There’s not another program like UF’s that offers non-veterinarians the opportunity to learn from some of the very best in the field and in their own home and at their own pace!
- Education: I received my Bachelor’s in Organizational Communication from Sac State in 2017, a certificate in Animal Shelter Management from the University of the Pacific in 2018 and I became a candidate for the University of Florida’s College of Veterinary Medicine online Master of Science Degree with a concentration in Shelter Medicine in the Fall of 2019.
- Experience: I began working in shelters in 1999 and spent most of my career at the Sacramento SPCA which was essentially “next door” to UCDavis. I was very fortunate to have collaborated with a number of the vets that helped forge shelter medicine as a specialty. Throughout my career, no matter my official title or role, I did my best to incorporate the philosophies of shelter medicine in everything I did. In January 2017, I received my Registered Veterinary Technician credential using the alternate route and immediately began networking to help establish shelter medicine as a recognized specialty for veterinary technicians. Additionally, I began offering private shelter consultation services in 2018 and have been honored to assist my area shelters with a variety of projects, including teaching via on-site classroom and hands-on instruction of various shelter medicine related topics.
Why Choose the UF Program?
I am deeply passionate about shelter medicine and have been fortunate to see first-hand the dramatic ways its evolution has positively impacted our homeless pets and the people who love them. I have been thinking about this program since I first heard of it a few years back, but it wasn’t until I became a full time stay-at-home-mom in 2017 that I began to really look into it. I was hesitant because I was unsure how I would balance the needs of my family with attending school again. Before committing to applying, I attended UOP’s online Animal Shelter Management courses. After successful completion of that program, I believed that I could fit the demands of graduate level coursework into my busy and hectic life. I was also eager to stay connected to the sheltering world and wanted to continue to build up my resume during the years I stayed home. But most of all, I am intensely drawn to shelter medicine and was grateful to find such a unique opportunity to enhance and expand my knowledge base. Undoubtedly, when I fully re-enter the sheltering workforce, I will be able to put into practice everything I have learned from this incredible program.
The online flexibility helps me as a stay at home mom because I can fit my assignments in at any time of day or night (when the kids are sleeping/playing, etc.). Also, the flexibility allows me to continue working with shelter professionals during their regular workday.
Leading the Charge in Shelter Medicine
Long before I became a credentialed veterinary technician, I understood the value of having folks in the shelter that have a solid understanding of shelter medicine. For most of my career, I have looked at sheltering through the lens of someone keenly aware of how shelter medicine plays a role in nearly every aspect of sheltering (yes, even something as seemingly distant as marketing). Shelter medicine veterinarians are, of course, crucial to a successful and healthy shelter, but there are usually far less of them than there are support staff. Those support staff need to be able to carry out the directions of the veterinarian while keeping the unique perspectives and paradigms of shelter medicine at the forefront of their work. Credentialed veterinary technicians that have devoted their careers to sheltering are able to offer a level of expertise and professionalism that vet techs outside of this environment, simply can’t (without training and experience). The ASMVT, unlike any other organization, is highly focused on supporting credentialed veterinary technicians in the work that they do in and for shelters.
The Association of Shelter Medicine Veterinary Technicians (ASMVT) aims to elevate credentialed veterinary technicians throughout the world by creating an Academy approved by the National Association of Veterinary Technicians in America’s (NAVTA) Committee on Veterinary Technician Specialties (CVTS) that will allow them to demonstrate their knowledge and be awarded veterinary technician specialist (VTS) status in shelter medicine. As stated previously, there are far more veterinary technicians working in shelters than there are veterinarians. The ASMVT will give those techs the ability to expose the level of professionalism they bring to their respective shelters and the field as a whole. Additionally, the ASMVT fosters a safe networking and idea sharing forum for everyone involved at all levels of the sheltering system, (ASMVT Press Release, 2020). We know this organization will lead to increased levels of care and understanding for all animals in our shelters and communities.
Advice for Future Students
When it comes to giving advice to students, I start out by simply sharing my enthusiasm for shelter medicine. In my opinion, nothing compares! The work is exciting and pulls on your heart strings like nothing else. You’d be hard pressed to find another area of veterinary medicine where people feel so passionately about their work, they’re often willing to do it for free! That’s right, shelter professionals deserve to earn their meager paychecks (and more!), but they (more often than not) bring their work home with them – whether that’s fostering the hopelessly ill or injured homeless pet or spending an entire day at a spay day event or finishing up medical records at home after their families go to bed. Furthermore, shelter medicine requires an enormous amount of creative energy and outside-the-box thinking, every day (and sometimes every hour) is different, you never know what will walk through the door (from a flock of sheep to Madagascar hissing cockroaches and everything in between), and nearly everyone is dealing with very limited resources. Shelter medicine gives us the tools to roll with the punches, (thanks SOPs!), to look at every individual animal in our care, (yay pathway planning!), the ability to effectively practice population management (daily rounds rock!) and consider our community as a whole (people and animals!) when making decisions.
I don’t normally (well, maybe I do), offer such a mouthful when speaking with our sheltering “youth”, but in summary, I tell them, that if they’re interested in veterinary medicine (or saving animals in general), if they never want to be bored, and if they want to make the largest impact possible on animals, shelter medicine just might be the place for them!
Continuing, my specific advice for students interested in shelter medicine varies on the level the student is at. I spent several years speaking to a youth camp (17 and younger) about the joys and pains of shelter work and how to get involved with sheltering and/or veterinary medicine. Additionally, I’ve spent a lot of time counseling and encouraging veterinary assistants to take advantage of the alternate route currently available to them in California (if traditional schooling is unattainable). In short, the alternate route allows students to use their on-the-job (OJT) training and specific education hours to be able to sit for the Veterinary Technician National Exam (VTNE) and become credentialed. Being a credentialed veterinary technician is more important than ever in the veterinary industry and it will only become even more critical as the field evolves. I’ve also mentored several students interested in becoming veterinarians and veterinary students who think they may be interested in shelter medicine (see above). While I completely respect and understand people who believe higher education is not for them, and I’ve been supervised most of my life by folks who lack any formal schooling, I’ve seen first-hand how the need for formalized training is becoming more important than ever. Overall, I think this is great! The sheltering industry is (finally!) professionalizing its leaders and medical professionals by requiring that they have at least some level of higher education and training.
On that note, I decided very early on in my career that I wanted to learn as much as possible to be able to save as many animals as possible. To me, that meant college and endless harassment of the veterinarians and leaders in my field. Nothing about my educational path is conventional, for starters, it took me an obscene amount of time to get my bachelor’s, but I’ve persisted and am driven to learn. As far as I know, there’s not another program like UF’s that offers non-veterinarians the opportunity to learn from some of the very best in the field and in their own home and at their own pace! Not only that, the tuition cost is reasonable (a HUGE factor for me when deciding to apply). Most importantly, the program is incredible and honestly, I was worried I wouldn’t learn that much new information (having been in the field for 20+ years), but I was happily surprised. The coursework is far more intensive than I planned on and I struggle with it at times, but I know it will only help me and those I serve in the future. Also, going to school and focusing on only things you find the most interesting (shelter medicine!) is highly rewarding and not the “chore” that many of my undergrad classes were. I have and will continue to encourage anyone committed to sheltering to consider UF’s Master’s and Graduate Certificate programs in shelter medicine.