Oct. 2, 2019

UCalgary team beats out 26 vet med colleges for cattle conference Quiz Bowl glory

Gordon Atkins coaches cow-savvy students to first-ever Canadian win at U.S. event
Gordon Atkins gets applause after winning award
Gordon Atkins gets a standing ovation upon winning Carl J. Norden Distinguished Teacher Award. Chris Bolin

What causes enzootic hematuria?  What vitamin deficiency causes polioencephalomalacia? If you’re stumped, then you likely weren’t on the winning team at this year’s American Association of Bovine Practitioners (AABP) conference Quiz Bowl in St. Louis, Missouri.

That team a group of fourth-year students at the University of Calgary Faculty of Veterinary Medicine (UCVM) nailed first place, earning the distinction of the first-ever Canadian team to win the highly competitive event.

“We were thrilled to be able to do it,” says Rae-Leigh Pederzolli, who, along with fellow UCVM students Nurmo Atabayev, Megan Dick, and Brenden Hilgartner, competed against 26 veterinary colleges from across the U.S. and Canada.

Winning Quiz Bowl team

Winning Quiz Bowl team.

Edouard Timsit

  • Gordon Atkins with Quiz Bowl champions, from left: Brenden Hilgartner, Megan Dick, Nurmo Atabayev, and Rae-Leigh Pederzolli.

“You have to be able to answer quickly and answer accurately. It can get a little bit complicated. If you answer the question wrong, they take points away.”

A huge thank you to a wicked coach

The team advanced through three rounds before going head-to-head in the finals with the University of Pennsylvania.  With questions on a broad range of topics in anatomy, genetics, medicine, surgery, regulatory medicine, and public health, the students logged lots of study hours to prepare.

“We all are so excited and just a huge thank you to Dr. Gordon Atkins. He's been a wicked coach and he puts in study sessions with us before we go to Quiz Bowl. It’s a huge reflection of his teaching and how successful he is as a professor and as a practitioner. So, it's pretty, pretty cool,” says Pederzolli.

The win also means a lot to Atkins, a much-beloved and award-winning teaching professor at UCVM. He’s been practicing bovine medicine since 1973 and is renowned for his work locally, nationally and internationally. But he never intended to pursue a teaching career: “It was a back injury that kind of changed the path I was on and I had to go into something that gave me a bit of relief from practising every day of the week.

“I never would have appreciated the joy that you can get from taking students who I would say were pretty much green coming into school to when you see them up on the stage performing at a really high level like that and you just know that they're going to be great practitioners,” says Atkins.

“Dr. Atkins said our winning the Quiz Bowl was the highlight of his teaching career. It was like, man, you're going to make it tough for there to be dry eye in the house here,” says Pederzolli. “He's very proud of us and we were very, very proud to be there, to represent Calgary and Canada. To have Dr. Atkins as a coach was really the key to success.”

The importance of continuing education and networking

Along with the big win, the students attended continuing education sessions and had a chance to network and meet with other veterinarians in the cattle world two important aspects of staying up-to-date on advances in bovine medicine. Atkins has been instrumental in giving students the opportunity to travel to the conference.

“The AABP has been the backbone of my continuing education for my whole career and I wouldn't be teaching, I wouldn't have been able to stay current in all of the areas of bovine medicine and surgery if I hadn't had the opportunity to attend the conferences for well over 40 years,” says Atkins. “And so, I guess, I wanted to make sure that our students got introduced to that so that they could benefit in the same way once they graduate.”

A group of third-year students also attended thanks to an education fund established by Norman Damkar, a retired dairy farmer who wanted to give back to the industry. Their team made it to the semi-finals.

“Last year we were the runner-up and that's the first year Calgary had even really figured in the whole scheme of things. So I think most people knew that we existed after last year, but they certainly know that we exist now.”

Oh, and if you are wondering what causes enzootic hematuria or polioencephalomalacia, Pederzolli and her teammates would be happy to fill you in.

Calf in field

Vet med students receive a strong foundation in cattle health medicine.

Jager and Kokemor