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Veterinarian Technician October 2008 (Vol 29, No 10)

On the Cover — Making Miracles Happen: A Talk with Kimm Wuestenberg, CVT, VTS (ECC, SAIM)

by Liz Donovan

    When Kimm Wuestenberg, CVT, VTS (ECC, SAIM), walked into the Emergency Animal Clinic in 1997, she was prepared to work one emergency relief shift. Eight hours later, she found herself hooked on emergency medicine. "It was a full day of just pure excitement," she remembers. "I didn't know what was going to happen next."

    Since that first emergency shift 11 years ago, Kimm hasn't looked back. She's gone on to specialize in both emergency/critical care and internal medicine and has become active in the academies as well as in her state technician association. She is president of the Academy of Internal Medicine for Veterinary Technicians (AIMVT) and has lectured at the International Veterinary Emergency and Critical Care Symposium (IVECCS) several times since 2003.

    Remaining Positive

    Kimm found that a passion for emergency and specialty medicine enabled her to flourish as a technician and advance her medical skills and knowledge. She learned to provide advanced nursing care — a significant change from her previous position at a general practice where she had to convince the practice owner that technicians are capable of doing blood draws. "At the emergency clinic, I was being used to my full potential — I was setting catheters on my first day," she says. "It was so fulfilling to be able to provide a service and give purpose to my career."

    Although it is exciting, the unique environment of intensive care comes with its own challenges. "In emergency care, you have to become accustomed to undesirable results," Kimm says. "You're always analyzing what you've done and trying to do better in the future. You need to be able to say, 'Good job, team' even after an unsuccessful treatment because you want everyone on the team to know that you all worked hard at what you were trying to achieve."

    To stay optimistic, Kimm remembers cases in which patients recovered despite all odds. She saw one such case while working at a specialty practice — Sonora Veterinary Specialists in Phoenix, Ariz. A dachshund named Oliver was diagnosed with pheochromocytoma and needed surgery to remove his adrenal gland. After surgery, Oliver's blood pressure dropped and his kidneys began to fail. He continued to show signs of renal failure through the night and despite aggressive treatment, he was in a coma and on a ventilator when Kimm left in the morning. "Everything I had ever seen made me think that he wouldn't make it," Kimm says, "but the owners refused to give up." When she returned to the clinic that evening, Kimm was shocked to see a bright-and-alert Oliver in his kennel, wagging his tail. He was released 3 days later and recovered fully.

    Another memorable case was a 16-year-old, three-legged Labrador retriever that presented for gastric dilatation"volvulus, a severe condition that requires surgery. The risks for complications was high because of the patient's age and history of osteosarcoma, which had claimed one of his limbs. Kimm was certain that the dog would not pull through, but the owners elected to go through with the procedure. After surgery, the dog experienced no complications and was released 24 hours later.

    "Cases like these restore my faith," Kimm says. "You might think you know when it's time to let go, but miracles can happen."

    Moving Forward

    Kimm's advanced clinical experience allowed her to grow professionally, but as she progressed in her career, she kept her sights on a greater achievement — becoming specialized.

    The learning experience of earning her veterinary technician specialty was invaluable to her. "When you're studying to pass the exam, what is ultimately happening is you are learning information that helps you better care for your patients," said Kimm.

    After becoming specialized in 2002, Kimm saw a windfall of opportunity. She was asked to lecture at IVECCS and was given the chance to teach for VetMedTeam.com and briefly for Kaplan College. She also became involved with the organizing, website and examination committees for AIMVT and later was elected the organization's president. "The major stepping stone was not only achieving the VTS but also becoming involved with the academy itself," said Kimm. "It's amazing what networking can bring to you." As a charter member of AIMVT, Kimm was one of the first 17 technicians to earn small animal internal medicine specialization last June. Recently, she was invited to work with Pfizer Animal Health, educating technicians and local veterinary clinics about feline heartworm disease.

    In addition to the personal benefits, Kimm explained that specialization promotes the profession as a whole. "Having specialized technicians lets the general public realize how structured we are in this field," she says. It also raises awareness of the advancements made in veterinary medicine. "I still run into people who have no idea that we are able to do hip replacements or implant cardiac pacemakers in pets," Kimm says. "By recognizing medical professionals for their advanced skills and knowledge, clients will become aware of the level of veterinary care that we can provide, and the patients will benefit."

    Inspiring Others

    Kimm's previous experience in teaching has made her interested in pursuing a career in education. Recently, she accepted a promotion at Pima North Animal Hospital in Scottsdale, Ariz., to educational coordinator. When working with new technicians, she tries to help them gain advanced medical knowledge so they can provide excellent medical care to patients. "I think it's important to have both technical skills and education," she says. "To provide the best care possible, you need to have an understanding about why we treat certain patients certain ways and how the body is affected by disease processes."

    She also hopes to encourage technicians to promote themselves as medical professionals. "We all have potential to do more than drawing up vaccines and restraining animals, but you have to be proactive in your career. Furthering your career allows you to meet other people in the community and be on the forefront of medicine," she says.

    One day, Kimm hopes to return to Kaplan College, where she went to school, to teach advanced-level courses to technicians. "Students now are focused not only on becoming credentialed but also on becoming specialized," Kimm says. "I love the enthusiasm of the students. They see a bright future in this profession and have goals they're set to achieve. I hope one day I can return to the school where it all started for me and promote good nursing care to the next generation of technicians."

    NEXT: Salary and Skills Survey
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