Ever since she was a little girl, Katie Nicol always said she wanted to be a veterinarian when she grew up.
Five months into the veterinary medicine program at the Western College of Veterinary Medicine — University of Saskatchewan, the Chemainus-raised student is realizing that dream and is eager to return and practise out of the home she grew up in.
“I have a pretty open mind — I can picture myself in either wildlife or small animal [medicine] at the moment,” she said. “Everyone tells you that you’re going to change by the time you’re in fourth year, so I’m scared to pick one.”
Nicol started the program Aug. 22 after finishing her bachelor’s degree in science at Vancouver Island University.
“So far so good,” she said. “We’ve done a lot of anatomy and physiology of the legs, the abdomen and the thorax; we’ve done biochemistry, lots of histology, and nutrition. I love it.”
One of her most interesting learning experiences thus far was watching a laparotomy performed on a euthanized elderly horse.
“The sheer size and how the intestines are organized inside the abdomen, it’s incredible how it all fits together and works, the way you can just lift out part of the intestine and it’s 10 pounds; it’s fascinating,” she said. “A lot of the time on dogs, it’s small and hard to see.”
Because her mom worked at a local veterinarian clinic, Nicol had plenty of inspiration, and animals to look after, growing up.
“As a kid, my brother and I always got to watch surgeries,” she said. “We liked being at the vet clinic, seeing all the animals, and we worked closely with our vets throughout our animals’ lives.”
Even as a six-year-old child, she recalls insisting on being in the room when her 20-year-old cat Morris was put to sleep.
“I felt sadness, I wanted to be there for Morris and wanted to say goodbye,” she said. “But I was thankful. I knew he was in pain; he had cancer.”
Nicol, who has only owned dogs and cats and other small animals, is eager to learn more about horses and large animals during her four-year program.
“It’s very interesting and the teachers are very enthusiastic; it’s a good atmosphere,” she said. “It’s definitely busy, and it’s an adjustment.”
While the future isn’t crystal clear yet, Nicol said she hopes for overseas adventures helping organizations like Vets Without Borders after settling down and working for a few years locally.
“I just want to help animals that don’t have access to care,” she said. “Here, we have a choice between vet clinics in Nanaimo and vet clinics in Chemainus … if you’re not happy with one vet, you can go to the next but there’s so many places that don’t even have a vet.”