The Canadian Veterinary Medical Association (CVMA) newly elected President, and veterinarian Dr. Chris Bell's lifelong love for animals, especially horses started when he was a child growing up on a farm near Airdrie.
"My parents had a boarding farm initially and my mom taught dressage. I attended our Lady Queen of Peace for school all the way through Grade 12," he said. "I found early [on] that I enjoy being around animals, and particularly horses, but I also enjoy being around all different types of animals. I [also] sold eggs to the local restaurants."
During his last year of high school, he would approach the school's principal and told him of his aspirations of wanting to become a veterinarian. He would eventually be able to set up a placement at the Moore Equine Veterinary Centre, south of Airdrie.
"While I was there, I was able to observe the equine surgeons working and as I watched them, I thought this is something that I would like to do.”
After graduating from the University of Saskatchewan with a Bachelor's Degree in Science with a specialization in immunology and microbiology, he applied to veterinary school and started in 2002. After receiving his Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM) and a one-year placement at the Arizona Equine Medical & Surgical Centre, Dr. Bell would do a three residency at the Western College of Veterinary Medicine in Saskatchewan.
During his career, Dr. Bell's expertise led him to become a recognized speaker, having presented on both the provincial, national, and international levels.
"From there, I was selected to go on a program for the Canadian Veterinary Medical Association and through that, I gained an additional appreciation for the national and international issues that face veterinarians from a Canadian perspective."
He said that one of the most delicate and complicated areas of being a veterinarian is not necessarily medical procedures.
"One of the more delicate areas of our profession is looking at that transition of life. Everybody has a little bit of a different way of approaching it and ultimately, it's a compassionate approach, and realizing that everybody's decisions are made based on their personal circumstances," Dr. Bell said. "We are always very careful not to make assumptions about what we're seeing or what we're hearing and to really respect the decisions of the people that need to make them. it's the toughest part of the job without a doubt."
As President of the CVMA, Dr. Bell said that one of the greatest challenges he wants to address is the shortage of veterinarians across the country. He said this is directly tied to a second obstacle he wants to address, the mental health and well-being of veterinarians.
"Interspersed within [that] is a focus on diversifying the veterinary field and being more inclusive, equitable, and, ultimately, creating a sense of belonging within the profession. Those [issues] are all tied together because when we have a very heavily worked workforce, it's very easy to have issues around mental wellness and well-being."
It may surprise some that veterinary medicine has peculiarly similar issues facing it just as healthcare does for people. The shortage in veterinary medicine, Dr. Bell believes is due in part to the fact that more and more veterinarians are retiring at a faster rate than before. This coupled with a lack of younger people entering veterinary school, as well as hurdles foreign veterinarians face to become accredited in Canada means that demand is far exceeding supply.
Despite this, Dr. Bell says the profession he chose has given him a multitude of opportunities to work with incredible colleagues. And as many may have guessed correctly, his love for animals has also meant he has a few furry companions of his own.
"We've got a German Shorthaired Pointer and a nice orange tabby cat. [We] also have a dark bay quarter horse that my daughter rides,” he said. “[The cat and dog] don't always get along though.”
Dr. Bell currently practices equine medicine in Manitoba and has been published in various medical journals, including the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association and The Canadian Veterinary Journal.
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