Feb. 20, 2024

Alumni nurture next generation of veterinarians, foster connections that last a lifetime

4th-years gain hands-on experience working with small and large animals through Distributed Veterinary Learning Community
DVM students with horses
Riley Brandt, University of Calgary

Alumni of the University of Calgary Faculty of Veterinary Medicine (UCVM) are mentoring future vets through a program that offers students hands-on experience in clinics throughout Alberta.

The Distributed Veterinary Learning Community (DVLC), a clinical education model, is an integral part of the Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM) program. In it, fourth-year students spend a year working in veterinary clinics and other settings. 

Many of the DVLC partner practices are alumni who take pride in fostering long-term relationships, providing mentorship and creating a sense of community among students.

We spoke with four alumni who are actively involved in the DVLC. They shared their experiences and discussed the benefits and mentorship styles the DVLC provides.

Dr. Evan Lowe, DVM’14, Emerson Trail Veterinary Services, Beaverlodge

Evan Lowe focuses on large animals. “When students come to us, they not only work with our colleagues and clients, but also experience the culture and lifestyle of our area,” Lowe says. “We try to involve them in community activities to enhance their overall experience, just as I experienced when I was a student myself.”

Dr. Evan Lowe

Evan Lowe

“The immersive nature of rotations is invaluable. Unlike students in vet schools with teaching hospitals, who remain on campus for most of their fourth year, our setup truly immerses students in the realities of veterinary medicine and the local community.”

“To me, the most crucial aspect of mentorship in DVLC is being approachable and relatable,” Lowe says. “I think it's important for students to see that the real world isn't about passing or failing tests, but about building relationships with clients, animals and co-workers. 

Dr. Susanna Ogle, DVM’16, Harvest Pointe Animal Hospital, Edmonton 

Susanna Ogle’s clinic uniquely caters to exotic pets. "We often have former students reaching out to us for assistance with complex cases, especially those in mixed rural practices,” Ogle says. “Since our clinic specializes in exotic animals, we offer unique mentorship in this area. It's a two-way street: we also leverage our connections with former students to provide followup care for clients in distant areas. This mutual support enhances the overall veterinary community."

As an alum, Ogle adds: “My fourth year in veterinary medicine was the highlight for me. The hands-on clinical opportunities in the final year were most engaging. They fuelled my excitement to graduate and become a veterinarian. I always knew I wanted to pass on this experience to other students when the time was right for me.”

“Now, being on the other side, mentoring fourth-year students and witnessing their enthusiasm for the career is incredibly rewarding."

Ogle frequently uses the resources and support provided by UCVM as a practice rotation co-ordinator. “Recently, I completed a mental health first-aid course at UCalgary, which was immensely beneficial given the emotional nature of veterinary work,” says Ogle. “This support network enriches our practice and equips us with essential skills."  

Dr. Olge with a pet rabbit

Susanna Ogle

vet with a pet snake


Dr. Erin Heck, DVM’12, Happy Paws Veterinary Clinic, Airdrie

Erin Heck was a member of UCVM’s inaugural class and says witnessing the program’s evolution over the last 12 years has been remarkable. 

“The quality of students passing through the DVLC has consistently impressed me,” says Heck. “It's deeply fulfilling to contribute to the community that once supported me during my veterinary career. Returning to my roots in Calgary as an (alum) through the DVLC community feels like coming full circle.”


Dr. Erin Heck

Erin Heck

“The connections forged during rotations often blossom into enduring professional relationships. For instance, this year, we will be welcoming a former DVLC student to our team.”

Heck’s mentorship approach is tailored to the individual: “I strive to understand each student's goals, fears and areas of interest, shaping the rotation experience accordingly.”

Assessing the success of students extends beyond rubrics, Heck adds. “It's about observing their growth and confidence throughout the rotation. Witnessing a student transform from apprehensive to proficient, such as becoming adept at handling procedures, exemplifies the tangible progress that defines success in our program.”

The support and resources provided by UCalgary have been invaluable, Heck says. “Whether it's prompt responses to inquiries or financial assistance that allows us to prioritize educational endeavours, their backing enhances our ability to mentor the students.”

Dr. Amanda Elliot, DVM’12, Country Vets, Pincher Creek

Another member of UCVM’s inaugural graduating class, Amanda Elliot has a rural community practice and has been actively involved in the DVLC since 2013. 

"Mentoring holds a special place in my heart; it's been incredibly rewarding,” says Elliot. “I know what the students are capable of. So, when they come to our clinic, I encourage them to dive right in. They have the freedom to design their rotations, focusing on what they're passionate about. Whether it's working with cattle or horses, I make sure they get the experience they need to excel.”

For example, Elliot says, “Take large animal care. Many students come in with little to no experience, especially if they're from urban areas. But, by the end of their rotation, they're handling tasks like calving with confidence. It's truly remarkable to see their journey unfold.” 

Dr. Amanda Elliot

Amanda Elliot

“Mentoring at the DVLC clinic isn't just about passing on knowledge. It's about nurturing the next generation of veterinarians and fostering connections that last a lifetime."


UCVM has over 90 DVLC partners, with a total of 1,210 weeks of completed student rotations at these clinics. DVLC comprises clinics that provide care for small animals, rural community practices, clinics that specialize in food animals and horses, and even a zoo.

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