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Veterinarian Technician November 2007 (Vol 28, No 11)

On the Cover: A Talk with Deborah B. Reeder, RVT

by Andrea Vardaro Tucker

    Growing up on a working cattle ranch, Deborah B. Reeder, RVT, has always had a passion for horses. However, she didn't pursue a career in veterinary medicine until 10 years later — after she graduated from San Diego State University and worked as a flight attendant. Her career soared to new heights when she became a registered veterinary technician. Deborah helped form the American Association of Equine Veterinary Technicians (AAEVT) and currently serves as its president and executive director. In 2005, she was named veterinary technician of the year by the Texas Veterinary Medical Association (TVMA). Here, she tells Veterinary Technician® more about the highlight of her career — seeing AAEVT be­come a reality and grow — and the other fascinating feats that she's accomplished over the past 25 years, including starting her own equine consulting business.

    Click here for Vital Statistics .

    Click here to see Deborah Making Her Own Way .

    Why did you decide to work in equine medicine?

    Working with horses was natural for me because I was raised on a working cattle ranch and was around horses all my life. I always had a special connection with horses and wanted to help them when they were injured or in pain.

    But I didn't get into the veterinary field until the first racehorse I owned, Rule the Orbit, died of colic; this was before surgery was con­sidered a safe option. This inspired me to begin working at Esse Vet­erinary Clinic in Kenedy, Texas, where I learned more about equine medicine and embryo transfer. I was immediately hooked! I wanted to know why I was giving shots, why ban­dages had to be placed a certain way, why horses developed colic, and what was involved in ­surgery. I was fascinated with learning, especially because I was told when I was young that I couldn't become a veterinarian because I was female — that there was no way I'd be able to pull a calf or foal out a cow or mare.

    Lloyd Fiedler, DVM, past president of the TVMA and owner of Love Field Pet Hospital in Dallas, Texas, recommended that I pursue a degree and certification in veterinary technology. Once I became certified, I learned as much as I could and eventually became head technician and office manager of the Los Colinas Veterinary Clinic in Irving, Texas. I also helped open and manage its satellite clinic, Lone Star Park Equine Hospital in Grand Prairie, Texas, where I worked with 18 racetrack backside veterinarians.

    What area of equine medicine interested you the most?

    I loved the challenge that administering anesthesia provided. I was especially interested in managing pain during surgery, postoperatively, and in a successful recovery. Animals are so disoriented after surgery; I'd put myself in the horse's place by trying to understand its fear and bewilderment. Putting things in perspective taught me just how much animals rely on humans — they blindly trust us — and it is our responsibility to care for them. And luckily, I've never lost a horse under anesthesia.

    What inspired you to form the AAEVT?

    A group of equine technicians in Texas had talked about forming such an association for several years. We knew there was a need. None of the other associations have an equine focus, and most of the conferences offer very few equine-related CE topics. Since the American Association of Equine Practitioners (AAEP) has over 7,000 members, there are at least that many equine technicians and assistants who had no place to network, communicate, share ideas, get together for CE or discussions, or formulate goals to progress their profession.

    So we decided to do something about it. After gauging interest by holding meetings, I drafted a proposal that outlined the purpose of forming the AAEVT and sent it to the AAEP's executive director and its executive board in 2003 asking for their support and guidance. They formed a special task force, and after we made numerous conference calls and submitted an outline of the goals and structure of the AAEVT, the AAEP board gave its approval. AAEVT's inaugural meeting was held at the AAEP conference in December 2004 — the same day the AAEP celebrated its 50th anniversary. More than 200 technicians attended.

    Describe your dual responsibilities as president and executive director of the AAEVT.

    Because the AAEVT is a new organization, the roles have been combined until our structure can support moving individuals into different positions. This year, we'll hold elections for positions on our organizing committee and executive board. In 2008, Sheri Miller, LVT, will assume the position of president, and I will continue to serve as executive director.

    Now, I devote my time to working with industry sponsors and educational partners, keeping projects on track, developing our online certification program, helping to edit the AAEVT Equine Veterinary Nursing Manual, creating a structure and format for the AAEVT Society for Specialization in Equine Nursing (we hope to establish a specialty certification), and working on AAEVT's structure and strategic plan.

    Our vision is to make the equine veterinary technology profession the career path of choice and to increase the worth, status, education, and training — and thus the pay and benefits — associated with this career path.

    How can associations achieve such advancement for the profession?

    Associations give technicians a place to network, communicate, share ideas, and truly be part of the profession, not just an employee. Association board members assess the concerns and goals of their members and serve as a collective voice for change. Associations create avenues for educating and informing the public and the industry about the value of their members, what they offer, and why and how they can make a difference in the profession.

    What memories stand out during your 25-year technician career?

    I've shed tears over an orphaned foal I stayed up with all night that died in my lap as the sun came up. I personally managed the rehabilitation of a quarter horse racing mare, Dan's Miss, that recovered from a serious fracture to later give birth to several foals. I've experienced the heartbreak of spending 3 hours in surgery for a fracture repair only to have the stallion refracture upon recovery and watching it suffer because the owner kept it alive to breed.

    I've successfully managed 12 practices across the country as an area manager for National Pet Care Centers and worked with a start-up practice whose profits increased from a little over $1 million to over $5 million in 3 years. I worked with the state legislature, the TVMA, and the Texas State Board of Veterinary Medical Examiners to recognize registered veterinary technicians in the practice act for the first time and institute rules and regulations regarding their responsibilities. I have witnessed a group of technicians stand up and cheer and hug each other at the first AAEVT membership meeting. I remember all of the people who've come up to me after one of my lectures or at a meeting to thank me for making a difference. Telling all of these stories in detail would take a book!

    Who has inspired you?

    People who believed in me and who saw my potential. My children and my husband have always been my most enthusiastic cheerleaders. My experience with the TVMA was also a great training ground. I learned that I would fall, but as long as I was facing forward, I was going in the right direction. I learned that the people who challenge you the most also respect you the most.

    I've had the honor of working with some great veterinarians and at some awesome practices, such as Los Colinas Vet Clinic/Lone Star Park, Equine Sports Medicine & Surgery, Ranch & Coast Equine, and Pioneer Equine, and I have enjoyed the mutual respect as well as the arguments. My mentor, Andy Clark, DVM, keeps me grounded and has been a source of guidance throughout my consulting career. All of these people have helped me realize that there are no limits other than those we impose upon ourselves.

    I couldn't have done what I've accomplished in my career without the friendship and support of people like Joni Watkins, RVT; the Texas contingency of technicians; and my friends in the industry. Also, the members of the AAEVT board — Sheri Miller, LVT; DeeAnn Wilfong, CVT; Mandy Walton, CVT; Kelly Fleming, CPA; Jane Tyrie; John Ladner; and Paul Vrotsos, CVT — have kept me inspired. The people you surround yourself with truly make you who you are.

    What are your hopes and goals for the future?

    That a true partnership will be achieved between technicians and veterinarians in equine medicine and that we will one day be known as veterinary nurses.

    Personally, I hope to establish a retirement ranch for horses where they can live out their lives in peace and contentment; where children and adults can come to know them, respect them, and appreciate them; and where they are cared for by a team of aspiring veterinarians and veterinary nurses.

    You set a great example of how technicians can advance their own position and that of the profession. What advice would you give other technicians?

    Be the solution. Find an area that you are good in and specialize, promote your worth, and don't settle. If you are not receiving the recognition, the respect, or the pay you know you're worth and deserve, then respect yourself and this profession enough to find a place or a position where you are valued. I remember an employer telling me that at $11 an hour, I was the highest-paid equine technician in the country. I decided there had to be something more, so I turned in my resignation. One month later, the same employer called, asking me to open up an equine infectious anemia lab — I eventually ended up managing the entire clinic. I feel my career has exemplified that choice, not chance, determines your destiny.

    NEXT: Performing an Equine Ophthalmic Examination