Oh, the Places You Can Go in Animal Care
The career trajectories of three outstanding professionals are proof that opportunities abound in veterinary medicine.
The career path in veterinary medicine isn’t always a straight line.
Opportunities extend far beyond general veterinary practice and include teaching, research, public health and global medicine, government work, shelter medicine, specialty practice and more. Veterinary professionals can choose to work with dogs and cats, or they can venture into the world of exotic animals, marine animals, horses, wild animals or food animals.
The possibilities truly are endless. You just need an open and inquiring mind and dedication to doing what you love. Here, we highlight three animal care experts in the Compassion-First Pet Hospitals network who found their way to unique and rewarding careers by being open to the possibilities around them.
When Emergency Care Took Its Toll, He Shifted His FocusDavid Chen, DVM, CVA, Acupuncturist
Talk about a leap of faith. The injury Dr. Chen suffered during a jump off the Great Wall of China showed him firsthand the healing power of acupuncture, and he ultimately shifted his professional focus from emergency medicine to integrative pet care. Today, Dr. Chen specializes in pain management as a certified acupuncturist in the physical rehabilitation department at East End Veterinary Center in Riverhead, New York.
After veterinary school graduation in 2010, Dr. Chen took a backpacking trip overseas, where he joined other tourists in leaping off the Great Wall — a stunt he immediately regretted due to a back injury. He took anti-inflammatory medicine to no avail before deciding to visit a local acupuncturist. Twelve hours later and free of pain, Dr. Chen recognized Eastern medicine as an excellent complement to conventional care.
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Dr. Chen returned to the United States and served as medical director of a high-volume specialty center, but his interest in acupuncture persisted. During the four years that followed, he found the emotional stress of emergency animal care increasingly difficult to bear. He also longed for the opportunity to a build stronger connection with his patients.
“I was certified in veterinary acupuncture and traveled to Florida to do my intern hours, all while working at a hospital on Long Island,” Dr. Chen said. It took a year to complete the coursework and internship before he received certification. By then, he had moved to East End Veterinary Center. The hospital administrator welcomed his initiative, and in early 2017, Dr. Chen joined East End’s acupuncture provider, as well as the rehabilitation and surgery departments, in helping dogs with hip dysplasia, cancer and other conditions requiring pain management.
“I love it. I’m working with clients I see on a recurrent basis. I know their families, and I’m able to build a relationship with the pet, which is something I find very rewarding,” Dr. Chen said. He spends some of his days at the hospital and others making house calls.
Integrated care is a growing trend as people realize they can help resolve pain and support the immune system not only through medicine and surgery but also with treatments like acupuncture. Dr. Chen especially enjoys collaborating with the rehab team. “When you integrate rehab with acupuncture, the benefits are huge. The patient gets stronger, inflammation and pain decrease, and mobility increases, while the overall quality of life for each pet is improved,” he explained.
“My life is stress-free now,” he said. If his acupuncture patients could talk, they might say the same thing.
Peter Psillas, LVT, Laboratory Supervisor
For Peter Psillas, there is no career challenge too big. Whether it involves a polar bear or a Pomeranian, his career as a veterinary technician has entailed doing just about everything. Psillas spent 20 years at the Bronx Zoo before joining Red Bank Veterinary Hospital (RBVH) in Tinton Falls, New Jersey.
It’s easy to see why Psillas enjoys scientific analysis, given that he earned his bachelor’s in geology. But instead of pursuing a job in earth science, Psillas decided to put his scientific skills to work on behalf of animals and took a job at a small animal practice in New Jersey.
Happily surrounded by pets and having found his true calling, Psillas returned to school part time to become a veterinary technician while working at the hospital. After becoming licensed, he worked at a large referral hospital for a brief period, and then went on to a research facility in Westchester, New York. Through networking, he found a job at the Bronx Zoo, working first in the mammal department and then in the hospital.
“In the hospital, we rotated from the lab to surgery to the pharmacy, and we assisted with the treatment of hospitalized animals. It was never boring,” Psillas said. In fact, on his first day there, he was tasked with making sure a polar bear didn’t wake up during surgery. He also once radiographed a 25-foot anaconda (one section at a time, if you’re wondering). He spent many hours in the zoo’s lab, which he found fascinating, and he enjoyed watching doctors go through the process of diagnosis and treatment.
After two decades at the zoo, Psillas moved to the Jersey shore and worked for a private practice before joining RBVH, a 24-hour emergency hospital that also offers specialty care, a general practice, and an on-site lab. By this time, he knew the lab was where he belonged, and he earned a promotion to supervisor in 2014.
Psillas continues his education at conferences, which he says are good places to learn about career options. As a member of a veterinary technician managers association, he also attends seminars and meets other experienced technicians who are eager to share what they know.
“There are lots of possibilities in this field, depending on what interests you and what you’re willing to do,” Psillas said. Internships, externships, online programs and even job shadowing are great ways to learn what’s out there, and he encourages students to take full advantage of the opportunity to explore their interests and decide what they find most challenging and rewarding. That’s how he carved his own winding path to a career he loves.
Valerie Garuccio, CVT, VTS (ECC), Mentor and Instructor
Valerie Garuccio has more credentials after her name than most veterinary technicians do, and there’s a reason for it. She realized that the more expertise she acquires, the more connected she becomes to the world of animal care. Through those connections, she finds opportunities to make an impact while doing work she loves as a veterinary technician specialist (VTS) clinical mentor and instructor at RBVH in Tinton Falls, New Jersey.
Garuccio became a certified veterinary technician in 2001. Ten years later, she furthered her expertise by earning her VTS certification in emergency and critical care (ECC), completing the coursework and practical training while at RBVH.
Garuccio calls earning her ECC certification her proudest moment, and becoming a member of the Academy of Veterinary Emergency and Critical Care Technicians (AVECCT) took her career in a new direction as a mentor. She is an active member of the National Association of Veterinary Technicians in America (NAVTA) and serves as secretary for her state association, New Jersey Veterinary Technicians and Assistants.
“The industry is creating new areas that veterinary technicians can move into, and certifications are definitely something that people exploring this career should consider obtaining,” she said. Those who achieve VTS status are education-oriented and eager to help teach others, which is what led her to the role she fills today at RBVH. Garuccio also enjoys networking with fellow academy members.
“The academy gives you access to other specialists around the world, opening doors to collaboration and idea sharing that improve veterinary medicine and the work environment for technicians,” Garuccio said. She has found that when you open one door, it always leads to another. For her, those doors have opened a world of learning, collaboration and advancement. For example, a colleague at an academy gathering asked her to review an article written for an animal care website. Next thing Garuccio knew, the publication asked her to contribute her own article, further establishing her as an expert in her field. She’s come a long way in 16 years. Garuccio began her veterinary technician career at Animal Kind Veterinary Hospital in Brooklyn, New York, in 2001. She spent five years there, periodically moonlighting as an avian and exotics veterinary technician at The Animal Medical Center in Manhattan.
In 2006, Garuccio moved to RBVH as an ECC specialist. In 2012, she advanced to critical care technician supervisor; five years later, she stepped up to become the hospital’s on-site mentor and instructor.
Garuccio also serves as a member of the AVECCT mentoring committee, helping others through the two-year process of earning specialist credentials. Ever eager to expand her own professional skills, Garuccio is working toward her bachelor’s degree in organizational leadership. She credits RBVH with supporting her ongoing development, and she intends to continue paying it forward through her efforts to inspire others as a mentor.
Elaina Boudreau is an award-winning communications professional and storyteller. She is the founder and owner of BELA Communications, a marketing communications company with unrelenting focus on creating value for clients.