Courtney Orsen is a member of the WCVM's Class of 2021. Photo by Christina Weese.

Childhood goal becomes reality for Sask. student

Courtney Orsen was only three years old when she told her parents that she wanted to be a veterinarian, but she has never wavered from that aspiration.

“I’ve always loved animals,” says Orsen, now a first-year student at the Western College of Veterinary Medicine (WCVM). “I think growing up with animals exposed me to the veterinary career and piqued my interest, and all of my experiences and opportunities since then have solidified that desire.”

When she was young, Orsen spent hours playing with all of the indoor and outdoor pets on her family’s farm near Hanley, Sask., and as she got older, she took on more and more of the responsibilities related to handling and managing their beef cattle herd. Orsen also immersed herself in working with a variety of animals at home and on neighbouring farms.

Through a high school work experience class, she secured work placements at the University of Saskatchewan’s Veterinary Medical Centre (VMC) and the Saskatoon Zoo Society – a move that opened the door to additional volunteer and work experience at both places.

While volunteering and then working at the VMC, Orsen had the opportunity to work with and observe a variety of species that included exotic animals as well as beef cattle and companion animals.

She particularly appreciated the help and encouragement she received from Dr. Lyall Petrie, a professor emeritus in the WCVM’s Department of Large Animal Clinical Sciences.

“On many of my coffee breaks, he’d bring me papers about different diseases as they pertained to cases going on in the bovine ward,” says Orsen. “He had a wonderful way of simplifying the language for me, and I loved the opportunity to get hands-on experience while also being able to read and really understand the underlying causes for the clinical signs.”

A summer research job at the U of S College of Agriculture and Bioresources gave Orsen the chance to gain experience with research as well as sheep husbandry and health. She learned sample-type collection methods while working on the project that involved nutrition in feedlot ram lambs.

Orsen also volunteered at the Saskatoon Zoo Society where she handled and learned about wildlife species such as foxes, hawks and reptiles. She enjoyed the chance to take animals into the schools where she could teach students about the different species and their importance in the environment.

In addition, Orsen spent two summers volunteering at the Outlook Veterinary Clinic – a mixed animal practice with a variety of in-clinic and field service cases. She worked closely with Dr. Carmen Millham (WCVM ’95) who always encouraged her to get hands-on experience and ask lots of questions.

Millham also advised Orsen to enjoy life outside of school and work and encouraged her to take time out for curling – a sport she’d enjoyed since she was 11. Over time, Orsen had progressed to high school and city leagues, and she eventually competed in the juvenile and junior women’s circuit.

“Curling is an interesting sport where mental and physical abilities are both incredibly important,” says Orsen. “I love learning the strategy, but refining techniques and constantly striving to become better mentally and physically is also very stimulating.”

A highlight of Orsen’s curling career was competing and winning a bronze medal in the Optimist U18 Curling Championship as a member of Team Saskatchewan. She also won high school provincials during her senior year, and she competed in the 2016 Saskatchewan Junior Women’s Curling Championship.

Now that she’s moved one step closer to a veterinary career, Orsen is grateful for all the skills and qualities that she developed through her involvement in curling as well as her work and volunteer experiences.

As for future plans, Orsen is keeping her options open and learning as much as she can — but she does have an idea of where she would like to be in five years.

“I see myself working closely with a senior veterinarian in a mixed private practice and working with food production animals,” she says. “Ideally, I also hope to be living on a small farm or acreage and starting a family.” 

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