A student card is needed to access V Building and there is usually a security guard at the entrance. Photo credit: Connor Black

When classes first went remote at the beginning of the pandemic in March 2020, Caitlin Harmison, a veterinary technician student, found it difficult to self-teach because she didn’t have the proper tools at home. She was left having to use her imagination to visualize what she would be doing.

The veterinary technician students returned to campus at the beginning of the winter term in January 2021. Harmison and her classmates are now able to continue with their on-site labs with strict rules implemented.

Harmison, 20, is in her final semester and her long-term goal is to work in rehabilitation after gaining enough job experience. The transition to learning online was hard at first for Harmison, because the program is very hands-on.

Fourth semester theory classes were moved to third semester, leaving Harmison with 12 theory classes to complete that semester.

“Now that we’re back in class it feels really nice again to be doing the hands-on things and actually performing the lab tests and the skills we were learning about last semester,” said Harmison. “It’s really nice to be back in the building. Everything feels a little bit more normal and it’s nice to see my friends again in person.”

Labs are an important part of the program as they are a hands-on learning experience that allows students to take care of animals — mainly cats — from the Ottawa Humane Society, according to Celina Boudreault, a student in the program.

Students learn how to monitor anesthesia, assist with surgery, administer medication and monitor heart rates through these labs.

To make sure in-person learning is conducted safely, students must wear masks, complete pre-screening on the AC Mobile Safety App and show their professor upon entering the classroom their results.

Students then put on a brand-new surgical mask, gloves, a plastic face shield and sanitize their hands. They must be in class 15 minutes early and have a 15-minute buffer period to leave the building after class.

For a little over a semester, all their classes had been theory and taught online.

This winter, being able to learn theory and lab work at the same time means a smoother learning process compared to what students went through last semester.

Chelsea Lackey, 19, a second-year student, is happy to return to hands-on learning.

“I really missed [the labs] last semester,” said Lackey. “I personally find it easier to learn when I have my theory and lab class at the same time.”

In Celina Boudreault’s case, the second-year student doesn’t find campus restrictions stressful, but getting back into a routine has been difficult for her.

“We were out of the lab and practice for almost a year, so getting back into things, the routine of labs and evaluations have been stressful,” said Boudreault, 25. “But our days aren’t too bad.”

As for animals being reintroduced to the program and how that affects the students, Boudreault says a few things have changed.

“Before we were able to have two people in each area,” Boudreault said. “Two people would work on the feeding, two people would do the washing, two people would clean the cages, but now it’s one person per area. I think once we get used to it we should be good.”

Overall, the students are grateful to be back on campus.

“It’s an adjustment, as is everything this past year. You kind of have to adapt and overcome,” said Boudreault. “We’re definitely looking forward to getting more lab practice time and working towards graduation.”