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Veterinarian Technician September 2009 (Vol 30, No 9)

Never-Ending Ann: A Talk with Ann Wortinger, BIS, LVT, VTS (ECC, SAIM)

by Allyson Corcoran, Editorial Assistant

    Ever since Ann Wortinger, BIS, LVT, VTS (ECC, SAIM), was a child, she knew she wanted to be an animal doctor—even before she knew it was an actual profession. It took her even longer to finally realize that she actually wanted to be a technician.

    "When I was in third grade, I decided that I was going to be an animal doctor," she explains. "I thought I came up with the idea on my own because nobody told me at the time that there was already such a thing. Then, during my senior year of high school, after I was accepted into a preveterinary program, I saw a presentation by a veterinary technician. I thought, 'Oh! That sounds really interesting!" Two years later, Ann was accepted into the technician program at Michigan State University and has never regretted the change of plans.

    "Veterinarians diagnose, prescribe medication and perform surgery," Ann explains. "Technicians get to do all the fun stuff. We're the ones that hold the animal, draw the blood and talk to the clients. I prefer to talk to clients and draw blood rather than come up with a diagnosis."

    Thanks in part to that presentation back in high school, Ann has remained a dedicated technician for more than 25 years.

    Acing the Test

    For the past 3 years, Ann has been a program specialist and clinical pathology instructor for the Wayne County Community College District Veterinary Technology Program. For 128 hours over 17 weeks, Ann is responsible for teaching her students how to properly conduct five diagnostic procedures: complete blood count, blood chemistry, urinalysis, tests for endo- and ectoparasites and microbiology. In addition, her students learn about rabies test submission and protocol, in-house test kits like ELISA, agglutination and blood typing.

    "We go through each test and discuss all the principles involved," says Ann. "Then, we spend the afternoon working on the student's skill sets — making smears, running the chemistry machine, seeing what all those results mean and how their interpretation can affect the results."

    Ann also has her students disassemble the kits and identify the different parts and how they work so they "appreciate the amount of work and effort that went into developing those tests."

    She explains that it is important for technicians to fully understand the tests because "it's one of the things that technicians primarily do in clinics, and the quality of how you do it directly affects the results that you see. If our students know which things can affect a certain test and can let the veterinarian know, that can influence the veterinarian's ability to make an accurate diagnosis and improve the quality of the care that the animal receives."

    The World of Academia

    After years of heavy lifting and constant physical activity in private practice, Ann realized that she was beginning to wear out. When she heard about an open clinical pathology position at the Wayne County Community College District's veterinary technician program, Ann realized it might be just the kind of respite she needed.

    "I really miss private practice, but I physically could not do it anymore," she says. "I have bilateral hip dysplasia and that affects my ability to stand for long periods of time. My teaching position allows me to still be a technician, be involved with the animals and medicine and meet my physical limitations."

    Teaching not only allows Ann to remain in the profession, but it also lets her positively affect the lives of soon-to-be technicians. When students enroll in her class, Ann says that a lot of them have never handled blood before. But during the 17-week course, Ann is consistently excited by her students' progress.

    "To have them go from never handling blood before to proficiently making a smear, doing a differential or going through blood work and telling me which organs are being affected is very rewarding," she explains.

    In It for the Long Haul

    In an exhausting and demanding profession, Ann has figured out a way to maintain longevity. For other technicians to achieve the same longevity, Ann suggests they find an area they enjoy and pursue it: "Don't assume that the only job is in a small animal practice, in a large animal practice or wherever you currently work. There are lots of other options. Whether it is nutrition, behavior, integrating different vaccine schedules into a clinic, surgery or anesthesia, technicians should find something that they like and pursue it."

    Finding something she likes is exactly how Ann started a nutritional support service at a private practice where she worked for 13 years. She was interested in nutrition and wanted to expand on her interest by incorporating it into the practice. "It was something that I wanted to do," she says. "I told my practice manager that it was something I wanted to try. I already had the computer codes, price scale and everything all set up, so all the manager needed to do was say 'yes.'"

    Ann encourages technicians to explore and excel in their areas of interest. She explains that technicians need to present themselves as effectively as possible. If a technician is unhappy in their current situation, Ann says, "complaining isn't going to help. If you don't like something, think of a solution and present it to your employer."

    Stress Factor

    To help alleviate work-related stress, Ann has many relaxation outlets. After a stressful day, She can be found weeding in her garden or crocheting afghans for everyone she knows.

    "Crocheting is stress management for me. I can't crochet with tense hands because it ruins the work," she says. "The volume of crocheting I do can reflect my stress level. During one stressful year, I made afghans for my kids, nieces and nephews — everybody got an afghan!"

    If Ann's husband comes home and finds her weeding the garden in the summer or watering the houseplants in the winter, it's a sign that it may be best to leave her be for awhile because she probably did not have a good day.

    Although Ann has found her own personal stress relievers, she still admits to experiencing some degree of burnout in her long career. But Ann learned how to address it. "I can't say I avoided it," she explains. "I learned to work around it, and I changed the situation. I didn't let it control me."

    NEXT: October is Adopt-A-Dog Month
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