June 10, 2021
Class of 2021: Grad passionate about animals and supporting diversity in veterinary medicine
Dr. Joanne Yi, DVM, who grew up an only child in a single-parent household, spent a lot of time as a kid trying to convince her mother to get a dog.
“My mom worked long hours, so it was just me and my grandma. And the companionship I saw between animals and their owners, I felt like it would fill this void for me,” says Yi, who is graduating from UCalgary’s Faculty of Veterinary Medicine. She credits that childhood longing for a pet for her decision to become a veterinarian.
“In a lot of traditional Asian households, they don't really understand the companionship of a pet. So, it was a cultural hurdle for both of us trying to get my mom to understand this is what we really needed to fill our house with love.”
At age 16, after two years working part-time, Yi saved enough money to prove she was committed to caring for a dog. She won her mother over; the result was a puppy they named Happy joining the family. “Getting to that point was difficult, but once we got there my mom did a complete 180, and fast forward a year, this dog was most spoiled dog I've ever seen.”
Diversifying a predominately white profession
Yi was able to clear a cultural hurdle in getting a dog, but a lack of cultural diversity in veterinary medicine and “not having many role models in the industry who look like me” continues to be a significant challenge for her and others. One of Yi’s goals is to commit more time to initiatives promoting equality, diversity, and inclusion within the profession.
“I'd love to continue with the conversation and celebrate veterinarians of colour within our community,” says Yi, who was just accepted for a board of directors’ position with the Association of Asian Veterinary Medical Professionals.
“As a profession, we’re a pretty homogenous group, but we're serving clients from all walks of life. Having diversity in our industry is beneficial so that we can advocate for our clients and their pets and provide equitable veterinary care to those who might not have the resources that other people do, or have financial or language barriers. I’d love to be part of that bridge that can fill that gap for them.”
Leaving a legacy of animal appreciation
After convocation, Yi is off to Mississippi State University for a one-year small animal internship. Following that, she hopes to do a surgical internship or residency with the goal of becoming a board-certified small animal surgeon.
And while her career plans are taking her away from UCVM, she’s leaving a bit of a legacy in the form of the faculty’s annual Thank You to the Animals Day — an event that was born out of an unsettling first-year experience. Yi still remembers walking into a clinical skills lab and finding rows of metal tables laid out with cadavers of dogs and cats.
“I don't know about anyone else but for me that was just such a trigger. I would have loved some time before a lab to take a moment of silence, to appreciate the sacrifices of these animals that allow us to learn and better our skills.”
Yi brought her idea of a thank-you event to class president Chelsey Zurowski and was delighted to learn Zurowski felt the same way. “She was like my partner in crime with this project and we felt a lot of comfort knowing we had the same vision about creating a platform to celebrate the opportunities that animals have given to us.”
A moment of silence, a memorial plaque, and a celebratory cake
The enthusiasm of other students and of faculty and staff surprised them both.
"We were thinking something small scale that maybe some of the students would be interested in and then it just blew up into this beautiful school-wide event,” says Yi. “Chelsey and I didn't realize so many people felt the same way we did and there was a big ripple effect.”
Although the pandemic caused the event to be put on hold last year, there are plans to continue post-pandemic.
“I'm so glad that I kind of started that conversation in that first step with Chelsey and then it grew into something so beautiful.”