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First-year veterinary student Jake Graas of Calgary, Alta. Photo: Debra Marshall.

Calgary student aspires to be "fish vet"

When Jake Graas of Calgary, Alta., was 10 years old, his father let him lie about his age so he could try scuba diving for the first time.

That life-changing experience led to Graas's curiosity about marine life and, eventually, to veterinary school.

"I'm very lucky to have a dad who supported that interest throughout my life," said Graas, a first-year student in the Western College of Veterinary Medicine (WCVM).

"Despite being very susceptible to sea sickness and harbouring a strong dislike for the water, he even took an introductory scuba course with me."

But veterinary medicine wasn't Graas's first career choice. After two years of attending the University of Calgary, Graas took the plunge and chased a future in marine biology. He enrolled at Hawaii Pacific University, and once he completed a Bachelor of Science degree in marine biology, Graas spent a year working as an aquarist at Sea Life Park Hawaii.

"I helped care for the park's breeding green sea turtle colony, white tip reef sharks, sting rays, and tropical fish and invertebrates," Graas said. "Working at the park was a fantastic experience, and I may not have become interested in veterinary medicine without it."

After that experience, Graas returned to Canada where he completed a Master of Science degree at the University of British Columbia. In June 2014he was accepted into WCVM.

"When I found out I'd been accepted, I called my dad and nearly cried," said Graas. "It was a life changing moment and I will never forget it."

Graas and his classmates were welcomed to the veterinary profession on September 19 during a white coat ceremony in Saskatoon, Sask. During the evening ceremony, all of the veterinary college's 78 first-year students received personalized white lab coats and stethoscopes from representatives of national and provincial veterinary medical associations.

The new students, who will graduate in 2018, come from communities across Western Canada and the northern territories. The regional veterinary college accepts 20 students from Alberta each year.

The Class of 2018 joins more than 235 veterinary students who are already enrolled in the four-year Doctor of Veterinary Medicine program at WCVM.

Now that he's begun his classes at the veterinary college, Graas is particularly enjoying microscopic anatomy, mainly because of its usefulness to a "fish vet."

His future plans are for a veterinary career that focuses on aquaculture, an industry that he foresees gaining prominence as wild fish stocks dwindle and the world's demand for food increases.

In January 2014, Graas jumped at the opportunity to work as farm manager on a recirculating salmon farm—his favourite experience to date.

"I learned an immense amount about raising salmon, aquatic life support systems and animal production in general," said Graas. "There's never a dull day when farming salmon, and I hope to get back at it someday."

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