Family dog’s injury led to veterinary career

Second-year veterinary student Tegan Alce. Photo: Robyn Thrasher.

When Tegan Alce of Victoria, B.C., applied to the Western College of Veterinary Medicine (WCVM), she was initially put on the alternate list. Afraid that she’d never get in, Alce scheduled a counselling appointment with Elaine Angielski, the WCVM’s administrative officer for admissions at the time.

But before Alce could ask how she could improve her chances of being accepted, Angielski handed her a congratulatory letter welcoming her to the College’s Class of 2014. “I remember screaming, squealing and making pretty much any happy noise a person can make,” recalls Alce. “It was definitely one of the happiest moments of my life!”

Alce’s interest in veterinary medicine first arose when her dog Tori was hit by a car. Nine-year-old Alce, home alone at the time, hurried to a veterinary clinic with her injured pet: “The vets seemed unconcerned that I didn’t have a Visa or that my parents weren’t with me. They genuinely wanted to help my dog.”

Inspired by their actions, Alce decided to pursue a veterinary career. And she’s happy to report that 13-year-old Tori — although nearly blind and deaf — is still full of spunk and personality.

Now finished her first year of veterinary medicine, Alce is spending her summer working in the College’s student research program with Dr. Jaswant Singh, a professor in the WCVM’s Department of Veterinary Biomedical Sciences, and graduate student Dinesh Dadarwal. Alce’s project focuses on reproductive medicine and expands on a previous investigation in which researchers examined the aging of ovarian follicles in cattle.

The oocytes, or immature ova, collected from the earlier study will be stained with a dye to determine lipid content. “I’ll be analyzing the composition, distribution and size of the lipid droplets to see if there’s any relation to the follicular age,” explains Alce, adding that lipid content determines the overall health of an oocyte. Since embryo transfer is a safer way to increase genetic diversity across borders, it’s important to use the healthiest oocytes to ensure successful transfer.

So far, the highlight of Alce’s summer research experience has been the opportunity to work with some exotic species. “I’ve accompanied other grad students to help them on their projects. So far, I’ve helped out with llamas, alpacas, bison and deer,” says Alce. “It’s really interesting to learn about animals that I’ve had little exposure to.”

Alce’s experience has taught her that research is intensive work, but it’s very rewarding and worthwhile. “I’m doing something that contributes to knowledge that’s unknown. I think it’s neat that I’m helping people understand areas that aren’t well understood.”

Robyn Thrasher of Edmonton, Alta., is a second-year veterinary student at the WCVM. Robyn will be producing stories about the veterinary college’s research program and its researchers as part of her summer job in research communications.


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