Career Spotlight of the Month (January 2020)
Name: Shirley Visser-Meier (formerly Inglis), RVT
Current Job: Content Director for Animalytix Ltd.
Q & A with Shirley
OAVT: When you went to school to work in this field, it was called Animal Health Technology (AHT). Where did you go to school and what made you decide to take an AHT program?
Shirley: Centralia College of Agricultural Technology, Class of 1981.
In Grade 7, a guidance counsellor told me about the Animal Health Technology program at Centralia College and I knew that that was what I wanted to do. I never thought of being a veterinarian; being an AHT sounded just right for me.
In order to achieve entrance into this highly competitive field, I knew I’d need good school grades, but also lots of animal health experience. For three years, I volunteered Saturdays at a classmate’s family dairy farm (thanks, Mom, for driving me out to the country on those early snowy mornings!). I also mucked out stalls at a local Standardbred barn and watched surgeries at a small animal clinic. Somehow that experience, my grades and my responses at the highly stressful interview garnered me entrance into the AHT Class of 1981 at Centralia College.
OAVT: You were part of the first wave of "official" RVTs in 1990. How long have you been working in this field?
Shirley: Yes, I remember studying for the RVT exam back in 1989/90. It seemed a daunting task as I’d been out of school for nine years by then, although working at the University of Guelph’s Veterinary Teaching Hospital (VTH) was a great learning environment.
Other than a year in the 1990s, I’ve been employed in an animal health-related position continuously since 1981.
OAVT: The OAVT is celebrating 50 years this year, and you have been a member for about 40 of them! Incredible! How have you seen this industry, this profession and this association change over the years?
Shirley: Congratulations to the OAVT! There have been many dedicated people working behind the scenes to get it where it is now. From a solely volunteer-run organization to the highly professional group that is steering the way now, much has changed. No longer do we need to meet at homes or borrow a meeting room at someone’s workplace. AHTs used to leave the profession in droves because they had little support, recognition or fair compensation. When I graduated there were only four possible AHT colleges to attend, now there are 10 accredited colleges right here in Ontario.
OAVT: You are currently the Content Director for Animalytix Ltd. Tell us a bit about your job.
Shirley: Animalytix’s core business is aggregating, analyzing and reporting geo located sales data for the animal health industry in both Canada and the US.
In December 2015, Animalytix Inc bought the assets of North American Compendiums (NAC), the publishers of the Compendium of Veterinary Products (CVP), and many other animal health publications.
My role as CVP Editor morphed into Content Director for the various resources we offer. In my role, I currently oversee the maintenance of essential data elements in several databases: the Canadian and US Compendium of Veterinary Products, COMPAS SDS database as well as the Client Information Sheet library. I also manage enrollments and content for the new Vetalytix platform as well as supervise the work of several full-time and contract employees.
OAVT: How has being an RVT helped you in your role? Do you feel like you are using a lot of your RVT skills and training?
Shirley: I am using my ‘tech brain’ continuously in my current job. I may not be hitting veins or positioning a dog for a radiograph, but knowing how certain drugs are used in practice or why a clinic would order a certain product over another helps me make work decisions every day.
OAVT: You have been with your current employer for 20+ years, but what other jobs have you had in the RVT field?
Shirley: After graduation in 1981, I worked at Buck Animal Hospital in Waterloo, a three-doctor small animal practice. In 1985 I made the move to working in the Small Animal Clinic at University of Guelph’s Veterinary Teaching Hospital (VTH). I made it a point to work in different areas of the teaching hospital: Small Animal Wards, Small Animal Surgery, Large Animal Wards, Large Animal Surgery, Junior or Teaching Surgery and lastly, the Intensive Care Unit.
The ICU was a new concept at the VTH, and we started with just one RVT (me!) working 7-3, Mondays to Fridays. When I left in 1996, we had more than a dozen full and part-time ICU RVTs working around the clock year-round.
Over my last several years there, I covered the Nursing Administrator’s 1-year maternity leave and completed my time at the VTH as Nursing Manager of the SA ICU, Anesthesia and the SA Wards.
OAVT: You work in a less traditional sector for RVTs. Do you find that moving out of the traditional clinic life has given your RVT career more longevity?
Shirley: If I’d have stayed in a regular clinic, I would likely have moved to a bigger practice so that I could keep learning, whether it be to rotate through various RVT positions or learn the Practice Manager role.
OAVT: You have spent many years volunteering for the OAVT! Can you name some of those roles? And why was it important for you to always be so involved with this association?
Shirley: In the 1980s, I held several roles on the Board of Directors, such as Secretary and Vice-President. This was also the time that local chapters came into being. Creating chapters was a great way to offer CE but also bring 'technicians' together locally. Along with several other 'technicians' in the Waterloo-Wellington area, we formed a successful chapter that tapped into the great speakers available from the University of Guelph. We were also able to host ‘short courses’ in Kitchener and offer summer conferences. These were the days when a sell-out crowd was 80 participants! It was a lot of work organizing these conferences but very rewarding when they turned out so well.
Over the years I also helped with the set-up of the Professionalism and Ethics Workshop, and various RVT Journal-related (formerly TECHNEWS) endeavours.
OAVT: You’ve had many experiences with the OAVT over the years, including being awarded with an Honourary Lifetime Membership (now called the Complimentary Life Membership) in 2006/2007. What are some of the memories that stand out to you? Do you have any favourites?
Shirley: You mention me receiving the Lifetime Membership award. That was indeed a career highpoint, and one that was a complete surprise to me. I wasn’t informed ahead of time, and I hadn’t realized why some of my co-workers were in attendance that night. I’m not sure what I said in my ‘acceptance speech’, but it was probably unintelligible.
Attending the OAVT Conferences have always been an annual highlight. Attending a wide variety of CE sessions, as well as networking with industry regulars and my peers is always enjoyable. Most years, I’ve been able to share hotel rooms with a friend, and it is great to update one another on family and work life.
Also, the 14+ years working as Technical Editor on the RVT Journal (formerly TECHNEWS), was particularly pleasurable. Initially it was an intimidating prospect as I had no journal experience, but it didn’t take long to get up and running. Working with so many great industry experts and authors plus helping decide the direction of the journal was also very satisfying.
OAVT: RVTs are passionate people, and every RVT has an area they are most passionate about. What is YOUR passion?
Shirley: I’ve always been interested in blood banking and enjoyed that part of my work while in the SA and LA Wards. Whether it was collecting 50 mL of feline blood or six litres of bovine blood, both can be lifesavers at a time of need. While working at the University and years after, I brought my boxer and then my retired racing greyhound to OVC’s Blood Donor Program where they were able to donate whole blood to stock the in-house blood bank.
I’ve also been fortunate to travel with the Canadian Animal Assistance Team (CAAT) and helped with fundraising, manning the booth, as well as join in on two Animal Health Care Projects: one 8-day project in Northwest British Columbia (February 2016) and one 6-day project in the Dominican Republic (November 2017). My rusty hands-on technical skills got a bit of needed polish. It’s incredible to be able to work with such skilled and committed RVTs and veterinarian volunteers on these trips. The people and pets in the communities we visited were wonderful and deserving, too.