Jourdan McPhetridge, AVC 2019, traveled to Nain and Sheshatshiu in 2018 as one of the student participants on the Chinook Project. As part of the experience, the students craft various pieces of reflective writing.
Participating in the Chinook Project can be an intense bonding experience for team members. Traveling to remote communities, setting up temporary clinics and working long hours while living and experiencing a new culture with strangers forces an almost automatic intimacy. When I first learned about the Chinook Project in 2015, I pictured senior veterinary students traveling North to provide veterinary care to underserved communities while gaining significant surgical experience under the supervision of seasoned veterinarians. Three years later, I find myself recently returned home from Nain and Sheshatshiu as a 2018 team member. As I reflect on the last two weeks it has become obvious that my new surgical skills accounted for only a small piece of my experience in the North. I now realize that it is the relationships made with new and old friends that has left me with lasting impressions which are sure to contribute to who I will become both personally and professionally.
As a student of medicine and enthusiastic husky owner myself, being selected as a team member this year left me with an overwhelming sense of gratitude and excitement. What could be better than gaining significant surgical experience under the guidance of remarkable veterinarians, experiencing a new culture with my classmates and working 14+ hour days with huskies? What I hadn’t anticipated was the now obvious necessity to become very, very close with your teammates while often (simultaneously) sharing both toiletries and embarrassing stories from your past.
Those who know me might describe me as a private person. I don’t suffer from social anxiety and I do enjoy the company of friends, but even my boyfriend of seven years will tell you it can be difficult to get me to share food, let alone feelings and personal memoirs. That being said, you can imagine my internal panic when I attended my first Chinook meeting, fully equipped with the vaccination and anesthetic protocols I had studied intently, only to find out about the daily icebreakers and reflective journalism expected of us during our trip. Icebreakers are team building exercises that help foster stronger relationships and trust among team members. Some days we would answer personal questions drawn from an envelope, other days we may be drawing portraits of our spirit animal and sharing our amateur art with the group. As my excitement for our impending clinic days grew, so did my anxiety about having to share parts of myself that it is possible only my dogs have seen.
Yet here I sit reflecting on my experiences in Labrador, realizing that in a remote community with little in the way of modern provisions, cell service, internet access or social media, I learned more in those two short weeks about the people I’d known for three years than I had during the entirety of vet school. Sharing intimate and sometimes trivial details about our lives, how we got here and what we hoped for the future connected us in a way that made us a stronger veterinary team, but also left me with valuable lessons in relationships, communication and self-reflection. Despite our long clinic days, icebreakers and evening debrief, we students would retreat back to our lodgings each night and huddle around our snack pile, sharing our experiences that day, our frustrations, things we’d learned and often laugh uncontrollably. It was in those moments that I realized how much I had grown, how much more I was willing to share, and how the best life lessons are truly learned when we are pushed outside of our comfort zone.