Dr. Gillian Davies of Calgary, Alta., is the 2020 recipient of the WCVM Faculty Gold Medal. Submitted photos.

Gold medal completes student's four-year academic set

Dr. Gillian Davies has earned her place in the history books.

By Katie Brickman-Young

For only the third time in the Western College of Veterinary Medicine’s (WCVM) recent history, a single veterinary student has received the top academic award in all four years of the college’s Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM) program.

In June, Davies completed her award set when she received the 2020 WCVM Faculty Gold Medal — the college’s most prestigious honour. Each year, it’s given to the WCVM graduate who has demonstrated general proficiency in the science and art of veterinary medicine throughout the program.

“It is not normal to win all four years. People excel on the theory in the first couple of years, and that doesn’t often follow over to exceptional performance in the clinical years,” explains Dr. Chris Clark, WCVM’s associate dean, academic. “I’ve been at the school for 25 years and have been involved in the decision process for the past eight years — I can only recall it happening one other time.”

Davies thrives in situations where she is challenged, so it wasn’t a complete shock that she performed well academically throughout her time at the WCVM.

What was a surprise to her was receiving the Faculty Gold Medal.

“It was a bit surreal. This is something I didn’t expect to happen when I started vet school, but it is nice to have the hard work validated,” she says.

Davies was nominated by her teachers, a group of people who helped her reach her goals in veterinary school.

“It means the world to be nominated by them. I respect my professors so much. I have learned everything from them,” she says. “The Gold Medal is based a lot on marks over the first three years. It is something that some of them knew about because I had been in their classes, but to have the [fourth-year] clinicians also recommend me, it is special.”

Davies wasn’t sure how she would fare in her fourth year since it focuses on clinical skills rather than academic performance.

“Going into fourth year, it was nerve-racking because it isn’t just the book smart piece that gets you through being a good clinical veterinarian,” says Davies. “It is the skills and communication … the things that can’t be tested on paper.”

Virtual awards for WCVM graduates 

The WCVM spring award winners were announced in an emailed announcement on June 1 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Normally, Davies and her peers would be honoured at the University of Saskatchewan (USask) spring convocation ceremony and at the WCVM award banquet.

“Graduating from vet school is memorable, no matter what the circumstances,” says Clark. “This will probably make it a bit more memorable, but we will celebrate appropriately when it is safe to do so.”

Davies received four awards worth $7,500, which will help as she moves to Texas for a one-year small animal rotating internship at Texas A&M University’s Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital.  

“These awards have been amazing, not only have they been a huge help financially. It was going to be pretty tight moving down there on my intern salary, so having that financial benefit is helpful,” says Davies.

She adds that being the WCVM’s Gold Medal recipient is a distinction that “I can share with somebody and they can automatically have an idea of my accomplishments and what kind of person I am, and that … makes me stand out as a practitioner.”

Outside the classroom, one of the biggest things that Davies has learned is the importance of conversation, discussion and communication.

“Coming at conversations with a sense of curiosity is such an enlightening way to have discussions with people,” she says. “By being genuinely curious about people’s answers, you don’t place judgment and you can learn so much more about them. You can gain insight into how they think and why they think that way.”

Davies hopes to specialize in small animal surgery or emergency and critical care, with a goal to teach in a university. Wherever life takes her, Davies knows her WCVM accomplishments will help her as she moves along in her career.

“This will be invaluable to me going forward and helping me achieve my goals. I do hope to go on and specialize, maybe not immediately, but it is something that I’ve considered and these awards would make me a more competitive candidate to go into that specialized programming,” she says.

While this year ended much differently than expected for the Class of 2020, Clark commends Davies and her classmates for their positive attitude despite disruptions caused by the pandemic.

“This class really handled the situation in stride and I think that will set them up for practice as they were resilient and adaptable,” says Clark.