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The Student Becomes a Teacher

Updated: Nov 28, 2020


In 2009, Nicole Cummings participated as a student on the Chinook Project (Cambridge Bay/Kugluktuk). She kept a blog for us, then, which is still available on the CBC website ( This past summer, we were so very fortunate to have DR. Nicole (who now practises in Massachusetts) volunteer her time as an instructor with the Project. She was an incredible mentor and teacher, and we've asked her to write the first blog post for the new Chinook Project Website. Here it is:

“When I was asked to write the first blog for the Chinook Project website and describe my experiences as both a student and an instructor, I was honored. This is because the most important skills I learned in vet school were not learned from a textbook. They were learned with the Chinook Project.

No matter how many lectures you sit through about client communication, not one can truly prepare you for real life. Gaining trust from a group of people who have never met you, and explaining the importance of spaying and neutering, animal health care, and vaccinations to people for whom English may not be a first language allows you to cross real life culture barriers. These are the skills that can conquer everyday communication barriers at home.

No matter how many colorful surgical textbooks you read, not one will come close to real life experience--to holding those instruments in your hands, and feeling just how tight the suture should be tied in each particular dog. Those textbooks also do not have the simple surgical tricks and medical knowledge passed down from each Chinook instructor.

The simple fact: as a student I learned how to become a better veterinarian, and better surgeon because of the Chinook trip. I now know all those little tricks for talking to clients, and dealing with tough surgeries. Only a handful of people got to experience this trip first hand, and I felt it was now my turn to pass on the same knowledge that was taught to me by my wonderful instructors.

Dr. Nicole, Melissa and Dr. Marti

As an instructor this year, my role changed. I had forgotten how foreign the surgical instruments can feel in your hands as a student. I had forgotten how I stumbled over my words when first talking to clients, and how I nearly froze up when asked why spaying/neutering was important in a radio interview. I suddenly realized not only how far I had come in just 2 years, but also how important my role was in the students’ lives this year. I was no longer allowed to sit idly by, and just “take in” information. It was now my job to provide the information. I had to learn to be patient, to go slow, to explain the same thing in many different ways until it was clear to each student. The hardest thing I learned was when I needed to hold a student’s hand in surgery, and when it was time to let it go.

Dr. Nicole Breda (Cummings) helps Chris in Makkovik

For the two weeks I was there, it was my mission to ensure they squeezed out every single bit of knowledge I had learned on my trip. This trip was a completely different experience for me. I loved this trip as much as when I went as a student, but for very different reasons. I was given amazing instructors and knowledge during my own trip. And now, I was molding future veterinarians with the very same knowledge that molded me, and I was elated to be a part of it."

Nicole Cummings, DVM

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