Veterinary graduate’s story inspires students

WCVM assistant professor Dr. Candace Grier-Lowe. Photo: Debra Marshall.

When her high school guidance counsellor told her that striving for a career in veterinary medicine was a waste of time, Dr. Candace Grier-Lowe nearly believed him.

“I wasn’t seriously thinking about university at the time,” she explains. “I was a horrible student – more interested in being a teenager and having fun – so I can understand why he responded this way.”

Despite this advice, Grier-Lowe’s dream never died, thanks to her family and friends’ support. “Another student given the same advice without the same network of support may have completely given up and that really doesn’t sit well with me,” says Grier-Lowe, whose family is part of the Norway House First Nation in Manitoba.

To combat that fear of the impossible among some of today’s youth, Grier-Lowe schedules visits to various communities in her home province and in Saskatchewan to speak to students – even though her greatest fear is public speaking. Grier-Lowe also talks about her academic challenges in a new student recruitment video that was produced at the WCVM.

Her main piece of advice to students: “Hard work and determination is all you need. It’s never too late to do what you want.”

Grier-Lowe can offer these great words of wisdom now, but it was a different story for her. After graduating from high school in Thompson, Man. – the community where she spent most of her childhood – Grier-Lowe worked as a dental assistant for for two years.

“After watching the dentist for some time, I thought, ‘What he’s doing isn’t very hard’,” says Grier-Lowe. “Plus, I wasn’t made to be somebody’s helper. The only way I could fix this was by going back to school.”

Grier-Lowe attended the University of Winnipeg to upgrade her high school marks and then enrolled in the University of Manitoba where she took pre-dentistry courses. But she soon found herself thinking about veterinary medicine.

“I’ve always wanted to be a vet,” she recalls. “My parents put together this baby book for me and every year I’d answer the question, ‘What do you want to be when you grow up?’ with ‘Veterinarian.’”

As a child, Grier-Lowe had constantly brought home stray animals to add to her ever-growing group of pets. “I have a very strong bond with animals. Put me in a room with 30 interesting people and one dog in the corner and I’ll find a way to get myself to that dog,” she says with a smile.

To avoid potential regret later on in life, Grier-Lowe applied to the Western College of Veterinary Medicine (WCVM). She did everything possible to increase her chances of acceptance: taking animal science courses, working in veterinary clinics and even transferring into the U of M’s faculty of agriculture.

And, in the end, all of her hard work and determination paid off when she received her acceptance letter from the WCVM in 2001.

When she graduated in 2005, Grier-Lowe took on the clinical associate position in radiation oncology at the College’s Veterinary Medical Centre (VMC). She worked alongside Dr. Monique Mayer – a WCVM assistant professor in radiation oncology.

“Dr. Mayer made me want to know more about the field I was in. She’s an amazing radiation oncologist,” says Grier-Lowe.

After working with Mayer for two years, Grier-Lowe knew she wanted to specialize – but not in radiation oncology. “I love the clinical aspect of it, but not the physics and math part of it,” she says.

So when Dr. James Anthony – Grier-Lowe’s future supervisor and mentor – arrived as the WCVM’s veterinary dentistry specialist, she thought, “Aha, dentistry. There it is again in my life.”

In 2008, Grier-Lowe began a three-year residency that combined her two passions – dentistry and veterinary medicine. Her combined Master of Veterinary Science-residency program received financial support from Nestlé Purina.

Now finished her residency, Grier-Lowe looks forward to writing her American Veterinary Dental College (AVDC) board examinations in Las Vegas over a three-day period in May 2012. Grier-Lowe joined the WCVM’s Department of Small Animal Clinical Sciences as an assistant professor in September 2011. “I really love clinical practice – the daily interactions with clients and their animals,” she says.

And while she still has a phobia about public speaking, Grier-Lowe’s oratory skills have improved over the years through her motivational speeches to youth and teaching fourth-year students during their clinical rotations.

“I like teaching – that’s something I’ve learned about myself,” she says. “I’ve really learned so much about myself over the years. I’ve learned that anything can be done, anything is possible . . . even becoming a veterinary dentist.”

Read Vet Topics (Winter 2012) for more information about Dr. Candace Grier-Lowe’s graduate research project.

Robyn Thrasher of Edmonton, Alta., is a second-year veterinary student at the WCVM. Robyn produced stories about the veterinary college’s clinical services, research program and its researchers as part of her 2011 summer job in research communications.

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