If there’s one piece of advice Dr. Michelle Oakley could give to Atlantic Veterinary College (AVC) students, it’s to keep their focus blurry.
Oakley, an AVC graduate and star of the Nat Geo Wild show, “Dr. Oakley: Yukon Vet,” warned students at the school on Saturday not to get tunnel vision when it comes to their career and advised them to maintain an open mind.
Oakley, who delivered the keynote address for the annual Students of the Canadian Veterinary Medical Association (SCVMA) symposium held this year at UPEI, has treated a wide variety of animals in her career from small pets to large wildlife.
“It was awesome and fun to do all these different things but it was also to survive. If I hadn’t been made to do all that in vet school and didn’t have such a good background from the AVC it would have been really hard to do all these things,” said Oakley, who is the only all-species veterinarian in Yukon. “I had to do all those different contracts because the Yukon is not a big place and I wanted to stay there… Don’t get too focused, keep things general, keep your options open and be open to new things.”
Oakley said while she originally did not want to be a small animal vet, it has become one of the most rewarding aspects to her career. She also spent nine years as the wildlife veterinarian and first regional biologist for Yukon’s fish and wildlife department.
Oakley now runs an animal clinic from her home in Haines Junction, Yukon, while also running weekly clinics in Whitehorse and Haines, Alaska.
Oakley shared some of the behind-the-scenes stories of her show, which also airs on NBC.
Those stories involved chasing after a bison in a helicopter in order to tag it and other adrenaline-pumping wildlife projects.
“It’s exciting work but people think I’m an adrenaline junkie and I’m the total opposite,” she said. “I didn’t like flying but I love the animals and this is what I have to do to get the work done. So I suck it up and do it.”
She also advised students to find a good balance between family and work life and to “cut themselves some slack” in what can sometimes be an emotionally difficult career.
The annual SCVMA symposium is for those enrolled in one of Canada’s five veterinary colleges.
Karie Bryenton, a second-year AVC student and chair of the event’s planning committee, said she felt Oakley was an amazing presenter.
“She’s so relatable and when I looked around the room while she was talking, I could see everyone was just smiling and laughing,” said Bryenton.
Nicole Norris, a third-year student at Guelph’s Ontario Veterinary College, said Oakley’s lecture was the main reason she wanted to attend the conference.
“It was wonderful to meet her in person. I watch her show and she had a lot of good advice for us as well.”
With the fifth season of Oakley’s show having wrapped up last year, fans like Norris may not have to wait much longer for more episodes.
Oakley said she will soon be filming again after recently singing a new contract.
Oakley said she enjoyed returning to P.E.I., a place that overwhelms her with warm memories.
She also thanked members of the AVC faculty, particularly former dean, Jeanne Lofstedt, and some other professors for encouraging her throughout her education.
Oakley, who gave birth to two children while attending the AVC, said there were some days where she wanted to quit the school.
However, the support from the faculty allowed her to continue on.
“I was almost terrified, it was like ‘how am I going to do this,” said Oakley. “But I had professors who were just so supportive. (They would say) ‘you can do it and here is how we’ll help you.’ I just can’t get over it, it was really extraordinary.”