Fourth-year veterinary student Savannah Fuller and second-year veterinary student Tannicka Reeves, who are both from Yukon, are the inaugural scholarship recipients of the VWB/VSF’s new “Access to Care” awards program targeting Canada’s North.
VWB/VSF is a non-profit charitable organization that strives to achieve the goal of healthy animals, people and environments worldwide.
Dr. Michelle Tuma, the organization’s Northern Canada veterinary specialist, says the scholarship would normally be offered to only one student. But since both students’ applications “were amazing,” VWB/VSF made an exception this year and awarded two scholarships to Fuller and Reeves.
“Their dedication to community health, One Health and returning to the North was what really stood out for their applications,” says Tuma.
The “Access to Care” program is open to applicants living in the northern territories, with priority given to Indigenous applicants. In addition to the scholarship for veterinary students, the VWB/VSF also offers five $5,000 bursaries for individuals pursuing animal and One Health-related diplomas or certificates.
With only a handful of veterinary clinics in northern Canada, animal owners have limited access to veterinary care because of the remoteness of the region.
“We need more vets in the North,” says Tuma. “[The vet shortage] isn’t a new thing for the North.”
In 2019, Tuma helped to develop a northern veterinary program for the VWB/VSF, which was launched in 2022. The program’s 2023 objective is to offer mobile veterinary clinics in 12 northern communities and provide resources for sustainable programming in its partner communities.
“One of the focuses for our program was to try to find avenues on how we can bring increased awareness of decreased barriers to access to education in any type of animal-related field or One Health-related field,” says Tuma.
The main reason for this northern student scholarship is to decrease barriers for access to veterinary care.
“The other reason is that we wanted to be able to provide more exposure [to the] opportunity for a northern student to go to vet school,” says Tuma.
In addition to the scholarship and bursaries, the organization supports pet first aid awards for people who live in VWB/VSF’s northern partner communities.
“It’s for any resident of that community to be able to do a pet first aid course virtually,” says Tuma. “We provide them with that course and with a pet first aid kit. If there’s a resident in the community who knows pet first aid, then they potentially could be helping out with animal care when the vet team isn’t there.
Tuma, who grew up in Yellowknife, N.W.T., and is now based in her home community, graduated from the WCVM’s veterinary program in 2014. For her, this scholarship holds special meaning.
“It’s full circle for me to be able to now give back to the students who do want to come back to the North,” she says. “It’s really exciting to see that there are more people becoming interested in getting to vet school and getting to the WCVM. We’re hoping that the scholarship is just a first step to expanding that exposure.”
Fuller, who is originally from Whitehorse, Yukon, worked as a receptionist and a veterinary assistant at a local clinic called All Paws Veterinary Clinic before being accepted at the WCVM. She knew if she continued in the profession, she wanted to be a veterinarian.
“Access to veterinary care in the northern communities is a real problem and it’s something that I have seen a lot of. I’d like to help where I can to help these people access the care they need,” says Fuller. “There’s a strong sense of community when you’re in such an isolated area.”
Fuller was thrilled when she learned that she had received a VWB/VSF scholarship: “I was very excited to hear about the scholarship because such a large association has taken on a problem that is very close to home for me.”
Fuller will ultimately return home to Whitehorse and practise as a mixed animal veterinarian, but for the short term, she plans to stay in Saskatchewan after graduating this spring.
“I’ll spend the next year working in a mixed animal practice in Saskatchewan to increase my exposure to large animal medicine and hone my skills so that I can return to Whitehorse [and be] more confident to take on any case,” says Fuller.
Originally from the Taku River Tlingit First Nation located in Atlin, B.C., Reeves now lives in Whitehorse, Yukon, with her mom, sister and dog Koeda.
“There are so many things I love about it,” says Reeves as she talks about her home community. “You don’t have to go very far to enjoy nature, go on hikes or kayaking or canoeing. You can find [space] and have a nice little slice of heaven to yourself.
Reeves knew she wanted to become a veterinarian because her first dog Koeda incited passion about animals and their health. She wanted to help owners give their pets the best life they can and to help them strengthen their human-animal bond.
“I think the inciting factor was my first dog Koeda,” says Reeves. “I call him my ‘soul dog.’”
Reeves experienced many emotions when she found out she received the scholarship, saying that she was grateful, surprised and happy.
“I am very happy and excited for the opportunities that this scholarship will bring — because personal growth doesn’t happen when you feel comfortable,” says Reeves.
In the long term, Reeves wants to help increase to animal care for people and their animals in the Yukon as well as in her First Nations community. She feels that this scholarship will help her to accomplish this important goal.
After Reeves completes veterinary school in 2025, she plans to return to Whitehorse and help provide veterinary care to remote northern communities.
In addition to the VWB/VSF scholarship, Reeves also received a USask award recognizing her efforts in community engagement this winter. The honour was given on March 9 at the university’s Indigenous Achievement Awards ceremony.