Career Spotlight of the Month (November 2019)
Name: Margaret Koletar, RVT, RLAT-R, HonBSc
Current Job: Senior Research Technician, Sunnybrook Research Institute (located in Sunnybrook Health Sciences Center, Toronto)
Q & A with Margaret
OAVT: Where did you go to school, and what made you decide to take a Veterinary Technology program?
Margaret: I graduated from Seneca College in 1999, and celebrated my 20th anniversary as an RVT (this year). My mother tells me that as a toddler, when I was asked what I wanted to be when I grew up, I always replied a veterinarian. Of course, this was before I could even say it properly. I was always more comfortable around all species, whereas being essentially very shy around people. Unfortunately, my family moved frequently and I lost touch with my original plan.
Years went by until I realized something fundamental was missing from my life, unaware of this burgeoning profession. When I came across a description of the (new to me) Veterinary Technician program, the decision for a career change was obvious. It felt like I was returning home. To this day, I cannot believe that I was one of the lucky ones accepted into the Seneca program.
OAVT: Congratulations on reaching 20 years as an RVT! Have you seen a lot of changes within the profession over the last two decades? What is different? What's the same?
Margaret: From my perspective, the changes over the past 20 years are wonderful. The recognition and respect are truly gratifying. I have seen the OAVT grow from a group of “enthusiastic animal lovers” into an organization composed of skilled medical professionals. I am thrilled to see the specializations in various clinical disciplines, and the utilization of RVT’s in more diverse job settings than ever before. I hope that RVTs will receive more promotion in the scientific community.
What is still the same? Well, the enthusiastic animal lover in all of us, of course!
OAVT: You work in research now, but what other kinds of RVT jobs have you had throughout your career?
Margaret: I should mention that I had worked part-time as an Animal Care Attendant in the Mississauga Emergency Clinic while I was applying to Seneca College. My first position as an RVT was on a contract in Small Animal Surgery and Small Animal ICU at OVC, Guelph. There were some locums in various clinics around the Brampton and Mississauga area. When a decision to finish my science degree at the University of Toronto brought me back to the city, I worked occasional or part-time shifts at the Veterinary Emergency Clinic in downtown Toronto. In fact, my plan was to graduate from U of T to pursue an RVT specialization at the VEC and/or teaching.
OAVT: And now you're working at Sunnybrook Research Institute, associated with the University of Toronto, located in Sunnybrook Health Sciences Center, in Toronto. Tell us about it.
Margaret: My role as a senior Research Technician primarily supports graduate students in Biomedical Physics conducting research in neuro-vascular diseases such as stroke, traumatic brain injury, Alzheimer’s disease. Projects focus on developing advancements in brain imaging techniques with MRI, Ultrasound, and Multi-photon Laser Microscopy. I am involved with creating new in vivo models, develop surgical techniques, and help with translating in vivo data. Because of the complexity of our projects, I provide training and assist graduate students with all aspects of animal biology and brain imaging.
OAVT: Why is being an RVT an asset to your job?
Margaret: As I had mentioned above, the projects conducted in our research are very complex. It is important that I keep up to date on anesthetic techniques, especially use of IV drugs for sedation or light anesthesia. Continuing education articles in The RVT Journal, or presentations at the yearly conference, that cover topics such as ECG, capnography, blood acid/base balance, anesthetic CRI’s, and the like, all provide a breadth of knowledge.
As science progresses, skilled people like RVTs need to be promoted as a valuable component in research. All aspects of animal behaviour, physiology, clinical diseases, and surgery are integral to my work.
OAVT: What is a typical day like for you?
Margaret: Usually my day begins before 8:00 am, to setup all the monitoring equipment and surgical area. Animals are imaged under anesthesia, but we must know our pharmacology so as not to interfere with the data we need to collect. Standard preparation is intubation (mice and rats), mechanical ventilation, capnography, pulse oximetry, peripheral pO2/pCO2, core body temperature, one or two IV catheters, and then a surgical craniotomy for imaging. Research surgeries are following similar standard clinical protocols as for humans or veterinary clinics. After the animal is prepared for imaging, my role becomes monitoring and responding to issues, in order to maintain the animal in optimal physiologic homeostasis while under anesthesia. For example, many of our rats with progressive Alzheimer’s also develop hypertension and/or metabolic problems parallel to humans. Managing these individuals is very similar to critical patients in the veterinary setting. My days usually have longer hours than your typical 9 to 5 job.
OAVT: What do you love about your current job? What do you find most rewarding?
Margaret: I will start with the most rewarding aspect. It is when I can guide a person that has never been around animals, or does not understand them, to become the most skilled, conscientious, and compassionate researcher. I have the opportunity to make a difference. Especially in a field that is wrought with controversy over animal welfare. The feedback I have heard is that we significantly improved the experience for the individual conducting research, and has greatly enhanced the quality of results attained in the project.
OAVT: What advice would you give to other RVTs who are looking to get into research?
Margaret: The truth is that you never know where life will take you. My clinical experience almost overshadows my university education. Every aspect of your training is valuable. I have called on my skills doing blood smears, urine collection, IV and fluid maintenance, wound care, surgical monitoring, blood glucose assays, lots of surgery and anesthesia, etc., etc., etc. The most challenging aspect in research is translating volumes of molecular biology data to applied clinical treatments. This is were the RVT is worth gold. I have heard many times by senior scientists how much they wish they could have someone like me in their lab.
OAVT: RVTs are passionate people, and every RVT has an area they are most passionate about. What is your passion?
Margaret: My true passion is learning about animals. How they live, behave, interact with our environment, and their basic biology. This helps me work towards improvements for animal welfare. I apply this philosophy at work. My plan B when retirement arrives, is to continue as an RVT volunteer involved with some aspect of animal welfare and protection.