A Q&A with the OAVT’s Elise Wickett, RVT

Elise Wickett, MBA, RVT, began her role as the Executive Director & Registrar of the OAVT in late February, and we sat down with her to take a look back at some of the highs, lows, accomplishments and hot button topics from her first five months on the job. Check out our conversation below.

OAVT Staff (OS): So, you started a brand-new job, and a pandemic turned the world upside down within your first three weeks. How has the COVID-19 pandemic challenged you as a boss, as an RVT, and as a leader?

Elise: COVID-19 certainly forced the world into a tailspin; it caused all of us to exist beyond our comfort bouncing around in a state of confusion. Its effects continue to weigh heavily on the lives of many. As an RVT, a pet owner and animal lover, I am beyond humbled by the efforts of our profession during this pandemic.

In times of crisis we are forced to think about what is most important and why – it’s a great opportunity for growth. The OAVT has had to reflect on our values and priorities. This has meant changes to some of the plans we had in place to celebrate our 50 years, postponing some events, and the development of new programming. There is a renewed commitment to our mission to “define a legislated scope of practice for RVTs as regulated professionals and respected animal healthcare providers to promote team excellence.” I hope RVTs see this as a priority too and a path to finding ongoing career fulfillment.

For me, the timing meant that I’ve been working within the constraints of the pandemic more than not. I am very fortunate to have found myself alongside a fantastic team of dedicated, caring and capable people. The Board of Directors, staff and committee members have ensured that our most pressing activities have continued to move forward.

OS: During the initial panic in late March, when no one was sure if veterinary medicine would be deemed “essential”, we created a private OAVT RVT Facebook page. As an RVT, you are part of that group. You see what RVTs are talking about. What are some of the topics that surprise you? Inspire you? Sadden you?

Elise: Having a place where members could safely share their thoughts and ideas on all things RVT was brought forward by a member at the Annual General Meeting – before the pandemic really began to impact Ontario. I’d like to see this evolve to a more comprehensive and robust offering, but wow! The Facebook group has been really interesting. It’s a portal into the daily lives of RVTs!

RVTs experiencing difficult workplace situations touch me, and I am saddened by stories of mental health struggles, burnout, people dying by suicide and any instance where an RVT feels helpless. The desire to help and care for others is a common trait amongst RVTs and I’m no different. I hope that through the activities of the Association we can empower RVTs to get involved in creating the changes they want to see; to participate in moving the profession forward.

The compassion and support RVTs show for each other is pretty astounding – it’s as though there is an unwritten agreement or oath to lift each other up. It’s inspiring how people come together, Ontario RVTs are a pretty neat bunch and a community I’m proud to be a part of.

OS: One topic that constantly comes up with RVTs is their frustration over “cosmetic teeth cleanings”. What can RVTs do to combat misinformation when it comes to cosmetic teeth cleaning? And how do you feel about individuals doing these cleanings calling themselves “technicians”?

Elise: Yes, this is undoubtedly a hot topic for RVTs. The prevalence of cosmetic teeth cleaning is one example of why it is so important we spend time and effort on education and well thought out regulation. I know that’s a bit of a broken record answer. You’ve heard it before and progress is not a straight line, but rest assured that the frustration this causes for RVTs is not going unnoticed. Let’s take this frustration and rather than get discouraged, use it as motivation to bring about change.

OS: Another topic that sparked concern with RVTs this summer was a decision by the CVO Council to move ahead with new standards on the use of different forms of energies, such as laser. You spoke with many RVTs about this, and you were in direct contact with the CVO to discuss. Are you able to shed some light on where the issue was, and where we are now with that decision by CVO Council?

Elise: Yes, that’s correct. Upon reviewing the information, several RVTs were concerned that the standards as they were written may present an access to care issue for animals in need of this therapy. They communicated this concern and received an invitation to participate in a wider discussion. The conversation is ongoing, and the decisions are not ours to make however, I am confident that the perspective of the RVT was heard, understood and appreciated.

OS: Do you think title protection over “veterinary technician” will solve many of the problems RVTs face every day in the workforce?

Elise: I think it’s a small piece of a bigger picture. The bigger picture is that of legislative reform and modernization of the Veterinarians Act. These activities are steadily moving forward, and together with our partners in veterinary medicine we’re working towards creating a structure for regulated veterinary professionals to provide the highest standard of care – in the best interest of the animals and the public.

It would be short sighted of me to suggest that with a flip of a switch all problems are solved, and likewise, that we don’t already have a great framework in place worth celebrating. The OAVT of today is built by decades of advocacy on behalf of RVTs and our aspirational goals fuel and motivates our current efforts.

OS: You work in the OAVT office now, but half a decade ago you were sitting on the OAVT Board of Directors as President! What made you decide to get involved with the Board in the first place? Why did you want to be more involved with your association?

Elise: I went back through my emails to see if I could find my original application. It turns out I handed in a hard copy (!), but I did find some notes. I wrote about advocacy, my commitment to the OAVT mission and vision, a passion for providing excellent patient care and supporting others in achieving their professional goals. And really, that remains true today. My values have been steadfast, but plenty of personal development and growth has taken place since my initial stint on the Board of Directors in 2012. I have broadened my horizons and that’s been enabled through volunteerism, relationships and a willingness to learn and change.

OS: For RVTs who want to see more changes in this industry, and who are passionate about their beliefs, how do you recommend that they get involved to make their voices heard? How can they have an impact on the future of this profession?

Elise: You’ve hit the nail on the head – get involved in anyway you can. Each voice counts, each perspective has value. Take a deep breath, muster up a bit of courage and share what’s important.

It can be helpful to have a cheerleader and ally. I got started by speaking at the OAVT conference with a colleague. But if getting up on stage isn’t your thing, test out your ideas with family, friends and other RVTs or vets. Share what you do (introduce yourself to clients as an RVT!!) and explain the value of an RVT, talk about why it’s important to continue moving forward with our legislative agenda and ask questions to learn more.

RVTs can come together in a more formal way by joining an OAVT committee or task force (there are 9!). Earlier this year the Board of Directors established a new one – the Advocacy Task Force. We’ve intentionally kept it under wraps until now, and more information will be shared in the coming weeks. But, for those RVTs who are interested in getting involved with activities specifically related to legislative reform and modernization of the vet act, this is the group for you!

If you’re already interested in getting involved with the Advocacy Task Force, send an email to: advocacy@oavt.org.

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