Carla Baker at the WCVM Class of 2013 Graduation, held June 6th 2013 in Saskatoon, SK.

New vet passionate about northern life

When it comes to veterinary medicine, Dr. Carla Baker has taken the road less travelled.

"I've wanted to be a vet since I was five," says Baker. "I just kind of went the long way around."

Her journey has led her to travel the globe and live in Nunavut, Saskatchewan, Ontario and even Paris. The recent graduate of the Western College of Veterinary Medicine (WCVM) is now a project veterinarian with the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) and living in Ottawa.

Growing up in Newfoundland, Baker completed a BSc (Honours) degree, eventually moving to Nunavut where she worked as the legislation and management technician II and was designated as the territory's wildlife health co-ordinator – a national representative for wildlife health in the North. Baker later accepted the position of fisheries management biologist for Canada's Department of Fisheries and Oceans (Eastern Arctic Area).

During her time in Nunavut, Baker grew passionate about the need for veterinary services in the North and developed a keen interest about wildlife and animal health care issues that face Nunavut.

"This experience solidified my need to go to veterinary school and obtain a DVM if I ever really wanted to participate in a way forward and understand animal health," explains Baker, who began her veterinary program in 2009.

After her first year at the WCVM, Baker spent the summer of 2010 living in Ottawa and working under the supervision of Dr. Shane Renwick at the CFIA headquarters. Renwick was the lead of the Fore-CAN project (Foresight for Canadian Animal Health). This multi-partner initiative was created to develop an anticipatory animal health system in Canada.

"It really opened my eyes to the work going on in Ottawa and I was very interested in being a part of it," says Baker.

In 2011, Baker returned to Ottawa through the CFIA's Veterinary Student Internship Program (VSIP) and worked on projects following a One Health theme.

One Health is a concept that focuses on the collaborative effort of multiple disciplines to attain optimal health for people, animals and the environment.

"I spent the summer studying One Health and applying it to the North," Baker says.

Baker acknowledges that she's no expert on Inuit culture, but she does think that it fits well with One Health.

"To me, One Health captures the way Inuit understand the world, which is that all things are interconnected no matter how obscure the relationship appears," says Baker. "There is real truth to that."

With Renwick's support, Baker continued to advocate for Nunavut and presented current issues in the territory to the CFIA while working in Ottawa.

"They are a very supportive group — they were really interested in my experiences in Nunavut," Baker says of her CFIA colleagues in Ottawa.

After completing her third year at the WCVM, Baker returned to the CFIA for a month before heading to Paris to work as an intern for the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE).

The OIE is a member of a tipartite along with the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). These three organizations collaborate to oversee issues regarding human, animal and environmental health at an international level.

"[The tipartite] represents the One Health concept at a very high level," says Baker.

While in Paris, Baker worked under the supervision of Dr. Kate Glynn, an OIE veterinary medical officer who was on a four-year mission from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, Ga.

"She invested a lot of time in me and provided the international perspective that I had never experienced," Baker says.

One project that Baker worked on was a review of a set of animal health recommendations. The project evolved into developing a new version of the recommendations to reflect more current ways of thinking with respect to One Health.

"It really introduced me to veterinary policy at an international scale," says Baker.

After finishing her final year at the WCVM in April 2013, Baker moved to Ottawa to work for the CFIA and focus on her passion for regulatory medicine and animal health policy.

"The CFIA have been so supportive of me through my veterinary education and I have an opportunity to continue to learn from some amazing veterinarians in Ottawa," says Baker. "My set of skills and interests are somewhat different from many veterinarians, but we each contribute to animal health in our own way."

Baker misses her life and great friends in Nunavut — but at this point, she's uncertain where her career will take her. No matter where she ends up, Baker says she will always be an advocate for Nunavut.

Though the lack of consistent northern veterinary services still needs to be addressed, Baker says it's equally important to recognize the efforts that are being made in the territory.

"There is now a veterinary clinic in Iqaluit that's owned and operated by a previous WCVM grad. As well, there have been travelling clinics arranged by the Rotary Club and volunteer groups that have provided services," explains Baker.

"People are also very resourceful in Nunavut and seek out services and do the best that they can for their pets."

Baker is pleased to see veterinary services in Nunavut progressing — but there is more work to be done. Veterinarians need to develop partnerships with Inuit so both sides can learn from one another. Services and programs must also reflect Inuit values and will take time to develop.

"There's nothing more frightening or isolating than not being able to get the help that you need for your pet at the time that you need it," Baker says.

And although she may one day become directly involved with northern veterinary services — perhaps by volunteering with travelling clinics — Baker feels that for now it's important for her to stay in Ottawa.

"Perhaps the best way for me to contribute to animal health in the North is from Ottawa."

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