Nov. 6, 2020

Vet med instructor, Top 40 Under 40 winner continues Indigenous horse clinics through pandemic

COVID-19 shouldn't stand in the way of animal care and community support, says Jean-Yin Tan
A student works with a horse during an equine rotation in 2019.
A student works with a horse during an equine rotation in 2019. Todd Korol

Last week was big for Dr. Jean-Yin Tan, DVM: She was recognized as one of Avenue Magazine’s 2020 Top 40 Under 40. Tan, a senior instructor in equine clinical sciences in UCalgary's Faculty of Veterinary Medicine (UCVM), was recognized for her mentorship of veterinary students at UCVM, as well as the horse clinics she has been running in partnership with the Tsuut'ina and Siksika Nations since 2018.

  • Photo above: A student works with a horse during an equine rotation in 2019. Photo by Todd Korol
Jean Yin Tan

Faculty of Veterinary Medicine's Jean-Yin Tan was named to Avenue Magazine’s 2020 Top 40 Under 40.

Avenue Magazine

Originally designed by Tan as a clinical skills lab to provide horses with physical exams, vaccines and deworming, the program was expanded into two-week student rotations that included preventive care, including dentistry.

“We started with just four students and they got a really intensive learning experience," says Tan. "Not only did they get to do dentistry and practise independent care, but with the help of Dr. Mike Scott, an associate professor of veterinary clinical and diagnostic sciences, they also got to treat lameness, and got to work up some really great clinical cases. They even got to experience treating emergencies, like wounds. It was an incredible experience for them.

“We also got to meet many community members and really learn from them. It was such a rewarding experience being able to meet and talk to these community members about what the horses meant to them.”

Jeanette Many Guns is a member of the Siksika Nation. She is a filmmaker and runs a trail riding business with her 20 horses.

“The clinics impacted us in so many ways. Cost-wise it helped all of us at Siksika by not having to take our horses outside of the reserve,” says Many Guns, adding that some owners don’t have access to horse trailers.

“Because these were clinics it gave us more of an explanation of our horses’ medical needs. I trusted the information that was given to us. I appreciated their medical expertise, but also how kind and respectful Dr. Tan and her students were.”

Dr. Tan provides instruction to one of her students during an equine rotation in 2019.

Jean-Yin Tan provides instruction to one of her students during an equine rotation in 2019.

Todd Korol

Many Guns says the clinics have saved her more than $4,000 in animal care costs.

Since 2018, Tan and her students have done over 273 visits and provided more than $65,000 worth of services, thanks in part to donations from Boehringer Ingelheim and Zoetis, two firms specializing in veterinary health care.

Pandemic cancels student rotations but not community service

Tan says the goal for 2020 was to expand on the success of the previous year’s program, bringing out six students, up from the original four, and to add more services.

“Unfortunately, it was all canceled due to COVID-19,” says Tan. “But because we had promised the service, I didn't want to let down community members that have come to rely on this service because of something that was of no fault of theirs. So, a technician (Cecily Burbidge) and I continued to provide a minimal amount of essential services.”

Prejudice and denial of services

Tan heard first-hand from Siksika Nation members about the prejudice they experienced when the media reported there were possible cases of COVID-19 in Siksika Nation. She heard stories of members of the community being denied veterinary services and being shunned from sports and social activities in surrounding communities because they were viewed as a threat.

Tan says it was the opposite. “We were very cautious of the threat we posed to the community by potentially bringing COVID-19 in from Calgary, which was a much higher-risk area. We were extremely careful about social distancing, working outdoors, wearing masks, and gloves. I practised verbal consent so that I didn't have to pass a piece of paper and a pen to somebody else. We just did the minimal amount needed, including essential vaccines and any kind of emergency procedures that needed to be done.”

Dr. Tan speaks with horse owner Marvin Dodginghorse during a 2019 equine rotation.

Jean-Yin Tan speaks with horse owner Marvin Dodginghorse during a 2019 equine rotation.

Todd Korol

Tan says  the denial of veterinary services to Nation members reinforces the importance of providing uninterrupted essential veterinary services to maintain the health and welfare of animals in nearby First Nations communities. Risk-based vaccines and important veterinary services were classified as essential by the Canadian Veterinary Medical Association and Alberta Veterinary Medical Association during this pandemic year.

“Having them come out during the pandemic was amazing. I didn’t think anyone would want to come,” says Many Guns, who credits Tan for going out of her way to help her when one of her horses got injured. “Dr. Tan is so helpful. She is so approachable and such a nice lady — easy to talk to, which is very important.”

Tan hopes it will be safe next year for her to bring back the full student rotations to continue the mentorship of her students and build a deeper relationship within these communities.

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