Firstline, Firstline May June 2021, Volume 19, Issue 03
Alyssa Mages, CVT, has found a way to combine her love of veterinary medicine with her passion for inspiring others to reach their full potential.
Alyssa Mages, CVT, is a self-proclaimed “recovering marine biologist” who traded boats and ocean life for scrubs and emergency veterinary medicine. A graduate of Manor College, Mages spent 17 years as a successful veterinary professional and adjunct professor, but her career had not yet stopped evolving. She pivoted once again, this time adding entrepreneur to her résumé and teaming up with longtime friend Caitlin Keat to launch a business they are confident will have a lasting and positive impact on the veterinary industry.
In speaking with this dynamic duo, it is clear their passion is outpaced only by their drive. They are simultaneously insightful and sincere; there is no doubt you want Mages and Keat in your corner. Even the name of their budding company evokes their mission and values: Empowering Veterinary Teams (EVT). And that’s exactly what they do.
EVT provides comprehensive, multidisciplinary veterinary training and content that meets the industry’s ever-evolving needs and provides clients with the tools necessary to create positive and dynamic work environments.
“Our [adage] ‘Inspire, Instruct, Impact-Together’ is what we do for each other and what our ultimate goal is in the work that we do,” says Mages, the company’s chief visionary officer. Keat serves as the chief operating officer.
Mages’ career did not start with a veterinary rally cry, however. As a marine biologist, Mages could not shake the feeling that something was missing. She soon started volunteering at turtle and shark rescues on her days off and quickly realized veterinary medicine was her calling. Upon returning home at the end of the research season, Mages volunteered at the general veterinary practice where her cats were patients. “I was hooked and worked my way up,” she explains.
After working and volunteering at veterinary hospitals in both the United States and Canada, Mages earned her veterinary technology degree and acquired her CVT credentials in 2012. “It was the best decision I ever made,” she insists.
Mages thrived in her career in emergency medicine and went on to become an education development coordinator, which required her to oversee the onboarding, growth, and training of a 200-member practice. “It has definitely not been a straight line,” she concedes.
Although she enjoyed her position as an educator in the veterinary hospital, Mages felt constrained. “There was still so much I wanted to do,” she explains. “Being in veterinary medicine for 17 years, it was evident that there were things I would love to change.”
Her desire to branch out on her own and affect the industry came to a head 3 years ago as Mages and Keat discussed their roles as working moms in demanding industries. “I told her I could not do it anymore. I was working 60-plus hours a week, I didn’t see the kids, I did not feel like I was making a difference, and there was so much that needed to change. I had to do something,” she says. “That was the turning point.”
When it came time to make the leap, Mages knew exactly who she wanted to jump alongside her. Her friendship with Keat was formed by chance on a plane ride and solidified on the steps of the Taj Mahal (true story). “Alyssa’s ideas shoot for the moon, and I am the one who designs the rocket and maps out how long it will take,” Keat says.
The cane corso that stole Alyssa’s heart
Theirs is a quintessential story of a pup who proudly chose her family.
“She is a goofy, blubbery, slobbery mess and we love her,” Mages proclaims as she recounts the story of first meeting her cane corso, Kekona—which means “second” or “second chance” in Hawaiian.
“The practice I was at would work with a lot of different rescues in the area,” she explains. “The rescues would take in puppies from bad situations, like the puppy mills in Lancaster, [Pennsylvania], and bring them to us for initial care before trying to find them homes. It was the week before Christmas and a litter of cane corsos came in. The entire litter was born blind, either in 1 eye or both.”
Mages describes her initial impression of Kekona as “10 pounds of soft black and white fuzziness.” Kekona, who was the runt of the litter and blind in both eyes, was inconsolable the entire day. Although many people at the hospital tried, no one could get her to stop crying.
“I happened to be working at my desk that day and they asked me to hold her. She immediately curled into my arms and fell asleep,” Mages says. She knew right then she had found her newest family member.
“I am a cat person; I have always been a cat person,” she confesses. “I love dogs but grew up with cats, and I speak their language.” Still, Mages texted her husband asking if the family could foster the puppy. “I knew full well that if I brought her home the week before Christmas that she was never leaving. And here she is 3 years later.”
Kekona has since needed to have both eyes removed, but she knows commands, is comfortable around the house and is wonderful with Mages’ 2 children. At 92 lbs, Kekona is still considered the runt of the litter—her siblings weigh upward of 140 lbs—but the Mages family is proud to call her theirs.
Since launching in October 2019, EVT has worked with hospitals and veterinary companies to fine-tune aspects of their workplace standards that will keep them at the forefront of the industry. “Veterinarians go to college and veterinary school, but unless they have chosen to take a business path during their undergrad, they are not trained in management and business,” Keat explains. “Then they go out in the world and often find themselves managing people or buying a practice without a safety net. That is what we are here to be: the safety net. We bring our experience in managing and leading teams to make things easier for practices.”
“Veterinary support teams are the backbone of a practice and our industry,” Mages adds. “Not to take anything away from the incredible doctors that are out there, but the nurses, technicians, assistants, and client service representatives are running the day-to-day.” She and Keat work hand-in-hand with practices to provide the skills necessary to run more efficient, well-trained teams. “It gives them empowerment and grows the practice from the inside out, which creates an even bigger investment in what they do from day to day,” she says.
Included in their array of services are live and recorded webinars, leadership seminars, hands-on workshops (Mages crafts the manikins herself), training programs, and training materials designed for a hospital’s specific needs. Some clients choose to work with EVT for long-term projects, while others opt to take advantage of Mages’ extensive knowledge in one-day seminars. “We meet you where you are with what you need,” she says. “We can take practices from A to Z and everywhere in between.”
Whether meeting virtually or in person, for 1 day or 1 month, EVT strives to make their clients as excited about the tools and education they provide as Mages and Keat are. Mages recently led a 2-hour CPR class at a rural hospital in Pennsylvania. “Their practice manager is top-notch and the team is so keen to learn new things,” she explains. “They were very invested and excited.”
In working with a practice in Vancouver, British Columbia, EVT has created training materials that will set the standard for the hospital’s staff moving forward. “We are working on leveling and skills so that when you come into the job you know what you need to do to get to the next level and it doesn’t change from person to person,” Keat says.
The pair is also working closely with Scopio Labs to generate custom training materials, content, and videos. “It has helped cutting-edge AI technology get into practices and make a difference,” Mages says.
In addition to working one-on-one with clients, EVT hosted its first virtual conference in February. The I4 Intervention, which stands for "inspire, impact, and instruct with incentive," was held during lunch hours and at no cost to attendees. “The [conference] was really about starting the conversation around what we have been working on with our practices and bringing mental health into the forefront of our discussions,” Keat explains. The weeklong event focused on technical aspects such as mastering the process of teletriage as well as learning how to overcome imposter syndrome and incorporate wellbeing practices into the average workday.
The company hopes to host 2 virtual conferences each year, with the next tentatively scheduled for August 2021. “It is really to make sure we are recognizing that support teams need support more than 1 week each year. That is what it stemmed from,” Mages says, “Vet tech week is great, but they need more.”
Keep in mind, all of this was accomplished at the height of a global pandemic. Again, these are 2 women you want in your corner.
Mages says she could have never imagined her career taking the trajectory it has. “I have wanted to swim with the whales since I was 4. But you know what, I did. I swam with pilot whales, dolphins, sharks, and sea turtles. It was incredible, but it segued into a different path.”
Both women are thrilled their paths have led them to EVT and that they can now share their passion with industry peers. “Having flexibility and control over our schedules and the vision of the company is huge. It has allowed us to grow beyond the situations we were in professionally before this. We are not held back by titles or roles and we roll up our sleeves and get it done,” Keat says.
And Mages no longer has the feeling that something is missing from her career. “I can actually see and feel that we are making a difference,” she says. “We are connecting with so many like-minded people. I do not know if that would have necessarily happened if we were not forced into the virtual space. I appreciate the growth and the ability to have aha moments—both my own and to give that to people. It’s just so powerful.”
Amanda Carrozza is a freelance writer and editor in New Jersey.