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Drs. Jim and Meg Smart. Supplied photo.

Couple's fund relieves students' money stress

For many years of his veterinary career, Dr. Jim Smart travelled throughout rural Saskatchewan as a member of the Western College of Veterinary Medicine's (WCVM) Field Service team. As he chatted with the students who accompanied him on the calls, he discovered that many were stressed about money.

"Jim learned that a lot of them had short-term financial difficulties, often around exam time," recalls his wife Dr. Meg Smart who also worked at the WCVM.

"They were worried because their rent was overdue or they were afraid their phone would be cut off, but they didn't have any money because their student loans hadn't come in yet."

Together the Smarts decided that they wanted to do something to help the students so they could stop worrying about money and start studying for their exams.

The couple established a loan fund that would enable veterinary students to come in and receive the money they needed right away. Students could then pay back the loan at a low interest rate once their funding was in place.

"A lot of times most of the money was out because the students all needed it at the same time," says Smart. Over the years, the Smarts worked at raising money for the fund. In addition to donating the money that they received as a stipend for doing night and weekend calls, the Smarts encouraged their clients to donate in the name of their animals.

Jim also raised money by soliciting sponsors and participating in a 75-kilometre cross country ski-a-thon.

When Jim retired in 1990, he and Meg decided to formalize the endowment. One year later, they established the WCVM Jim Smart Loan Fund. The fund is still operating today, and students continue to benefit by receiving financial help in the form of a bursary.

That help was much appreciated by fourth-year student, Kaylee Bohaychuk, who received $1,000 from the fund last year and used the money to pay down her student line of credit.

Since her first year at the WCVM, Bohaychuk has been working on a Master of Science degree in veterinary biomedical sciences along with a degree in veterinary medicine.

"I'm very grateful that there are bursaries such as this one that can help us students to reduce our debt," says Bohaychuk. "With less debt, students are able to pursue post-graduate training without worrying about their financial future."

Bohaychuk adds that just being selected for a bursary can be a terrific boost to morale that encourages students to enrol in graduate studies and internships.

The Smarts hope to see their fund grow so they can continue providing that extra help to students like Bohaychuk. They encourage contributions from WCVM alumni, particularly those who have benefited from the loan fund.

"Jim and I have taught lots of students over the years, and we'd like to encourage them to send money into the loan fund," says Meg. "We've never really kept track of the names of the students who have benefited, but we're happy that we've been able to make a difference."

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