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Veterinarian Technician August 2008 (Vol 29, No 8)

On the Cover — Racing to Succeed: A Talk with Heather Prendergast, BS, RVT

by Liz Donovan

    Heather Prendergast, BS, RVT, never stops running. Whether she's darting to one of her three jobs or training for a marathon, Heather proves that there is no limit to what veterinary technicians can accomplish. In her role as practice manager and head technician at Jornada Veterinary Clinic in Las Cruces, N.M., Heather strives to ensure that the clinic offers the highest-quality care and emphasizes client education. Her drive to improve veterinary health care in her community led to her working with 11 shareholders to open Veterinary Emergency Services, the first emergency hospital in Las Cruces. She now oversees the management of the hospital and acts as secretary and treasurer of the shareholder's corporation. In addition to her work in private practice,

    Heather represents Nestlé Purina PetCare Company as a nutritional consultant, educating pet owners and veterinary professionals about animal nutrition. Here, she tells us about her upcoming book on veterinary practice management, her plans to create a nutrition specialty academy for technicians and her motivation to run a 13-mile race in honor of a friend with leukemia.

    You were instrumental in starting your community's first emergency hospital. Tell us about that experience.

    Until we opened Veterinary Emergency Ser­vices in 2005, our community didn't have an emergency hospital, and the staff at the nine veterinary clinics in our community were finding it difficult to see emergency cases. With the help of another investor, I researched the specifics of opening a facility. We invited local veterinarians to a meeting to discuss this possibility, and then 12 of us decided to invest in the new company.

    Because I spearheaded the process, I became president of the shareholder's corp­ora­tion. The shareholders put a lot of faith in me to make decisions regarding how the hos­pital was run, so I did most of the initial work. My experience as both a manager and a tech­nician worked to my advantage because I knew what types of equipment and drugs we would need to buy, how to create and main­tain a budget and how to hire and motivate an excellent health care team.

    My term as president ended in 2007, but I am now the secretary and treasurer of the corporation. I continue to handle the budget and assist in managing the hospital.

    What are your goals as practice manager and head technician at Jornada?

    I concentrate on providing high-quality medi­cal care to our patients. Several years ago, I left Jornada for 6 months to work as a veteri­nary sales representative. During that time, I visited a number of veterinary clinics to help them provide the best medical care possible to their patients. That experience motivated me to re­turn to Jornada, where I was able to treat patients with a high standard of care. Although Jornada was already an excellent clinic, I felt that we needed to spend more time educating clients.

    What changes did you make regarding client education?

    I created client education programs because I believe clients should be informed about all aspects of their pet's care. Clients are only going to understand how you're treating their pet if you take the time to educate them. We want them to be confident that we use aseptic techniques and the most advanced monitoring equipment and surgical procedures.

    The technicians at Jornada spend significant time talking with the client at each visit. When owners bring in a new puppy, we talk to them about microchipping and spaying or neutering. We also emphasize the client's role in maintaining the pet's health through proper dental care and nutrition.

    Then, we give our clients pamphlets to take home so they can refer to them later to remember what we discussed.

    As a nutritional consultant for Nestlé Purina, you educate pet owners as well as veterinary professionals about veterinary nutrition. Why is this topic important?

    Because technicians play such a large role in client education, it's important that they understand all aspects of nutrition, includ­ing what is recommended for each life stage of the animal and how nutrition can bene­fit animals that have certain diseases. Tech­nicians can explain the dangers of obesity and kidney disease, both of which can be managed with a proper diet, medications and/or other therapeutic interventions. When we educate clients, they will know how to feed their pet so it can live a longer, healthier life.

    Do you have any other projects on the horizon?

    I have a contract to write a book for Elsevier, which I'm really excited about. It will be 26 chapters on administrative issues for practice managers and will cover many topics, such as how to fill out tax forms for em­ployees and how to develop client education and staff education programs. Writing this book is probably my biggest accomplishment so far.

    You have already accomplished so many goals. What advice can you offer to technicians who are just starting out in the profession?

    Be active in preventing burnout. I've seen a lot of new technicians start out with a great work ethic but then work too many hours and lose interest in the profession. To prevent this from happening, look for opportunities to continuously challenge yourself, like becoming specialized. Identify how you can improve your clinic and how your skill set can benefit the practice. Most important, take continuing education courses so you can improve your skills, grow as a professional and provide the best care possible.

    NEXT: Pros and Cons of Various Recruitment Methods