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The Steep Learning Curve - Danielle Brown

(Danielle Brown, AVC 2016, travelled to Natuashish in 2015. The students were asked to submit a piece of reflective writing, about their experience as a veterinarian)

We stepped onto the twin otter aircraft on June 4th, 2015. The chairs are a light fabric stretched over metal bars that can easily fold down to allow more space for cargo. There’s less than a dozen of us on the plane, the take-off is bumpy and the A/C feels like the moist air coming in from the outside. It reminds me of the type of plane people sky-dive out of and I’m positive my emotions mirror theirs before a big jump. I’m anxious, nervous, scared but excited. I’ve never done anything like this before and a million little questions are running through my head. What challenges will we face? How will this trip test our veterinary knowledge and skills? Will this trip change me? What difference will we make in these communities?

In the early stages of clinical rotations, my biggest challenge was to have confidence in myself and my abilities. I needed to learn to trust my intuitions, experiences and knowledge that I have gained over the past three years. Chinook felt like a head first dive into the deep end of these challenges, but thankfully I wasn’t going to have to face these alone.

Danielle and Dr. Ruffino work on a surgical patient.

Our wonderful mentors, John Ruffino, Chris McLaughlin and Andrea Jack paved the way for our learning experience on Chinook. The amount of knowledge and experiences these three had were immense and they were more than willing to share it all with us – what could be better? Our mentors believed in our abilities and they taught us and guided us, in a relaxed manner, through medical and surgical situations that most of us had never encountered before. They helped shape the way I will practice veterinary medicine in the future. Through the support of these people and the other 4th year students, along with the wide array of clinical experience I gained on Chinook, I feel much more competent, confident and prepared to trade in my blue coat for a white one.

Prior to Natuashish, I had completed 1 neuter and 1 and a ½ of a spay surgery. These surgeries were under the most ideal situations; in sterile surgical suites with multiple anesthetists and surgeons within ear-shot, as well as having access to all the top of the line monitoring equipment. Chinook would not be like this, Dr. Marti Hopson (coordinator) had warned us, and that was okay. I was ready to be put to the test, I was ready to push myself out of my comfort zone and see where it got me.

When we arrived at the fire hall where our clinic was to be over the next few days, it was nothing like an ideal surgical or medical facility. This was our first test: learning to adapt -- and after a few hours of cleaning, sweating and coming up with new and exciting ways to hang a fluid bag, we turned it into our own little hospital. After a restless night, we returned to our make-shift clinic in the morning, ready to tackle whatever the next few days brought.

One of Danielle's challenging surgical patients, with puppy.

Some challenges I faced in the days to come included using injectable anesthesia for the first time (versus inhaled), having to breathe for patients without bags or ventilators throughout entire procedures, learning to go solo in surgery and being involved in my first CPR situation. One surgery I found particularly challenging was one of my last; a spay on a momma dog that had been delivered of her puppies 5 days ago. The uterus was so friable (fragile), it felt like it was disintegrating in my hands. One gentle clamp with carmalt hemostats caused the uterine body wall to burst and grey caseous material came squeezing out. If this had happened on day one, I probably wouldn’t have been able to finish the surgery on my own. However, at this point in the game I only needed a couple of encouraging words and a few tips to point me in the right direction.

Chinook has made me feel more prepared and equipped to deal with situations I have never been in before. It was a huge confidence building and educational experience, as well as a cultural one. The greatest reward I received from this rotation was to be able to help the animals in these communities of my home province and feel like I gave back and improved the animals’ lives; and what more are we in this profession for? In the rotations that followed, I have been asked many times if I was comfortable performing certain tasks such as doing surgery alone, monitoring a tough anesthesia case, dealing with less than ideal patients or situations, and I often catch myself saying “I don’t mind, I did that at Chinook”. It was an experience of a lifetime and most certainly the kick-start I needed into my fourth year rotations and my career as a veterinarian.

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