Diving into the Chinook Project

Rachael Speare, AVC 2020, traveled to Nain and Natuashish in 2019 as one of the student participants on the Chinook Project.  As part of the experience, the students craft various pieces of reflective writing. 

When I found out I was going to be part of the 2019 Chinook Project team I was overjoyed. I felt so lucky for such a unique opportunity in my fourth year. I love the One Health concept in veterinary medicine and was really excited to be involved in a project that embodies this mantra. The Chinook Project simultaneously provides veterinary care to local animals, helps establish zoonotic disease control with Rabies vaccinations, teaches public education on how to control animal populations and helps build trust between community members and veterinary professionals.

I spent so much time looking forward to this rotation and imagining what it would have in store but, as the time grew nearer I started to have a nervous feeling in the pit of my stomach. It was the same feeling that I get standing on the edge of a high diving board; and I don’t like heights. I didn’t understand what I was nervous about. I had climbed up this ladder on my own accord, but I felt afraid to jump off. I had uncertainty in my own skills and was unsure if I would be a benefit to the project. I wondered if I would land smoothly or if I would belly flop. 

The first night was tough. We finished setting up the clinic and opened the doors for evening appointments. I felt clumsy with my basic technical skills and my client interactions felt forced and unnatural. I wondered if I was lagging behind but one day into the rotation I decided I had my analogy all wrong. I wasn’t going through clinic days in freefall or jumping into this alone. The support I had from my fellow classmates and clinicians on the team disproved my notion.

The Chinook Team

Everyday I felt more natural in our makeshift clinic and the whirlwind environment. I felt more connected with our clients and more confident with my clinical skills. The fast-paced environment turned from overwhelming to enthralling. This change in perspective can be attributed to many factors. It came from clinicians standing back, letting students develop their skills, and challenging us to step outside of our comfort zones. It came from getting tips from my fellow classmates and working as partners on anesthesia and surgery. It came from daily rounds where as a team we shared our goals and accomplishments. It came from the absolutely overwhelming hospitality we felt within seconds of stepping off of the plane in Nain. Everyday a sense of comradery grew within our team.

I became comfortable in things that initially frightened me. We were using anesthetic drugs that I had no prior experience with.  We had limited monitoring equipment and so I had to rely on qualitative parameters to assess how my patient was doing, rather than the normal values and machine outputs I had grown to rely on in my previous experiences. I learned to adapt my normal physical exam protocol to the variety of patient temperaments we saw. By the end of our week in Nain I felt excited and ready to take on a new clinic in Natuashish.

The only part of that analogy that I had right was that like the drop from a diving board, my time on the Chinook Project went by in what felt like the blink of an eye.  I am so grateful for the communities that hosted us, the pet owners who trusted us, and for the friendships developed with my teammates.

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