Veterinarian Tiffany Durzi with a patient at U of G's primary health-care centre.

In one examination room, a curious Boxer sniffs at the door as his owner explains that he’s seen blood in the dog’s urine several times this afternoon. A young woman in a white coat types his description of the dog’s problem into a computer. Two rooms down, a nervous-looking Great Dane attempts to climb into his owner’s lap while she asks about having his teeth cleaned. Another young woman carefully examines the huge dog’s mouth.

Watching both rooms from the observation room between them is veterinarian Tiffany Durzi. The white-coated young women asking questions in the examination rooms are student veterinarians, and Durzi is supervising their work from this quiet spot. She has headphones that allow her to switch back and forth to hear the discussions taking place and monitors that show her activity in each exam room from different points of view.

Durzi is one of three veterinarians working in the Hill’s Pet Nutrition Primary Healthcare Centre to provide supervision for Ontario Veterinary College (OVC) students. The state-of-the-art clinic opened last summer and also has three veterinary technicians, three customer service representatives, a director and an operations manager. Besides the examining and observation rooms, the facility has surgery rooms, a small lab, isolation rooms, wet and dry rehabilitation area and areas where patients can be kept overnight. As well, there is an area where pets can be boarded and a “doggie day care” that includes indoor and outdoor play areas, complete with fire hydrants in the play yard.

Right now there are reduced numbers of students in the facility, but during the fall and winter semesters, students from all four phases of the veterinary medicine program will work in the clinic on three-week rotations in groups of up to eight at a time.

“This is the first primary health-care centre in North America with an experiential-based curriculum,” Durzi says proudly. “Most vets go into primary care, and being able to work in this clinic gives them the practice and experience they need, under supervision, so that when they graduate, they are ready. They have the skills. And for the people who visit us, the client experience is enhanced because of our approach to primary health care.”

Primary health care consists of eight areas of care:  nutrition, rehabilitation, public health, good citizenship, animal welfare, communication, behaviour and preventive/general medicine/surgery.  Each appointment at the clinic covers questions in all areas.  It’s like having a family doctor for your pet.

Durzi is a 2000 DVM graduate who practised mixed-animal medicine in Ontario for a year before moving to the Cayman Islands with her husband, Bassel, who is also a U of G grad. “The Cayman Islands are beautiful and a really nice place to live,” she says. “My husband and I thought we’d stay two years. Ten years later, we finally came back to Canada.” Durzi first worked in a small-animal practice on the Caribbean island, but for the last two years taught at St. Matthew’s University’s newly-opened veterinary program.

“I have experience both in clinical practice and in coaching and hands-on teaching,” Durzi says. “It’s really prepared me well for the work I’m doing here. And I’m really happy to be here; this is a wonderful work environment.”

Entrance to the Hill's Pet Nutrition Primary Healthcare centre

The Hill’s Pet Nutrition Primary Healthcare Centre is a spacious and bright building set up not only to provide top-notch care to the animals who are brought in, but to allow Durzi and other veterinarians to work effectively with the students. “We stress developing strong communication skills,” she says. “The interviews with clients are all videotaped so we can review them later with the students.”

When a client visits the clinic for the first time, Durzi will introduce herself and explain the system. She then retreats to the observation room so the student can take the animal’s history and do a physical exam. “If I stay in the room, the client often talks more to me than the student,” she explains.

When the exam is completed, the student may step out to consult with Durzi, who may do her own hands-on check of the animal and discuss options with the client.

“Each student is a little different, and part of my job is getting to know them and their personalities so I can be a more effective coach,” Durzi says. “We’re also continuously evaluating how things are working and are trying to improve.” Most of the clients who bring their pets in are people who value education and like the idea of helping new veterinarians learn, adds Durzi. She says the clinic gets a good variety of cases, from routine vaccinations and wellness check-ups to injuries and illness. “One student asked if these were actors, because he was surprised by the variety and the challenges,” she recalls. “I told him, nope, they’re the real thing.”

The Guelph community is invited to tour the facility and learn more about the services provided during a July 16 open house to celebrate the clinic’s first anniversary. (See below).

Animals who need the attention of specialists – like the dog who had been hit by a car and was brought to the clinic’s front door while Durzi’s students were setting up – can, of course, be referred to the OVC Small Animal Clinic right around the corner.

When not at the clinic, Durzi spends most of her time with her two children, ages four and six. Both were born in the Cayman Islands; this past winter was the first time they’d seen snow. “They’re very Canadian, though,” she adds. “My four-year-old loves hockey.” When Durzi lived in a warmer climate, boating and swimming were among her favourite activities, but these days she enjoys hiking the Bruce Trail with her family and taking her children to hockey practices and ballet classes.
“My husband and I are both glad to be back in Guelph. We had many fond memories of this place, and we’re happy to be raising our family here.”


You’re Invited!

The Hill’s Pet Nutrition Primary Healthcare Centre at the Ontario Veterinary College will celebrate its first year of business with an open house on Saturday, July 16, from 1 to 4 p.m. Family activities include birthday cake and refreshments, giveaways, facility tours and a chance to meet veterinarians and student veterinarians.

Bring your pets for onsite photo sessions. Select from a variety of hats, noisemakers and other accessories for your pet and have a picture taken in exchange for a donation to the OVC Pet Trust Fund.

Doggie day care