and it's stuck in between the cushions on the couch, so I guess he must have had the idea even back then."

Jim points out that there's a lot of hard work involved in becoming a veterinarian, so there has to be something — some level of a calling — that drives people like his sons to dedicate themselves to reaching that particular goal.

He adds that experience has taught him it's not necessarily those with the highest academic standing that make the best veterinarians.

"After university you're no longer measured by your academic achievement. You're measured by your compassion, your willingness to do what's in the best interest of your clients and their critters. You need to show that you care and do the best that you can do."

Jim's advice has really helped Eric who values the support he's received from his family as he's coped with the challenges of achieving a veterinary degree. "They've really encouraged me to stick to it, and they've kept reminding me that it's all going to be worth it in the end."

Now that Collin and Robert, along with his wife Jolene (WCVM '08), are all members of the Westlock practice, Eric seized the opportunity to work alongside them and his dad during the summer of 2012. It was an experience that meant a great deal to all of them.

"We were professional with everything that we did, but we had a good time," says Eric. "I learned a lot from working with them, some very practical clinical stuff. And hey, I was working with my brothers and my dad! I really cherished that."

While Eric's future plans are still open right now, he plans to work in a small animal setting and doesn't foresee returning to Westlock. But he's really happy that he had the chance to spend the summer with his family.

"All three of us brothers thought it was the best summer yet. We worked well together, and we played well together. I loved being at home."

Both Eric and his dad credit Roxane for the major role she has played in creating and maintaining such a close-knit family.

"She's always been a supportive wife and mother, and she gave up her nursing career to look after us," says Jim. "A welcome home, a warm meal, a dinner table with everyone there at once and warm cookies after school – they all made for a happy house."

As a memento of the summer, Roxane arranged a photo shoot that included a picture of Jim and his three sons in front of the clinic's sign. It's now a framed photo that Jim proudly displays on his desk.

For Jim, what's most gratifying is that his three sons have all chosen a career that secures their future.

"They can take their degree from the WCVM and go anywhere in the world with it. They've got the ability, the attitude, the social skills to do whatever they choose," says Jim.

"That's very powerful — I know that they're well on their way to successful careers. Life is good."
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