Stuart Matthews,
First-year veterinary student Stuart Matthews of Livelong, Sask. Photo: Christina Weese.

Student's promise tops off his trek to WCVM

When Stuart Matthews learned that he’d been accepted to the Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM) program at the Western College of Veterinary Medicine (WCVM), he set out to celebrate in a unique way.

“I got in my car and drove to Lammle’s to buy a cowboy hat. I’d always wanted one, and I’d promised myself that I would get one once I got into vet med,” says Matthews who grew up on a ranch near Turtleford, Sask. “ At 11 a.m., I found out I had been accepted, and at 11:30 [a.m.], I was wearing my first cowboy hat.”

Matthews has worked hard for that hat. While growing up on the family ranch, he began helping his dad with their sheep flock and cattle herd at a young age. By the time he was 14, many of his responsibilities involved caring for the sheep, and he recalls many night shifts spent checking the ewes every two hours during lambing. He also remembers feeling the weight of that responsibility — especially on cold February nights when a mistake in judgment could result in death for the ewes and their lambs.

Although Matthews had always enjoyed working with livestock, he was a young teenager when he decided that ranching life wasn’t for him. Luckily, he soon discovered an option that made a better fit for him when his high school attended the University of Saskatchewan’s (USask) open house.

“A friend dragged me to the vet med session put on by Heather Mandeville (admissions manager) and Chris Clark (associate dean, academic),” Matthews recalls. “When we walked out of the session, I was hooked.”

Matthews came home from the open house with a clear goal and a plan for action. In addition to applying himself more in his classes, he began working on his interpersonal skills that would benefit him as a practitioner. He also started volunteering at the Turtleford Veterinary Clinic with WCVM graduate Dr. Miles Johnson (DVM’80).

“He was an excellent mentor and his compassion and respect and deep knowledge of the community and its members were inspiring to see,” says Matthews. “He’d been practising in the Turtleford area for years and would adjust his demeanour and approach to clients based on his experiences with them.”

After Matthews graduated from high school, he moved to Saskatoon where he completed a Bachelor of Science in Animal Bioscience degree at USask. His summers were spent working on the ranch as well as volunteering at Spiritwood Veterinary Service.

He also continued an interest in carpentry that he’d begun in high school after a summer spent working as a carpenter’s helper. Matthews found the work incredibly rewarding, particularly the aspects of working outside and working with his hands. That experience led to a woodworking hobby that now involves designing, drafting and building furniture.

“I enjoy that I start with something that’s without function or really any beauty, and then I can take the parts and manipulate them into an object, whether it’s a chair or a chest or a table, that is more valuable than the sum of its part,” Matthews says.

He appreciates the sense of accomplishment the work gives him, and he plans to continue working with wood and building things as long as his schedule and his work space will allow.

Matthews continued to seek experience with animals as he completed his undergraduate studies and moved on to full-time work. In addition to volunteering at a small animal clinic in Saskatoon, he worked as an instructor in the animal science technology program at Lakeland College in Vermilion, Alta.

While teaching animal handling and livestock nutrition to students from across Canada, Matthews particularly enjoyed the opportunity to meet and learn from the students who came from rural backgrounds.

“As they applied it [the classes] to their own operations and their understanding developed, it gave me an incredible sense of accomplishment and happiness,” says Matthews, who began classes at the WCVM in mid-August.

The college formally welcomes Matthews and his 89 first-year classmates to the veterinary profession during the annual white coat ceremony on Monday, Sept. 26. 

Now that he’s on the receiving end of learning at the WCVM, Matthews particularly enjoys the anatomy and business classes — two subject areas that will be important in his future career.

Matthews looks forward to meeting and learning from all of the WCVM faculty and staff as well as his peers. Just as he had a clear vision of himself as a veterinary student, he now has a distinct image of himself as a veterinarian.

“The current plan after graduation is to work at — and one day take over — a mixed rural practice in rural Saskatchewan,” says Matthews. “I’ve always wanted to live in the rural Prairies. As well, I love working with livestock, and contributing to my community would be most readily served by working in a rural practice.”

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