First-year veterinary student Kree Byrne.
First-year veterinary student Kree Byrne of Abbotsford, B.C. Photo: Christina Weese.

From teacher to vet student: ‘I finally feel like I’m in the right room’

When Kree Byrne of Abbotsford, B.C., completed his Bachelor of Education degree at the University of the Fraser Valley in 2018, he envisioned a future that included teaching school, playing and coaching soccer, and pursuing his passions for travel and adventure.

By Lynne Gunville

But a few years into his teaching career, Byrne began to reconsider his life plan.

“Teaching is a difficult profession, and I was being burned out by all the demands of modern teaching,” says Byrne, who is now a first-year student at the Western College of Veterinary Medicine (WCVM). “I started looking to go back to my sciences and pursue medicine, but when I discovered that human medicine wasn’t for me, I sought after veterinary medicine.”

Before making the final decision to quit teaching, Byrne set out to confirm that veterinary medicine was the right fit by exploring a variety of options — wildlife care, mixed practice and research.

He particularly enjoyed his volunteer experiences at Townline Veterinary Hospital in Abbotsford and the chance to shadow Drs. Louise Allmark and WCVM alumnus Ken Macquisten (DVM’80) who work with a variety of animals including wildlife and exotic species. 

“Working with exotics … highlighted the importance of knowledge in all species,” says Byrne. “I’ve always prided myself in becoming a jack-of-all-trades. I was fortunate to find mentorship that encouraged me to become a veterinarian who is able to treat any animal that walks through the door.”

Byrne ultimately chose to leave teaching, but he emphasizes that he enjoyed many aspects of the career, particularly the rewards of working with the kids and seeing their faces light up when they discover something new.

“I’ll miss the hum of learning as the kids are working through a new concept,” says Byrne. “Their brains are in high gear and really working hard. They are the future, and I will never fully leave it [teaching] behind. I look forward to giving back to education in a new way in the future.”

Byrne also plans to continue his involvement with soccer — a sport that has served him well over the years. From a young age, Byrne was active in several soccer communities, and he eventually played varsity soccer for the University of the Fraser Valley Cascades.

Byrne’s involvement in soccer also included playing, refereeing and coaching for the Abbotsford Soccer Association and the Abbotsford United Soccer Club.

“Playing soccer at a high level teaches you how to perform when under a lot of pressure, when there are people counting on you to perform your best for a game,” says Byrne. “Coaching is all about patience and realizing that respect from others has to be earned over time … trying to coach kids under 10 is like herding cats. You may get moments of listening, but overall, it’s controlled chaos.”

Since Byrne began his veterinary studies in August, he’s quickly developed an appreciation for the enthusiasm and passion that the professors bring to their subjects. He’s enjoying anatomy class and the opportunity to learn about how animal bodies move, but his favourite experiences have been in the animal handling labs where he’s had the opportunity to get his hands dirty while working with a variety of animals.

While Byrne has an interest in public health, he envisions a future career working in a mixed practice somewhere in rural B.C. where he can accommodate his love for the outdoors — and maybe even embark on some new adventures.

“I've managed to dive the Great Barrier Reef, walk on the Great Wall of China, jump out of an airplane above my hometown and get married during a global pandemic,” says Byrne. “I look forward to the next adventure my future has to offer.”

Byrne appreciates the encouragement he’s received from his community as well as the various Indigenous organizations such as Indspire and the Métis Association of British Columbia that have supported him throughout his years as a student. He’s also grateful for his loving wife, his patient puppy and his supportive family who gave him the courage to start new and follow his dreams.    

Over the next four years, Byrne anticipates working with a diverse caseload of animals and being surrounded by experts in their respective fields. He particularly looks forward to making lifelong friends and colleagues in his studies.

“It’s truly a privilege to be around like-minded individuals who have the same passions as I do,” says Byrne. “I finally feel like I’m in the right room.”