Vet school moves in to new home

By Daniel Pagan

Along with 90 head of cattle, University of Calgary faculty of veterinary medicine students now have a place to call home.

The Clinical Skills Building opened its doors Aug. 24. Located at the Spy Hill campus, the building offers the vets-in-training opportunities to play around with state-of-the-art contraptions, such as animal ultrasound machines and the biodigester ­ — a large carcass-disposal unit. The CSB is designed for teaching vet students clinical skills and provides hands-on work with animals on-site, with almost 100 hectares of land.

The CSB’s opening is the final milestone in a long timeline. In Oct. 2004, MLA and then Minister of Learning Lyle Olberg unveiled plans for a new veterinary school in Calgary, hailing it as necessary in the fight against mad cow and avian flu. Five years later, the CSB’s opening has faculty of veterinary medicine dean Dr. Alastair Cribbs “thrilled.”

“The building design process was started in earnest in the summer of 2006, during a time of building challenges in Alberta,” explained Cribbs. “We are happy to have been able to have completed this challenging project on such a tight timeline.”

The CSB has six separate areas devoted to anatomy, laboratory diagnostics, equine, bovine, livestock and small animals and is 80,000 square feet. It will serve both new and practicing veterinarians, hosting practical sessions as part of the Canadian Veterinary Medical Association 2010 annual general meeting.

He added the CSB has been built to gold Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design standard, which means it met certain standards for environmentally sustainable construction, such as water conservation.

“We capture all storm run-off and animal waste,” said Cribbs. “The liquid waste is processed on-site in a treatment wetland. After percolating through a series of ponds, we pump the water back into the building. We chlorinate it and use the water to flush the toilets and wash down all the animal areas.”

Second-year student Eoin Clancy says that compared to the Foothills Hospital site there is “a great deal more space and equipment for practicing the necessary clinical skills of a veterinarian.”

“I feel extremely privileged to be studying at Spy Hill,” said Clancy. “The enthusiasm of all the staff and students working in the facility is tremendous.”

Vet students will still split their time between the satellite campus and the Foothills Hospital, Clancy noted, as they take non-pratical classes, such as human and animal medical research, and co-operation programs with human medical professionals.

He provided a few examples of the new technology at CSB, such as an anatomy camera and a touchpad system that can project real time images from labs onto giant screens in classrooms, an animal handling system designed to reduce stress during a bovine physical exam and the pathology department’s video conferencing abilities.

“The advantages to studying in the new facility is that the veterinary faculty has its own space where all of our clinical and professional skills can be developed before we begin practicums at hospitals and clinics throughout Alberta during our fourth year,” said Clancy.

For vet students needing a break from studying and clinical tests, the CSB has a few distracting features, including plans for a foosball or pool table.

“The foyer of the building is an area filled with tables where students can study and spend their free time during breaks from class,” said Clancy. “We also have a kitchen area where we can make food and coffee throughout the day.”

Cribb said by bringing together the “best ideas from veterinary colleges across the globe,” he hopes to continue the tradition of Canada’s four other colleges and produce outstanding graduates.

“We have just accepted our second class, our next jobs are to ensure a great education for our DVM students, expand our graduate program from 70 to 120 students and launch the Distributed Veterinary Learning Community programs that will support our final practicum year of education,” said Cribbs.

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