Career Spotlight of the Month (December 2019)
Name: Stefanie Kotschwar, RVT, BScH (Zoology, Nutrition), MSc (Zoo Conservation), AAS (Vet Tech), Diploma (Web Design and Equine Science)
Current Job: Full-time RVT at Lynwood Animal Hospital in Ottawa, Ontario
Q & A with Stefanie
OAVT: Besides your RVT credential, you have a couple of degrees beside your name. Tell us about your university education. What drew you to zoo conservation?
Stefanie: I have always been drawn to animals and wanted to work with them in some capacity. This led me to getting my undergraduate degree in Zoology. During my university years I realized more and more which groups of animals I was really drawn to, mammals, reptiles and birds. Once graduated, I worked at my local humane society and while it was very satisfying, I felt the desire to pursue more education.
I looked at different programs that were related to zoology and came across one on zoo conservation. I have always been a supporter of good zoos as they can serve to benefit various animals and hoped at some point to be able to work at one. I also got a glimpse into the world of animal welfare and conservation during my undergraduate program. The zoo conservation was amazing as it brought experts of that field in the UK together to teach about all the different factors involved in the Zoo Conservation world. There is a tremendous amount of work that goes on behind the scenes in terms of research, certification, creating enclosures, deciding which animals to breed and why, etc. I was drawn to this particular course as some classes were taught by staff from a Zoo and would also be held there. It was a different, more hands-on course that I really enjoyed.
OAVT: What made you decide to take a Veterinary Technology program, and where did you go to school for that?
Stefanie: I did an alternate program through Cedar Valley College as one RVT I was working with had gone through that program. While it was long distance, it was important to still be working to get my practical experience. I had DVMs and fellow RVTs be my preceptors and they would sign off my list of skills. I also had to create some videos to send back for my instructors to watch. It worked for me as I had supportive peers and worked at a GP/emergency clinic so I managed to get good hands-on experience. During that time I was working as an assistant and ultimately that was when I decided to become an RVT. I wanted to learn more about the medical aspect and get new skills. I love learning and I was still finding my place in terms of my career path, so being able to continue working and take the course at my own pace was perfect for me. I figured it would add to the practical knowledge I had already acquired and I could combine it with my other courses.
OAVT: You currently work at Lynwood Animal Hospital which sees many exotic animals. Have you always been interested in exotic pet care? Or has that interest grown while working at Lynwood?
Stefanie: My initial interest was really in the zoo animals. Once I started at a clinic in Guelph I got more exposed to the exotics and I started to enjoy them more. I got to learn more about them and their personalities and I loved it! My interest in them really started then.
When I spent some years working in places with no exposure or less exposure to exotics pets, I realize now that I wasn’t as happy. When rabbits or guinea pigs were brought into the Humane Society I would spend more time with them. Everyday I would stop by the room where all the small mammals and birds were kept to check on them or say hello. Once I started working at Lynwood Animal Hospital and working more with exotics than cats and dogs, I just felt happier. I knew that I was already interested in the exotic pets, but the interest and thirst for learning about them has significantly increased since joining my current team.
OAVT: What is a typical day like for you?
Stefanie: Oh, it really depends on whether I am on team med, surgery or a floater RVT. About 75% of all the patients I see are small herbivores, which is then followed by reptiles, birds, and finally cats/dogs.
No day is the same for me, and I can go from handling a 32 gram budgie one minute to a 4 kg bunny the next.
On days when I am the floater RVT I can usually be found in the lab running avian CBCs for the majority of the day. I can also be found helping out with RVT appointments (dog/cat vaccines, nail trims on various species, lab sample collection) or doing treatments on hospitalized patients. Most of our hospitalized patients are birds or small herbivores, so treatments will not only involve giving medication but also gavage feeding or syringe feeding.
On team med days I work closely with my Dr. and their appointments doing things such as preparing treat bins, preparing estimates, helping with treatments, client education and more. On surgery days I will be in charge of preanesthetic care, placing IV’s, induction, monitoring and recovery. Also, lately for me it seems that 90% of my surgery patients are rabbits.
OAVT: You have done a lot of writing over the years for The RVT Journal and other veterinary medicine publications and blogs. What inspires you to write and share the information you’ve learned with other RVTs?
Stefanie: When it comes to the world of exotic animals, I have found that resources for these amazing animals are not yet as widespread as for cats and dogs. Part of this is because the field is still growing and there is still a lot to learn. There is still so much we don’t know about these animals and their disease processes and I find that we don’t get to learn very much about them during veterinary technology school.
I enjoy sharing what I know and what I have learned over the years so that other people that are interested in this topic have access. I am proud of the work that I do and that my clinic does, so I like to share our work and show what we do. I also find that I learn a lot more by writing about certain topics as it involves researching them in greater detail. I also use it as a way to open up conversations with other professionals in the veterinary world to find out what they do differently, what cases have they seen, what knowledge they can share, etc.
OAVT: You spoke earlier this fall at ExoticsCon in Missouri, with a topic of “Low-Stress Handling Techniques of Small Mammals with a Focus on Rabbits & Guinea Pigs”. What was that experience like? Do you find RVTs have a thirst for more knowledge when it comes to working with less common companion animals?
Stefanie: It was incredible! I was worried and nervous at first, but felt more comfortable as my presentation began. I spoke to a couple of other RVTs prior to the presentation and they reassured me it was going to be just fine. Seeing people fill the room and be interested in my topic definitely made me feel good about what I do and glad that I decided to share our low stress protocols that we are continuously working on and improving.
I do think that RVTs who are interested in exotics animals are always wanting to know more and learn more about them. There are not as many clinics that work with these kinds of animals and if you couple that with the fact that there is still so much we don’t know about them, it is important that we share information and learn more from other people in the field.
OAVT: What do you love about your current job? What do you find most rewarding?
Stefanie: I love the variety of species that I can see in one day and it challenges me on a daily basis. Besides that, I love the positive environment that I work in and how supportive the owners are. They will listen to suggestions and show their full support if we want to further our knowledge. I find it very rewarding when you work closely with one patient and play an important role in helping it feel better and helping the owner understand what their pet needs.
OAVT: What other jobs have you had, in relation to the RVT profession?
Stefanie: I didn’t obtain my “R” until after a couple of years of finishing my program, as my workplaces didn’t really push for me to get it and I was still searching for my proper place career-wise. Prior to obtaining my “R” I worked at both a GP and emergency clinic and did intake work for my local humane society. After this I actually changed gears for a couple of months and worked as an administrative assistant in the foster department at the Humane Society. At that time I was not very happy working in the veterinary technology field and was carefully deciding whether it was the right job for me long-term.
Since becoming an RVT, I really have only been at Lynwood Animal Hospital and they were the ones who actually encouraged me to go for it as they understand the value of it, and I found that working with exotics ignited that spark for the profession again.
OAVT: Yay Lynwood! Okay, last question for you. RVTs are passionate people, and every RVT has an area they are most passionate about. What is your passion?
Stefanie: My passion truly is exotics pets! I really love anything that is related to these less commonly known pets, but if I had to pick a specific thing then I would say anesthesia and nutrition are my main interests.
I also love learning and teaching! My current job is very supportive and allows me to follow my interests. One of my main long-term goals is to obtain my VTS in clinical practice exotics, and my work has even encouraged me to follow it. They also listen to suggestions that I have to implement what I learn along the way, and have also been supportive of my involvement in different conferences. I am quite lucky to be where I am.