First-year veterinary student Caren Lee of Calgary, Alta. Supplied photo.

Vet student aims to fulfil childhood dream

When Caren Lee was in Grade 1, she had three dreams: she wanted to be a singer, a math teacher and a veterinarian.

By Lynne Gunville

Although she had to settle for singing karaoke and tutoring math to fulfil two of those dreams, she’s well on her way to achieving the third — Lee is now a first-year student at the Western College of Veterinary Medicine (WCVM).

“Being a veterinarian was always my number one dream because I could not think of myself not working with animals,” says Lee, who was always surrounded by animals while growing up in Surrey, B.C.

“I had a veterinarian living in my neighbourhood, and I was able to observe various veterinary procedures when he came to our house for house calls.”

After high school, Lee moved to Saskatoon where she attended the University of Saskatchewan (USask) for four years before moving to the Saskatchewan Institute of Applied Science and Technology (now known as Saskatchewan Polytechnic) where she completed a two-year Diploma in Veterinary Technology in 2008.

Next, Lee moved to Calgary where she spent four years working as a registered veterinary technologist (RVT) at Animal Clinic West.

“Everything about Animal Clinic West was enjoyable,” says Lee. “I took the position because (Dr. Emery Cyfra, WCVM ’77) the owner of the practice, was so passionate about veterinary medicine. I loved and enjoyed every single moment.”

Lee continued working part time at the clinic after she became a full-time student at Mount Royal University (MRU) in Calgary. In 2016, she completed a Bachelor of Science degree with a major in general science and minors in biology and accounting — a strategy that would enable her to pursue her dream of becoming a veterinarian while giving her a backup plan for a management or teaching role in the veterinary field.

After graduating from MRU, she became the full-time manager for Animal Clinic West (now known as VCA Canada Calgary West Animal Hospital) for four years. As Lee looks back on her experiences at the clinic, she particularly appreciates the support that she received from her work team as well as Cyfra who encouraged her to apply to the WCVM.

“Dr. Cyfra always had faith in me in every area,” says Lee. “He gave me an opportunity to work with him; he created a position for me to learn and grow, and he was always proud of me. I think that helped me to grow.”

Lee is also thankful for the encouragement of her family who always supported her decisions and celebrated her accomplishments as she persisted with her dream of becoming a veterinarian.

Now that Lee is attending the WCVM, she’s enjoying any opportunity to handle large animals — she hasn’t had the chance to work with them for several years.

Although Lee has no firm plans for her future career, she hopes to work with wild species such as tigers and gorillas for a year or so. She also has an interest in research that results from her RVT training and a practicum at VIDO-InterVac (Vaccine and Infectious Disease Organization-International Vaccine Centre) on the USask campus.

For now, Lee is eagerly looking forward to the next four years and the opportunity to learn something new every day.

“I never gave up my dream!” says Lee. “I wanted to come to the WCVM so desperately to finish my goal. I feel like I have come back home.”