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St. Paul veterinarian Dr. Craig Hellquist receives Outstanding Mentor Award

A St. Paul veterinarian has been recognized for his dedication to mentoring students.

ST. PAUL - St. Paul veterinarian Dr. Craig Hellquist has been recognized by colleagues in the profession for his many years of dedication to mentoring high school and veterinary students, instilling in them not only a love for the profession but a desire for continued learning. This formal recognition came on Saturday when he was presented with the Outstanding Mentor Award during the Alberta Veterinary Medical Association 2020 Awards.

Hellquist, who grew up in the Elk Point area, has practiced veterinary medicine at his St. Paul Vet Clinic for 29 of his 32-year career. He has taken much satisfaction during that time in being able to share his passion for veterinary medicine with young people and provide a positive learning environment that has helped many pursue their dreams.

“It is very humbling. I see my name is on the award but this is definitely a team effort. I am fortunate enough to work with people at the clinic that buy into this. We always try and make it a very positive experience.”

Hellquist has always been grateful for the mentorship provided to him early on in his career by Dr. Keith Leitch and Dr. Tannis Tupper and countless others at the Wainwright Veterinary School. Their patience and experience laid a foundation for him to mentor students and volunteers once he became owner of the St. Paul Veterinary Clinic in 1997, according to his wife, Anita, who is also a veterinarian.

He is particularly proud of the clinic’s “Wall of Fame” which features well over one hundred high school, veterinary technology students and veterinary students who passed through the clinic’s doors over the years

“Kids come and they might spend just an afternoon with you and that can influence what they feel about the profession for the rest of their lives. We try and get them excited about looking at things under the microscope or being actively looking and participating in things we do and, hopefully, create a positive impression when they leave,” he said.

There are eight students who spent time at the clinic who have gone on to study veterinary medicine or have graduated as veterinarians and multiple others have gone to become animal health technologists (AHT) or veterinary medical assistants (DMA). 

“It is kind of neat to look at the kids’ pictures on the wall and say this kid is in that school, or this kid graduated and is now an AHT or DMA. We’ve had a lot of kids that have done that.”

One of the faces featured on the wall is that of Dr. Daren Mandrusiak. He came to the clinic in high school as a work experience student from St. Paul and went on to graduate from veterinary medicine. Today, he runs his own practice in Edmonton, is the vice-president of the Alberta Veterinary Medical Association and had the honour of announcing his former mentor as this year’s recipient of the award.

“His contributions to the profession and the association itself have been humongous,” Mandrusiak said of Hellquist. “He’s a rural mixed animal practitioner which is kind of the core family physician as far as veterinary medicine is concerned, but his mentorship for high school students, vet students, pre-vet students, tech students and pre-tech students has been just phenomenal”

Mandrusiak nominated Hellquist for the award with letters of support from his previous students and other veterinarians. 

“His influence is quite astounding for a small town veterinarian. He has put in a ton of effort in terms of trying to grow people towards the profession, but also when they get into the profession to be actively part of the profession, not just sitting on the sidelines but actually contributing to it as a whole,” Mandrusiak said.

“When we talk about Craig’s mentorship, we always talk about his wall of fame. It’s remarkable. Many of them are veterinarians, technologists or involved in animal agriculture, in other industries or different things like that. What kind of sets him apart from your average vet who just kind of wants to help out, is that many, many people that were his mentees, or worked with him in different capacities have gone on to become leaders in their industry or field.”

Mandrusiak said Hellquist fosters the mentality that people shouldn’t complain unless they are prepared to get involved. It is something that stayed with Mandrusiak as he pursued his own veterinary career and spurred him on to become an active participant with the provincial association.

“That’s the thing, he doesn’t really need students working in his clinic but he just hires them every year to get them good exposure to mixed animal practice. Do I think I actually helped him that much? Probably not, honestly. He probably just spent the whole time teaching me – I probably slowed him down. He does it just out of a contribution back to the profession.”

Anita is particularly proud of her husband’s commitment to helping to nurture interest in veterinary medicine.

“While veterinary practice has changed considerably since the days of All Creatures Great and Small by James Herriot, Craig believes the underlying principles of integrity, compassion, hard work and determination, laced with a sense of humour, remain constant.”