Career Spotlight of the Month (March 2020)
Name: Diana Linttell, BSc, RVT
Current Job: Animal Operations Specialist for the Canadian Pari-Mutuel Agency (CPMA)
Q & A with Diana
OAVT: Where did you go to school and what made you decide to take a Veterinary Technology program?
Diana: I graduated with Honours from Northern College in Haileybury, Ontario (class of 2011). Growing up on a farm in Eastern Ontario I always knew I wanted to work with animals. From the age of five, I always said I would be a veterinarian. That initially led me to get my Bachelor of Science at the University of Prince Edward Island. Although I was second on the waiting list for the Atlantic Veterinary College (AVC) one year, I determined that wasn’t for me. It was through a friend in the harness racing scene down east that I met someone working at the AVC at the time and it was she that first gave me the idea of becoming an RVT.
OAVT: You are currently the Animal Operations Specialist for the Canadian Pari-Mutuel Agency (CPMA), a special operating agency within Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, at their Equine Drug Evaluation Centre (EDEC) in Jerseyville, Ontario. Tell us about your role.
Diana: I am responsible for overseeing the health and welfare of the research horses and managing all records and other paperwork related to them, as well as overseeing the operational aspects of research.
The CPMA regulates pari-mutuel betting in Canada on horse races to ensure that betting is conducted in a way that is fair to the public. As a way to accomplish this, the CPMA operates the Equine Drug Control Program (EDCP), in other words an anti-doping program, that is meant to deter the uncontrolled use of drugs in racehorses. There are two parts to the EDCP: official testing of samples taken from horses at racetracks across the country and a research program. The research program largely consists of the determination of drug elimination guidelines that assist in developing and improving testing methods as well as providing guidance to the racing industry on the legal use of therapeutic medications. It is this research portion of the EDCP of which I am a part. While CPMA headquarters is located in Ottawa, the research farm is located about 20 minutes outside of Hamilton. I made the move out here with my own horse and two cats to start this job in the fall of 2018.
OAVT: What is a typical day like for you?
Diana: Generally no two days are the same. A typical day for me is quite different on non-research days compared to research days. When no research is being conducted some days I may help with chores in the barn, while other days may consist of mainly office work, writing standard operating procedures for anything horse-related, ensuring all documents concerning the horses as well as all drug records are accurate and complete, ordering drugs and laboratory supplies as needed, booking vet visits as needed. I am also taking a variety of Equine Studies courses through Equine Guelph, as well as some of their short courses, as continuing education to assist me in my daily work.
Ideally, a day consists of a nice combination of both hands on with the horses and office work. For the past 39 years the herd has consisted of Standardbred horses, ex-racehorses that have either raced or been in race training. We have recently begun to acquire Thoroughbreds with a goal of having an equal number of each. The Standardbreds are jogged on our track, which I have done a few times, but that is usually left to one of my co-workers. However, with the addition of our Thoroughbreds I will soon be able to get out of the office more often to exercise them. We will also be breaking the Standardbreds to ride, so they will have more options upon retirement from our program, which will give me another reason to get out of the office on those nice, summer days.
On days leading up to a study I am busy preparing all paperwork and supplies required for the study. Study days can be quite busy, with placing of IV and urinary catheters, and sample collection. I’ve become quite proficient at placing IV and urinary catheters in horses over the past year and a half. That is something we definitely didn’t get hands on training with at school, but if I could place an IV catheter in a tiny kitten I was fairly confident I could do it in a horse! We collect blood and urine samples over a predetermined amount of time after a drug administration and then send these to one or both of our regular laboratories. We also occasionally collaborate with international labs. The blood and urine require some preliminary processing on site prior to shipping to the labs, who ultimately determine the elimination profiles of the drugs.
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?
Diana: I may not be using all the skills I learned in school on a daily basis now, but the knowledge I’ve gained working as an RVT in clinics in the past definitely helps me to do this job more efficiently from placing catheters to knowing drug side affects to the ordering of medications and supplies. My experience charting medical records was a great asset when it came to implementing new record keeping practices, which was integral in our program becoming Canadian Council on Animal Care accredited. As a government research facility everything is recorded. I continue to use my patient monitoring, charting, clinical skills and behaviour, physiology, disease knowledge on a daily basis, but now in a different capacity.
OAVT: What do you love about your current job? Do you feel like you’re making a difference?
Diana: The horses! I have been riding and a part of the horse scene for 28 years and to get a government job with horses is about as close to a dream come true as you can get.
For the horses in my care I know without a doubt I have made a difference in their health and welfare. We have a small but great team at the farm and it has been and continues to be nice to work with them in making changes to how the horses are managed and cared for. As the only one on premises on a daily basis with veterinary medicine knowledge it has been great sharing some of that knowledge with my co-workers, helping to improve techniques related to catheter placement and sample collection and overall horse welfare.
Primarily the EDCP is run to ensure betting is conducted fairly for the public, with all horses competing on an even field as a way of deterring the uncontrolled use of drugs at race time and as a result hopefully improving the welfare of those horses. I would like to think my small part on the research side of the EDCP is contributing to that.
OAVT: What other jobs have you had in the RVT field?
Diana: I worked for almost seven years as an RVT in three different small animal clinics prior to this job. I started out as a part-time RVT at MacCormick Veterinary Services in Vankleek Hill, Ontario.
I then worked for six years as a full-time RVT at Maxville Veterinary Clinic in Maxville, Ontario. It was there I met the current Director of the Equine Drug Control Program before she was the Director of the EDCP. Although still working in government at the time, she worked once a month as a vet at our clinic and it was through her I was first introduced to the CPMA and ultimately this amazing opportunity.
Then I worked at St. Lawrence Valley Animal Hospital (SLVAH) in Cornwall, Ontario. I thoroughly enjoyed my brief time working there as it is a busy, five vet practice where they perform more extensive procedures and surgeries, like ultrasound and orthopedic surgery, than what I had been exposed to previously. Although I only worked there about seven months before I received this great opportunity, I feel I learned a lot during that time and am thankful I was able to experience something new in small animal medicine before I left that chapter of my RVT career behind.
I have also finally taken my best friend’s advice, a fellow RVT, and just completed my training to become a member of the OAVT's Rabies Response Program.
OAVT: Welcome to the RRP team!! 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?
Diana: Yes, I believe it has. So many of my friends, former co-workers and fellow classmates that used to work in the field have either moved their RVT careers into a different, less conventional direction, like myself, or have left the field altogether. There is such a high rate of turnover in our profession for so many reasons and I admit at one point I had thought of leaving it myself. It is safe to say this job most definitely extended my RVT career. And it is with horses! I couldn’t have asked for anything better suited for me.
OAVT: RVTs are passionate people, and every RVT has an area they are most passionate about. What is YOUR passion?
Diana: I have always felt strongly about preventative medicine, proper parasite prevention and vaccinations, for companion animals as well as horses. There are so many diseases and conditions that can be completely prevented with proper preventative care. It costs much less to prevent than to treat! In the horse industry so many practices continue to be done because “that’s the way it has always been done,” whether it is the most efficient way to be doing things or not. I enjoy that aspect of my job that ensures the current procedures we implement at the EDEC related to diet, exercise, health care and management meet or exceed industry standards.