Career Spotlight of the Month (October 2020)
Name: Jenna Cook, BSc (hons), RVT, CCRP, CCMT
Current Job: Rehabilitation RVT at SOAR Veterinary Services
Q & A with Jenna
OAVT: Where did you go to school and what made you decide to take a Veterinary Technology program?
Jenna: I always knew I wanted to work with animals, but thought becoming a veterinarian was really the only option. After working in many veterinary clinics from age 15 to 18, I decided to pursue a Bachelor of Science degree, majoring in animal biology at the University of Guelph.
In my third year, I attended a career night at the Ontario Veterinary College with a few friends. There was an RVT there, who spoke all about her job in the OVC animal rehabilitation department. I had always had a strong interest in kinesiology and physiotherapy, but my love for animals was beyond compare. I remember thinking to myself, there is no way this is real…what a dream job! I was completely inspired… I had no idea there were so many avenues to specialize as an RVT. I didn’t know that physiotherapy for animals even existed, but I just knew I HAD to be part of that world.
I spoke with the RVT speaker at the end of the night, and she recommended that I reach out to a rehab vet in Toronto to start volunteering to see how I liked it. Well, “like” was definitely an understatement! Since that day I dreamt about doing animal rehabilitation! I finished my Bachelor of Science degree and pursued becoming an RVT with aspirations to become certified as a CCRP immediately after graduation. I graduated from the Veterinary Technician program at Seneca College in 2015 and became certified as a Certified Canine Rehabilitation Practitioner in 2016 through the University of Tennessee.
OAVT: You are currently a rehabilitation RVT at SOAR Veterinary Services in Burlington, Ontario. Tell us a bit about your job.
Jenna: SOAR is a physical rehabilitation and pain management facility specializing in providing integrative treatment options for companion animals. As a Certified Canine Rehabilitation Practitioner I am able to perform rehabilitation physical assessments as well as develop and execute treatment plans using various rehabilitation therapies and modalities. I provide recommendations and treatment options to help enhance joint health, pain and weight management, strength, limb use, proprioception and overall mobility in dogs and cats. I treat pets recovering from a wide variety of orthopedic and neurologic conditions as well as providing mobility management to geriatric patients.
All of this is done under the supervision of a rehab and acupuncture certified vet, Dr. Danielle Anderson. I am so lucky to work with a vet and mentor who believes and encourages me, whose passion and goals align so well with my own.
OAVT: What is a typical day like for you?
Jenna: Many of my patients experience pain, muscle loss, and joint stiffening as a consequence of degenerative joint disease or injury. I use a variety of therapeutic modalities, manual therapies and physical exercises to promote mobility and help manage pain in injured and geriatric pets.
After the pet has come into the clinic for their initial assessment I often recommend in-clinic rehab sessions which are designed to meet the individual recovery needs of each patient. Depending on the nature and severity of the injury, we typically see rehab patients in-clinic once or twice weekly. Rehab sessions may include a combination of manual therapies such as passive range of motion, stretching and massage, as well as therapeutic exercises to promote strength and proprioception.
I also focus a large portion of the rehab session on re-training proper gait patterns to improve weight bearing and limb positioning of a weak or injured limb(s). I use both a land treadmill and an underwater treadmill, otherwise referred to as hydrotherapy, which involves the patient walking on the treadmill while being submerged in a tank filled with water. This provides buoyancy to reduce pain and improve overall mobility. I am also able to provide many therapeutic modalities including laser therapy, ultrasound, neuromuscular electrical stimulation therapy, which all promote healing by increasing local circulation and reducing inflammation. Every patient that comes in for rehab also gets a tailored home program consisting of simple yet effective manual therapies and physical exercises that are to be done with the pet in the home. Throughout a pet’s rehabilitation program, we will adjust the difficulty of both their in-clinic, and at-home plan depending on their level of progress. I generally treat about 10-12 patients on a normal day – mostly canines, however I do have some feline patients as well!
OAVT: What do you love about your job?
Jenna: Where do I even begin! Nursing an injured pet can be an unbelievably overwhelming experience for both the pet and their family. There can be a lot of uncertainty regarding what their prognosis and overall quality of life will be after the injury. Will they walk again? Will they be able to run again? Will they ever be able to play with their fur sibling again? I feel so incredibly lucky to be able to help the pet and their parent through such a stressful and emotional time in their beloved pet’s life.
Not all recoveries are the same, and not all pets respond in the same way to rehabilitation therapies. Sometimes we have to get a little creative when designing rehab treatment plans. We as a rehabilitation team are constantly challenged to think outside of the box to develop new treatment strategies and therapeutic exercises to more effectively reach our goals for our patients. My patients never cease to amaze me with their will, determination and resiliency! I am constantly learning and growing as a rehab therapist from each and every patient. They teach me to never give up hope and that the impossible is never really impossible! It just requires some hard work and dedication as a team.
One of my favourite parts of my job is that most of my patients know my name! I can’t contain my happiness when an owner tells me their dog was “going crazy” at the front door or in the car when they said “we’re going to go see Jenna!” It always brightens my day to see the pet pulling their owners through the clinic door because they are so excited to come in for rehab. The bond that I am able to build with these patients and their families is truly special, whether they’re in rehab for a short time, or long term. Each patient holds a special place in my heart. There is truly no greater reward than when an owner says “they haven’t done that in forever!” Helping these pets go for walks again, jump on the couch again, or even just live a more comfortable life is what makes my job so unbelievably fulfilling.
OAVT: You recently started doing more speaking engagements and presentations. Do you enjoy sharing your knowledge with others?
Jenna: Being able to show people how small changes and treatments can make such an impact on an animal’s pain, mobility and overall quality of life is truly amazing. My favourite audience to speak to is by far RVTs. I love educating RVTs on things they can do in their clinics to improve pain management, obesity, post-operative recoveries, fitness and joint health in their everyday patients. Rehab techniques can be widely used in clinic to enhance recovery and promote overall wellbeing in pets of all life stages.
I also love to teach RVTs gait analysis, post-op/injury patient care tips and tricks, and simple pain management techniques. These are all skills that can be added to their toolbox and used on many patients that walk through the clinic doors. Since RVTs are often spending a lot of time with their patients, I think it is incredibly important for RVTs to be well versed in how to assess for pain and the treatment options available to help in managing pain. I also have an intense love for neurological rehab and would love to branch out and start speaking a bit more on how RVTs can assist their neurological patients post injury to enhance their recovery.
OAVT: What excites you about the rehabilitation aspect of your career? What drew you to that area of veterinary medicine?
Jenna: I get so excited when we are able to beat the odds for our patients and do what “can’t be done”. After an injury there are always doubts of whether that pet will be able to do their normal dog or cat things like walking, running, jumping …etc. Depending on the severity of the injury, mobility may be weak, prognosis may be poor, and the owner’s hope and pet’s spirit may be dwindling. Sometimes we are lucky enough to be a part of true rehab miracles.
For some pets, no isn’t an option. With a lot of will, determination and a whole lot of rehab love, we are able to achieve the “impossible”. The pet who was told they would never walk again, runs to greet us at the door! Being there with both the pet and the family from right after the injury to the moment when they take their first step, and even run in the park for the first time, is truly magical. Despite all the uncertainty, anxiety and doubt, these moments are so worth it, and provide an excitement and fulfillment that is completely immeasurable.
I was definitely drawn to rehab because of those feel good moments! I am always looking to improve my palpation skills so in 2016 I attended the Royal Canadian College of Massage to become a Certified Canine Massage Therapist. I am currently in the process of obtaining the designation of a Certified Veterinary Pain Practitioner through the IVAPM, with hopes to complete this by next year. My ultimate goal is to become board certified in physical rehabilitation and obtain my VTS through the IAVRPT. I plan to begin this process in the next year or two.
OAVT: What other jobs have you had in the RVT field?
Jenna: I have never actually worked as an RVT in regular practice. After graduating from Seneca College and passing the VTNE, I was lucky enough to be hired on as an RVT in the rehabilitation department at the Toronto Veterinary Emergency & Referral Hospital. I immediately began the process to become a Certified Canine Rehabilitation Practitioner through the University of Tennessee. One year later I wrote my exam and obtained my certification as a CCRP.
OAVT: Does your job allow you to feel like you’re making a difference every day?
Jenna: I genuinely feel that every day I am able to make a difference in both the pet and their family’s life. Knowing this, I come to work every day with a smile on my face. Even something so small, like reassuring an owner when they’re worried about their pet’s progress, or giving them tips and tricks on how to manage their disabled pet at home, can make the world of a difference in alleviating an owner’s stress and anxiety.
I think we don’t realize how appreciative our clients are for the small things we do to help them. Even just being there for them to lean on, cry with when they’re discouraged, and of course laugh with when their pet does something goofy, can make a huge difference in their pet’s success.
I commonly see patients that are extremely painful, who are often unable to get up or walk on their own. Their families may be contemplating euthanasia because they can’t bear to see their beloved pet suffer. Once these patients are enrolled into a rehabilitation program and they are placed on an appropriate pain management plan we often see their quality of life drastically improve. We frequently hear that rehab not only gave these pets their independence back and a greater quality of life, but also gave their families extra months or even years with their beloved pets. We all seem to pursue veterinary medicine because we have a passion for helping animals but I think underestimate the positive impact we can also have on their families as well.
OAVT: If other RVTs are looking to get into speaking, what advice do you have for them?
Jenna: I have always been really nervous with public speaking and have avoided it at all costs for most of my life. Early in my career I was encouraged to start doing some small speaking engagements at colleges and in veterinary clinics. I was a new grad, not incredibly confident, and didn’t think I had a lot of knowledge to offer the vet community at the time. After my first time speaking I realized, even if you inspire one person listening, it’s all worth it. Now after a few more talks, there is nothing I love more than sharing my passion for animal rehab.
If you are thinking of getting into speaking but are nervous to take the first step, just take the plunge, you won’t regret it. The feeling of sharing your passion is incredible. When you are starting out, it is important to be specific in your topics, try not to cover too much as you may overwhelm yourself and not be able to deliver your points clearly.
An important first step is to speak on something you are passionate about! This makes speaking fun for both you and the audience. The audience will become more engaged if they feel that you believe in what you are speaking about. Confidence is key! Your first lecture is always the hardest, but with time and experience you will be confident before you know it! Be confident in yourself even if you are new to speaking. We all have our own experiences and have learned so much throughout our journeys as RVTs. You will always have something to offer at least one person in the audience.
And lastly… always, always, ALWAYS back up your presentation! I unfortunately learned that lesson the hard way!
OAVT: What was your experience like speaking at the OAVT Conference (OAVT 2020)? How did you find the level of engagement from your fellow RVTs?
Jenna: The OAVT Conference was by far my favourite event to speak at. I was able to do a hands-on, workshop style lecture with a good friend and colleague of mine. I think it’s amazing that the OAVT offers RVTs the opportunity to get hands on experience in such an integrative way. The conference was very well organized, which allowed me to not stress over the small details, because they were all taken care of. I was able to relax and focus my attention on my presentation.
There is something really special about speaking as an RVT, to fellow RVTs and aspiring RVTs. The RVTs who attended my workshop were so engaged and eager to learn and ask questions. It was amazing! The OAVT does a great job at promoting a sense of community among all RVTs both at the conference as well as in daily life. I really felt part of a community while speaking at the OAVT Conference.
OAVT: COVID-19 has had an impact on everyone’s lives, but in different ways. How has COVID-19 impacted your life as an RVT? How has it impacted your life outside of work?
Jenna: During rehab sessions I often utilize our pet parents to help motivate them when walking in the water treadmill or even to hold one of our famous frozen yogurt popsicles during laser therapy. To keep both our staff and clients safe, we have restricted clinic access to clients, and continue to practice curb side pick-up and drop offs.
The COVID-19 protocols have definitely made rehab sessions more difficult, not only for the pets that are used to their families being a part of their sessions, but also for our new clients whom we’ve not met. It can be quite difficult to build a trusting relationship with the family when they can’t be actively involved in the rehab I am doing with their pet in the clinic. Although building relationships with pet parents is now more difficult, I feel that overall we are building stronger bonds between the staff and clients, as well as greatly improving the human-animal bond. I try my best to involve the family as much as currently possible before and after the rehab session, in hopes to make them feel at ease. I typically do this by video chatting the owners from the car, taking photos and videos of their pet during the session, calling and emailing for updates, and even demonstrating new home exercises with their pet in the parking lot. These tasks take a fair bit of extra time during an already busy day.
As an RVT who strives to always provide the best care that I can, I have had to improve my time management and communication skills to ensure that I can continue to give my patients the care that they deserve. I hope that all of our wonderful pet parents find comfort in knowing that although they can’t be with their pets during their rehab sessions, I’m making sure to give them extra snuggles and treats to make up for it.
I feel so thankful to be able to continue to do what I love, despite the current pandemic. My patients bring so much joy into my life and I appreciate my time with them even more these days!
I was supposed to have my dream winter wedding this December but due to the current COVID-19 restrictions we had to make the difficult decision to postpone until next year. It’s alright, though – our pups needed some extra time to practice walking down the aisle anyways! We are very much looking forward to celebrating next year when it is safe to do so!
OAVT: RVTs are passionate people, and every RVT has an area they are most passionate about. What is YOUR passion?
Jenna: I guess this is a no-brainer, my passion is without a doubt animal rehabilitation! Within the scope of animal rehab, I am especially passionate about pain management, geriatric care and neurological recovery. Although, my new found passion is teaching! I love speaking at both small and larger scale events, as well as mentoring CCRP students during their externships.
Mentoring was something I was always really nervous about, and wasn’t sure I was quite ready for. I quickly fell in love with sharing my passion for rehab with other aspiring rehab practitioners. I am so grateful to have the opportunity to educate future RVTs and CCRPs, I have built many long lasting friendships through our mentorship programs at SOAR.