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Dr. France Provost: Glamour on the inside

Canadians who don't own pets would be surprised to learn how veterinarians such as Dr. France Provost are working for them-every day.

picture - Doctor France Provost

Dr. France Provost's area of expertise is meat hygiene. While that may sound like something involving a scrub brush and cold running water, the reality is much more interesting.

As a Program Network Specialist based in Montreal, Dr. Provost is the "go-to" person in her region for anyone needing help interpreting the regulations that govern red-meat slaughter and the residue of veterinary drugs in meat. Her clients are varied and include private-sector meat processors as well as CFIA inspectors.

It's not a topic that most of us think about, but that doesn't make it any less important says France.

"I'm a veterinarian and I know there's a bit of glamour surrounding this profession. But if you tell someone you're a vet who works in meat hygiene, you'll get some odd looks.

"The funny thing is it's much more interesting than it looks from the outside. We're in charge of the regulations that govern the quality of our food. It's a vital service and very satisfying work."

It's a far cry from where she began. Like many little girls, France decided when she was quite young that she wanted to be a veterinarian and work with animals. After graduating from the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Montreal in 1981, she went to work in private practice where she stayed for seven years. But the work was routine and the hours unpredictable, often including working nights and weekends. With young children to care for and a desire for a more stable working environment, she decided to make the jump to the public service.

She landed a job as a staff veterinarian with Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, a position that would move to the CFIA when the Agency was formed in 1997. While the two public-service jobs were very similar, their reporting structures were dramatically different.

Originally, France reported to a national chief. The lines of communication were very vertical; she was not really aware of what was happening in other provinces, and didn't participate in policy decisions. Now, says France, the work is very much a team effort, and being actively involved in policy development is one of the most enjoyable aspects of her job.

"We work in a network-like a virtual organization-and collaborate on projects with people across the country, keeping in close touch with the CFIA staff working in registered meat-processing establishments. We get things done together, as a team."

The networks are located in ways that are geographically convenient for the client, helping to bring the CFIA closer to the customer. At the same time, technology makes collaboration within the Agency fairly easy, no matter how far apart the participants are physically.

Within these networks, says France, she and her colleagues are able to share information, knowledge and expertise more easily. It's a model she believes enables them to provide better service to Canadians.

"A layperson who doesn't have a pet would never realize there are veterinarians working for them. But there are, all the time. It's about safeguarding our food supply, and that has a real impact on the day-to-day life of Canadians."