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Veterinarian Technician June 2007 (Vol 28, No 6) Focus: Endocrine Disorders

On the Cover: "A Talk with Rene Scalf, CVT, VTS (ECC)"

by Liz Donovan

    It's no surprise that Rene Scalf, CVT, VTS (ECC), has an interest in cardiology — she is truly full of heart. Rene has been working as a critical care technician for 17 years and helped to launch the Academy of Veterinary Emergency & Critical Care Technicians (AVECCT) and the Academy of Internal Medicine for Veterinary Technicians (AIMVT). She has held several positions with AVECCT and is now the director-at-large of the small animal subspecialty of AIMVT. As a critical care services training and support coordinator at the James L. Voss Veterinary Teaching Hospital of Colorado State University, Rene has learned to handle the most complicated cases while simultaneously instructing students and interns.

    In 2005, Rene traveled to New Orleans to help open shelters for animals displaced by Hurricane Katrina. She found herself inspired by everyone's kindness and selflessness. She says, "I was moved by the spirit of the volunteers who worked tirelessly to make the animals as safe as possible." Through her dedicated work with animals and technicians, Rene shows veterinary professionals that putting yourself in perspective and constantly challenging yourself can really make a difference.

    Learn more about Rene's background .

    What made you decide to work with animals?

    Becoming a veterinary technician was a second career for me. I was working in a real estate job that paid a lot of money but did nothing for my heart and soul. I saw it as "just a job," and I had no passion for it. One day, I decided to figure out what I would really love to do. We spend too much of our lives at work to not love our jobs. I tried to pinpoint what in my life made me happy, and it was easy to see that it was my experiences with animals. So I went to the public library and started researching professions that involve animals. When I discovered the veterinary technology profession, there was no looking back — it was exactly what I wanted to do. After 17 years, I am still passionate about this career, and it is much more than just a job to me.

    How did you first become involved with AVECCT?

    My first job as a technician was the night shift at a 24-hour hospital. Right away, I loved the emergency work. I thrive on the adrenaline rush that I get from having to think fast on my feet and from constantly being challenged. In 1994, I heard about the formation of an emergency/critical care academy. I sat for the first exam and became a member of the academy's first class in 1998.

    I have since had the privilege of working with some of the finest technicians in the world. I've served as examination chairperson, appeals chairperson, and a member-at-large on the board of regents. It's wonderful to get to know technicians from so many different places and pick their brains on how they solve different issues. It's like having a huge think tank at your fingertips. These members are now some of my best friends!

    You also became involved with AIMVT. How did that happen?

    One of my peers in AVECCT approached me regarding AIMVT. I thought getting involved would be a great way to promote the veterinary technician specialties. I work with a lot of internal medicine cases here at the university, so it seemed like a natural fit. Also, having worked with AVECCT for 9 years, I knew I could help the forming academy get off the ground. Making these academies come to life requires a lot of people who are willing to put forth significant time and energy, and I like being part of that dynamic.

    I am now the director-at-large for the small animal subspecialty. AIMVT has four subspecialties (small animal, large animal, cardiology, and oncology). The small animal group has spent the past year putting together the different pieces of the application.

    How have you benefited from belonging to the specialty academies?

    One of the greatest benefits of the specialty academies is that they allowed me to continue to challenge myself. When I started in this profession, I heard that technicians often became burnt out in 3 to 5 years. I think that the reason is that they were becoming bored. In specializing, I spent a lot of time reading, studying, asking questions, and learning new skills. It gave me something to strive for.

    Veterinarians are beginning to recognize the benefits of having highly skilled technicians and are seeking out technicians with veterinary technician specialty status. I personally get about one phone call or letter a month offering me a job. I believe this demand is helping build the profession by increasing salaries and giving technicians more opportunities to grow.

    In what other ways does specializing help the profession?

    The academies have opened many doors for technicians. Technicians are staying in the profession longer today because they have so many more opportunities. Because of this, we are getting the reward of veteran technicians teaching the newcomers. I think there are tremendous advantages to technicians teaching technicians. I truly believe that we should take the time to share knowledge with our peers whenever possible. We should take responsibility for the furthering of our own profession and be proud to share what we know.

    Also, having more education directly relates to technicians appearing more professional in the profession and to the public. The public is starting to understand that a lot of medical knowledge is required to be a good technician.

    How does your background prepare you for the challenges you face at work?

    I work in a very driven environment that forces me to stay on my toes. Cardiopulmonary bypass cases are extremely complicated. They require a huge team of personnel and almost every piece of monitoring equipment we own. These patients may need five IV lines, two arterial lines, a chest tube, a urinary catheter, and a ventilator. Sometimes it is hard to see the patient through all of the equipment! But they are the most fascinating cases to me. They require me to draw on all of the anatomy, physiology, and pharmacology knowledge I have gained over the years and to think and act quickly. Also, cardiology is a special interest of mine. The heart is central to life. So, in emergency/critical care and internal medicine cases, I think it is important to understand cardiac issues.

    What are some of your responsibilities at the hospital?

    I mentor the critical care unit nursing staff in assessing, monitoring, and treating critically ill or injured animals. Within the unit, we teach students, interns, residents, and technicians the principles of critical care and emergency medicine. There is a lot of responsibility and pressure put on the staff to be teachers while still providing the best nursing care possible. This isn't always an easy task in the stressful environment of critical care.

    I also do a good bit of office work as well. I do the personnel scheduling, and I play a role in several financial areas. At the end of the fiscal year, I put together an annual cost accounting report that assesses how we did over the previous year and things for us to work on next year. The work I do on a day-to-day basis really varies according to the time of year and the issues going on in the unit. I have had to learn to be very flexible.

    Being flexible must have been important when doing relief work. Can you tell us about that experience?

    I assisted in the relief effort after Hurricane Katrina. A fourth-year veterinary student and I worked in New Orleans with the Louisiana SPCA to help set up shelters in the hardest-hit areas of the city. We worked under a roof that had more holes in it than Swiss cheese. There were piles of debris everywhere, and everything was coated with a dull gray mud. I looked at the destruction around us and had to admire the strength of the residents who kept going day after day. The problems I thought I had in my life suddenly seemed much smaller and more manageable. Each of the animals I encountered with their indomitable spirits touched me in a different and special way. This was one of the most life-changing experiences that I have had since becoming a technician.

    You seem to keep very busy. Is there anything in particular that you do for fun?

    My newest hobby is astronomy. I have always been fascinated with the moon, stars, and other planets. It's very exciting to see the rings of Saturn and the moons of Jupiter or to look at a star that is so big that if it was located where our sun is, we would be inside of it. I love looking at sights like the Orion Nebula, which is about 1,600 light-years away and is a nursery of young stars in the making. A light-year is nearly 6 trillion miles. The vastness of space has a way of putting things into perspective for me sometimes.

    I'm also intrigued by the fact that light can only travel so fast, so a star's light that originates a light-year away takes a year to reach our eyes. When I am looking at a star in the here and now, I know what I see happened in the past, maybe even before I was born! I really have to get outside the box to wrap my mind around the concept, which I find also helps me at work. Technicians face issues and problems every day that require us to view things from a different angle. It is easy to determine the problem, but finding the solution is the real challenge.

    Do you have any words of wisdom for fellow technicians?

    It is so important to do what you love and love what you do. Also, continue to learn from experience. I learn the most from my mistakes, which I think of as life's lessons. It's only a mistake if you didn't learn anything from it. If you didn't learn the lesson well, you will probably have to take the test again — but that's okay, retakes are allowed!

    Read about Rene's special relationship with greyhounds .

    NEXT: Overview of Hyperadrenocorticism
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