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Veterinarian Technician September 2007 (Vol 28, No 9) Focus: Physical Rehabilitation

On the Cover: "A Talk with Sandy Hass, RVT"

by Liz Donovan

    "Sandy Hass not only dreams big, she also makes big things happen." So spoke David Walls, academic senior vice president of the Saskatchewan Institute of Applied Science and Technology (SIAST), when he presented Sandy with her most recent award — an honorary diploma in veterinary technology from SIAST. He couldn't have described her better.

    Sandy was instrumental in starting the Canadian Association of Animal Health Technologists and Technicians (CAAHTT) and the International Veterinary Nurses and Technicians Association (IVNTA), and she has played an active role in the Saskatchewan Association of Veterinary Technol­ogists (SAVT). For 6 years, she was a herd health coordinator at a 3,000-head feedlot, where she worked outdoors through inclement weather to maintain the health of the cattle. She left the position in 1993 because of health problems, and 2 years later she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. Since then, Sandy has put all of her efforts into helping technicians worldwide gain recognition, and her hard work has been acknowledged with several awards. Now, preparing for retirement from CAAHTT after 19 years, Sandy tells us about her experiences in the feedlot, what it's like to represent Canada's technicians nationally and internationally, and how she maintains her positive attitude.

    Click here to see Sandy's Vital Statistics.

    Click here to see Sandy Rising to the Challenge.

    Your career at the feedlot must have been very interesting. How did you get involved in this line of work and what did you do there?

    I love the outdoors and had always wanted to work with cattle, so working in the feedlot seemed like a natural fit. In 1987, I began working at Royal View Cattle, a feedlot just west of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, where I worked my way up to the position of herd health coordinator. My job was to oversee the health and nutrition of all the cattle on the lot. I was responsible for vaccinating and branding the cattle and treating any sick animals. There was no veterinarian on staff, so I was also responsible for making sure the animals received appropriate care and medical treatment. In addition, I organized the cattle records, maintained inventory, ordered supplies, and managed a feed supplement business.

    Would you recommend this career to other technicians?

    I would highly encourage technicians to pursue a feedlot career. Some people may be hesitant to work on a feedlot because public perception, I think, is that cattle are treated poorly — that they're force-fed and made to eat additives. Nothing could be further from the truth. When working on a feedlot, you learn to recognize a sick animal before the disease has progressed so the animal has a better chance of recovering. It's rewarding to see sick cattle get well and the mortality rates decrease. We make sure that the animals are treated well, even if they are going to slaughter. As long as we eat beef, slaughter of cattle is a fact of life. We can either shun that fact or embrace it and, as technicians, make a difference in the animals' lives.

    For me, the only disadvantage of working on the feedlot was the freezing-cold Canadian weather. In the winter, water in the bowls often froze and machinery broke. But, regardless of rain or snow, the cattle still needed to be cared for, so there were no days off. That aside, I loved my job. I had the unique experience of quietly working with the animals while, as we say, "cowboying up!" Unfortunately, I had to leave the feedlot because of my health problems, but this gave me the opportunity to focus more of my attention on CAAHTT.

    How did you get involved in starting CAAHTT?

    Three educators who ran programs for training animal health technologists in Canada came up with the idea of a national Canadian association. They contacted some key players in the provincial associations (one of the associations actually encompasses four provinces) and suggested these individuals try to put something together. When a member of SAVT asked me to be involved, I agreed to assist with planning the conference and the first panel meeting of animal health technicians from across the country. That was when the volunteer bug bit me! I went on to represent Saskatchewan for the Canadian Council for Animal Health Technicians, which became CAAHTT in 1989. The rest is history! I served on the executive board until 1997 when I was hired as CAAHTT's executive director.

    What does CAAHTT do for Canadian technicians?

    Overall, the goal of CAAHTT is to promote the profession and to work with the individual associations. Before 1988, there was no national association that united the provincial associations. At the time, each association had different examinations and membership requirements. The goal of CAAHTT was to align the seven associations and create more uniform policies. All the associations are working toward that goal at their own pace with assistance from CAAHTT at their request. CAAHTT has allowed us to meet and put our heads together to see what does and doesn't work. It has also really unified the profession — any technician who belongs to a provincial association automatically belongs to CAAHTT. We have a huge voice and we're working together and becoming key players on national committees, such as the American Association of Veterinary State Boards' Veterinary Technician Testing Committee, the Canadian Veterinary Reserve, and the Canadian Veterinary Medical Association's Animal Health Technologist/Veterinary Technician Program Accreditation Committee and Professional Development Committee. We never would have imagined that veterinary technicians could serve on these committees, but CAAHTT has helped us achieve that goal. CAAHTT has grown so much; it truly is incredible to look back at our history. We can be very proud!

    You've also represented Canadian technicians internationally.

    Yes. In 1993, I went to England for IVNTA's first meeting. I met with representatives from the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Sweden, the Netherlands, Norway, Denmark, Germany, South Africa, Finland, Ghana, and Japan to begin a communication base for veterinary nurses and technicians around the world. The IVNTA has met only three times. We hope to become more active, but it's very difficult to find the funds to hold group meetings. The aim of the association is to promote the profession of veterinary nursing/veterinary technology worldwide and to provide help and support to member countries. Because CAAHTT is so progressive, we've been able to offer solid advice to associations in other countries. Now that I am retiring from CAAHTT, I will assume the position of secretariat for the IVNTA, and in that position, I hope to help the association become more active — international communication gives us an even bigger voice.

    To what do you attribute your success?

    I don't give up. I'm always dreaming of things to do and creative ways to implement those ideas. If I come to a road block, I tell myself, "Well, I'll just have to try that again!" I'm relentless, and I always drive full-steam forward. This drive has helped me to achieve so much with CAAHTT. Now, I'm retiring after 10 years as executive director, but I proposed a unique succession plan to the board so that I could work alongside Phyllis Mierau, the new executive director, for a year. It has worked very well and has eased the pain of giving up an association that is so important to me.

    How will CAAHTT carry on your legacy after you retire?

    Phyllis has really taken ownership of the position since we started working together. She'll be handling more of the administrative work with the organization, and the board will be responsible for developing new initiatives and ways that technicians can be integrated into every aspect of the veterinary profession in Canada. Currently, each association has two technician representatives who are involved with CAAHTT. This July, the board approved a new governance plan that will include recruitment of top-level volunteers. We hope that the 14 technicians who make up the board will be visionaries for the profession.

    Why should technicians get involved in professional associations?

    Right now, all organizations are having a hard time recruiting volunteers. Most of the active volunteers in the Canadian associations are professionals in their 30s and 40s, so we really need young people to volunteer. There are many benefits to belonging to an organization. You make lifetime friendships and you feel really good about being involved and making a difference. It's so rewarding to be on an association board with technicians and to have a common goal of advancing the profession. Associations work hard to make veterinarians and the public aware that technicians are an integral part of the animal health care team. I envision a day when all veterinarians have numerous technicians working in their clinic.

    What advice would you like to give to fellow technicians?

    Always continue to learn. The best thing you can do after earning a degree is put your pride in your back pocket and get to work. Learn from your work and life experiences, and then pull out your academic knowledge at the opportune time. Also, get involved in associations while putting your best foot forward. If what you're doing isn't working, change it! Negativity only brings you down, but if you work hard and keep dreaming, you can make a difference!

    NEXT: Pain Management in Surgical Patients
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