Career Spotlight of the Month (September 2020)
Name: Scarlett Wong, BSc, RVT, VTS(ECC)
Current Job: Professor, Sheridan College (Veterinary Technician program)
Q & A with Scarlett
OAVT: Where did you go to school and what made you decide to take a Veterinary Technology program?
Scarlett: I am originally from Hong Kong where education opportunities in veterinary medicine at the time were extremely limited. I grew up thinking being a veterinarian was the only career choice to fulfill my passion in veterinary medicine until I moved to Canada. In my high school year, I joined a one day “job shadow” program and spent a day observing at a vet clinic. I was thrilled to learn about the RVT profession and was amazed to see the wide range of work including dentistry, laboratory work, anesthesia, radiology, client education! I studied Biochemistry at university, but eventually decided to enroll in a vet tech program. I graduated from St. Clair College in 2002 and the rest is history.
OAVT: You are currently a professor in the Veterinary Technician program at Sheridan College, teaching basic and advanced veterinary nursing. What do you love about your job?
Scarlett: The best part of being a professor is the interaction with students and being able to share experiences with them. We have students from all parts of the world with diverse backgrounds and life perspectives. I learn as much from the students as they learn from me, which makes the interaction mutually enjoyable. My job also requires continuous professional and personal development – something I am absolutely passionate about! Finally, I work with amazing colleagues. We share many similar interests and values. Together, we put a lot of effort into the quality of the program and our students’ wellbeing. I cannot thank them enough for making our workplace an enjoyable one!
OAVT: What do you love about “molding” future RVTs?
Scarlett: It is an absolutely rewarding and fun experience watching the students grow. I watch them nervously hold a syringe and needle on their first day in lab and later become a pro at IV catheter placement by the second year! They are so eager to enter the “real world” by the time they graduate, and the pride on their faces is priceless!
Every week, I invite students to share stories from their field placements. They love talking about the cases, how they finally overcame the fear of talking to clients, or when they were offered a part-time position or landing a full-time job at their favourite clinic. I feel honoured to be a part of their journey.
OAVT: How has COVID-19 impacted students and the program?
Scarlett: The sudden closure of the campus back in March due to COVID-19 forced an unplanned transition to distance learning that was extremely challenging for both the students and instructors. While some students thrived in the virtual learning environment, others struggled to adapt. It was a lot for the student to handle including their loss of community, practicum placements, and even convocation.
These changes required significant adjustment from the instructors and students. I am thankful the students were understanding and patient with the new virtual environment, and some students even provided us with valuable feedback to improve the program going forward.
This summer we successfully delivered the full semester virtually to our Animal Care students at Sheridan College. The faculty worked tirelessly and experimented with different tools to facilitate alternative learning methods without sacrificing the quality and fairness of student assessments. We also organized virtual field trips, a virtual career fair, and specialty workshops to help students stay connected to the industry. Our experience this past semester has helped us prepare for both the animal care and vet tech programs in the coming fall semester.
OAVT: So what will “going back to school” look like for you this September?
Scarlett: Most colleges and universities are planning a range of options to reopen schools safely. Some schools opted to go fully virtual while some plan on adopting a hybrid instructional model where students attend lectures online and practical sessions on campus. The college experience will be undeniably altered to some degree.
I foresee everyone will need to commit to a new way of life on campus including being extra conscious of hygiene, appropriate PPE in classrooms, respecting social distancing, reporting symptoms and self-isolation, etc. Dormitory occupancy will likely be decreased, and large social gatherings in the student centre or cafeteria may no longer be common.
Students are eager to get back in the classroom but on the other hand they may feel uncertain, insecure and anxious about the safety measures for in-person learning. As professors, we have an immense role in engaging and supporting the students as they adapt to changes brought on by the global pandemic. I encourage students who are going back to school this coming fall term to focus on gaining positive experiences. As courses are offered face-to-face, synchronous and asynchronous options, along with online access to various resources and support, students can choose the method and timing that best suit their learning preference. Take advantage of technology, be flexible, and leverage any opportunity to create an enjoyable environment.
OAVT: How long have you been teaching? Have you seen any shifts in veterinary technology students over the years?
Scarlett: This coming September will be my ten year anniversary at Sheridan College. How time flies! Over the past decade, I have noticed a growing number of adult learners entering the veterinary technician program because of the career-directed nature of the program. Many of these students have post-secondary education in different fields but re-evaluated their career direction and chose our vet tech program.
I have also found that many students have met or interacted with RVTs before coming to the program, and chose this profession because they were inspired by one!
OAVT: What other jobs have you had in the RVT field?
Scarlett: After graduating from tech school, I worked at a few regular practices and a very neat cat clinic in Windsor, Ontario. I moved back to Toronto in 2003 and joined the emergency department at the Veterinary Emergency Clinic and spent the next 17 years there.
Over the years I’ve also done locum work at referral hospitals in various departments including the intensive care unit, ophthalmology, surgery, and anesthesia. I continue to locum at specialty clinics and regular practices to keep my skills current.
OAVT: You have a VTS in ECC. What do you love about ECC? What fascinates you?
Scarlett: I love the field of emergency and critical care because of the variety of cases, the procedures, and the opportunity to utilize high-level nursing skills. On any given day (or night), we can have stable patients recovering quietly in the hospital, and then suddenly two or three patients are rushed in that require CPR! This keeps me on my toes constantly.
I enjoy performing and learning complex nursing skills, often referencing textbooks and articles to understand the disease processes and practicing critical thinking in order to provide the best care option to the patient. It is personally rewarding to see a post-surgical patient finally rest comfortably in its cage because of the analgesic CRI I helped setup, or a negative ketone test result on a DKA patient after days of intensive interventions. Of course, there are bad days, but they are far outnumbered by days when I leave work and feel awesome. I’m one of the lucky people in the world who wake up and look forward to going to work!
OAVT: You have a lot of experience with pet first aid, CPR and educating people on these topics. What can other RVTs be doing to help educate clients?
Scarlett: RVTs in general can create simple first aid brochures or organize pet emergency awareness events at the clinic to educate clients on what they can do to be better prepared for a medical emergency.
It is also a great idea to encourage clients to get trained in CPR. For example, the RECOVER (Reassessment Campaign on Veterinary Resuscitation) recently launched a new online course on pet CPR that is intended for pet owners, dog walkers, groomer, pet sitter or dog daycare providers.
As a certified RECOVER CPR instructor myself, the topics that I teach in my workshops follow the RECOVER guideline and syllabus. Veterinary professionals receive hands-on training in basic and advanced life support techniques including cardiac compression and ventilation techniques, recognition of arrest EKG rhythms, and the appropriate use of emergency drugs and the defibrillator.
I highly recommend all RVTs consider taking the CPR training course from the RECOVER and become a certified rescuer! It is the only official veterinary CPR certification that provides in-depth, evidence-based knowledge to equip veterinary professionals in dealing with arresting or impending arrest emergencies. To learn more, please visit recoverinitiative.org or contact me at email@example.com. I would be happy to provide more information about this certification.
OAVT: What advice would you give to RVTs who are looking to earn their VTS? Where should they start?
Scarlett: A Veterinary Technician Specialty (VTS) is a higher level credential for licensed or registered veterinary technicians who study and complete certification in a specific discipline through one of the 16 specialty academies. Each academy has their own specific application rules and guidelines, but the general requirements are similar across the board. In order to qualify for the VTS credential in any specialty, candidates must be an accredited veterinary technician (RVT, LVT, CVT) with the requisite training, experience and education to qualify for the academy’s specialty exam. For those who are interested in becoming a VTS in a specific discipline, please visit the academy’s website to learn about its specific requirements.
The intense process of becoming a VTS requires a lot of time and commitment which could take years to fulfill. Besides a passion for the specialty, it is important to have a good support structure for this challenging journey. While working in a specialty hospital is not a requirement, the support from the clinic can play a major role in providing the necessary caseloads and equipment to enable candidates to master advanced skills. Support from friends and family are also crucial as the candidate’s personal life will be impacted by days and nights of studying!
OAVT: What advice do you wish someone had given you when you were still a student, or at the start of your RVT career?
Scarlett: Be proud of your profession! Introduce yourself as an RVT rather than a “tech”. The path to becoming an RVT is not an easy ride, and you invested a lot of time and energy to obtain your credential. In addition, you wear many hats as an RVT in order to provide the high level medical services to your veterinary patients and human clients alike. Advocate for yourself and your profession by telling friends and family about your career, and the impact you make at work!
OAVT: RVTs are passionate people, and every RVT has an area they are most passionate about. What is YOUR passion?
Scarlett: Passions evolve with time as we gain experience and explore more areas of interest. My first passion was in ECC (emergency and critical care) medicine which led to 17 years of working experience in emergency and referral hospitals.
While I still have a strong passion for ECC, I have a new passion for teaching post-secondary education. I enjoy the challenges of professional development and exploring innovative strategies to help ignite or realize a student’s potential. It is a rewarding and fun experience watching the students grow.