“Growing up on a small island was a really unique upbringing,” says Hughes, a first-year student at the Western College of Veterinary Medicine (WCVM). “I spent nearly all of my childhood around the ocean, either wading around at low tide collecting creatures or snorkelling, diving or boating around the local waterways.”
Hughes also spent lots of time around animals. His family owned dogs, cats, rabbits and horses, and he did a lot of animal sitting for neighbours and friends, looking after farm animals such as pigs, goats and sheep. He learned about the island’s wild animals and grew accustomed to handling all kinds of creatures including marine organisms.
Those early experiences instilled in him a healthy respect for nature and living things as well as a passion for understanding how they functioned. Although Hughes had a personal interest in animals and medicine and had always been intrigued by the veterinary profession, he didn’t decide to pursue a veterinary career until he started his undergraduate degree at the University of British Columbia.
Hughes was working on a degree in oceanography and biology, but he realized that he also needed to expand his veterinary experiences and develop more practical animal handling skills. He volunteered at a Vancouver cat shelter and began shadowing and volunteering at two small animal clinics in the Comox Valley — an opportunity for him to work in the clinics as well as assist in field work at satellite clinics in rural areas.
“I was incredibly fortunate to work with some amazing veterinarians and technicians who guided and inspired me along my pre-vet journey,” says Hughes. “Dr. David MacDonald (WCVM ’98) and Dr. Sacha Edgell (WCVM ’98) at Comox Valley Animal Hospital were incredibly generous in taking me under their respective wings.”
He’s also grateful for the help he received from Dr. Pamela Wood (WCVM ’88) and the veterinary team at Shamrock Veterinary Clinic, also in Comox, B.C.
While Hughes enjoyed these opportunities to expand his clinical and surgery experiences, he also relished his summer job at Ole’s Hakai Pass Salmon Fishing Lodge on the central B.C. coast. For three summers he worked there, first as a dockhand and fishing guide, and eventually as the dock manager in charge of all dock operations.
“Apart from helping them catch all types of fish, I really enjoy educating people about local wildlife species like humpback whales, Pacific white-sided dolphins, orcas, fish and crustaceans,” says Hughes. “I also like discussing the environmental and human-related challenges that are impacting wild Pacific salmon species in a changing climate.”
Hughes began the four-year Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM) program at the WCVM in mid-August. He and his 78 classmates received an official welcome to the college and the veterinary profession during a white coat ceremony that was held on Sept. 21, in Saskatoon, Sask.
He’s looking forward to the range of opportunities and hands-on experiences that are ahead of him.
“There’s such a vast array of knowledge, skills and techniques to master in the next four years, and that makes the experience very intensive but rewarding. Tackling the demands of being a vet student head on, alongside a fantastic group of peers has me very excited for the coming years.”
As a B.C.-raised kid who has never been away from the ocean for long, Hughes plans to return to the Pacific Northwest — potentially to small animal practice. But for now, he’s keeping his career options open.
“Since my early childhood, I’ve always had a strong passion for the natural world, animals and understanding what makes things tick,” says Hughes. “Combining that with the volunteering experiences I’ve had to date has helped me to prepare for the realities of the veterinary profession and to realize that the skill set of a veterinarian is incredibly broad and goes well beyond excelling with animals.”