Michal Pokrarka left behind a successful volleyball career to focus on veterinary medicine. Photo by Debra Marshall.

SK student trades volleyball for vet med

Michal Pokraka was living the dream in 2013. After years of training camps and practices, he'd been chosen to play volleyball for the University of Saskatchewan Huskies. But at the end of his first year with the team, he was forced to make a tough choice.

"I'd been considering the different health-related fields, and I decided that I wanted a career in veterinary medicine. So I did one of the hardest things in my life: I quit playing Huskie volleyball so I could focus on maintaining my grades and volunteering in a veterinary clinic."

Pokraka had been playing sports all his life, but he'd also had a passion for animals for most of his life. During his first year of university, he finally had the chance to own and train his own dog – an experience that reinforced his interest in becoming a veterinarian.

Pokraka devoted his time to school and to volunteering at Central Animal Hospital in his hometown of Saskatoon, Sask. Once he had the chance to observe practitioner Dr. Eric Lawrence and experience the day-to-day life of a veterinarian, Pokraka knew he'd made the right choice.

That decision has paid off for Pokraka who is now a first-year student in the four-year Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM) program. He and his 77 classmates received an official welcome to the WCVM and to the veterinary profession on Friday, Sept. 23, during a white coat ceremony in Saskatoon, Sask.

The new students, who will graduate from the WCVM in 2020, come from communities across Western Canada and the northern territories.

Pokraka has managed to sustain his interest in volleyball by volunteering for various club volleyball teams – a way for him to give back to the Saskatoon volleyball community that provided him with so much support over the years.

"I really appreciated the time and effort my coaches put in to help me achieve my dream of playing for the men's Huskies volleyball team," says Pokraka. "It feels good to pass on my appreciation by giving younger players the opportunities that I had."

Pokraka is also grateful that he was able to play team sports for so many years. He looks back with fond memories on all the fun he had and all the friends he made while relieving stress, staying in shape and competing as a team member.

Pokraka has been impressed by the veterinary college's friendly, welcoming environment. He's also enjoying the opportunities for hands-on experience in anatomy class and in labs that include live animals. He's considering a career in small animal medicine, but Pokraka is also excited to learn more about the other pathways such as research or specialized medicine.

Whatever option Pokraka chooses, he's confident that the skills and qualities he acquired while playing sports will serve him well, first as a student and then as a veterinarian.

"While playing sports, I developed a strong work ethic and a drive for success. I also learned how to be part of a team and how to trust my teammates – that's an important quality to have in veterinary medicine where treatment often requires co-operation with other veterinarians, support staff and clients."

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