As a veterinary technician specialist in clinical pathology, Lori Balliet wears many hats. Whether it’s teaching students to count and differentiate 100 cells from a blood smear or supervising the lab at Quakertown Veterinary Clinic, her passion for learning, science and animals is clear.
What inspired your decision to start a career with animals?
After earning my bachelor’s degree in biology and chemistry from Moravian College in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, I worked here at Quakertown Veterinary Clinic for about a year. I was working with animals a bit, conducting Forage analysis, which involved a lot more chemistry at the time.
I got married and moved around the country for a few years before we returned to the Bethlehem area. After we came back to Pennsylvania, I began working alongside a large animal veterinarian. That’s what inspired me to get my veterinary technician certification from Northampton Community College and Lehigh County Community College. Whether I was in the fields with the large animals or in the clinic with small animals, I wanted to know more about what was going on—it all blossomed from there!
After I earned my certification, I attended a continuing education event and ran into a former classmate, who needed help in one of the labs at Quakertown Veterinary Clinic as odds would have it. I began working in the main lab and my role has evolved into a laboratory supervisor.
What inspired your interest in clinical pathology?
I love lab work! When I walked into the seventh-grade laboratory, it just caught my interest. It combines my childhood love of microscopes, beakers, and chemistry with animals. My work isn’t really hands-on with animals, but when I see an animal I’m thinking, “I’ve seen your insides,” and that’s the cool part!
Tell us about Quakertown Veterinary Clinic.
The Quakertown Veterinary Clinic is a 40-doctor practice, we never close—we are available 24/7. We offer large and small animal services, and we do about 90% of our laboratory work in house. We have specialists in orthopedics, cardiology, and more as well as general practitioners.
We see a wide range of animals here including cows, goats, sheep, horses, llamas, and exotic animals. So, for me, the opportunity to see pathology from various species is very interesting. It’s impactful to see the lab results and think “wow, this is where this animal is headed?”
I can’t diagnose, but I can provide valuable guidance to our doctors and provide confidence in their diagnosis.
What is one of the most rewarding things about what you do?
It’s the opportunity to see what’s going on within an animal, especially when it contributes to a diagnosis. The lab provides the puzzle pieces and sometimes those can be the most important pieces of the puzzle. If I’m looking at a blood smear and I can see that for instance, it’s all lymphocytes and that maybe there’s leukemia developing in that animal, I can share my findings with the doctor immediately.
Any favorite or memorable cases you’ve worked on?
I’ve had several! Once an animal came in for a regular annual health checkup. No official complaints, but I was testing the urine and found ketones in it and the glucose was really high. I called the doctor immediately and the animal had already left, but within the hour, the animal was back in the clinic and being treated for what could have been a life-threatening condition of diabetic ketoacidosis. It was impactful to know that I had seen the test results and I had put it together. It wasn’t that I was just running the test results. I was interpreting them and could provide insight to our doctor.
How do you cope with challenging or difficult outcomes with animals?
In a way, it’s part of the process because I’m not working directly on the animals. For instance, I’ve seen cases where there are cancerous mast cells in the blood smear. And, I know that the animal will not make it. It’s is eye-opening. Even in the cases when we can’t anticipate a positive outcome, I’m still providing that puzzle piece so that we can provide the best care for the animal and the correct information to their owners. Sometimes it’s a happy puzzle piece and sometimes not so much. I also go home and snuggle my kitten—that always helps!
What is the most challenging aspect of your position?
Sometimes all of the data and work that needs to be prioritized can feel like you’re being pulled into many different directions. It’s all about trying to take a deep breath figuring out how to get it all done.
What fascinates you about the impact of science and technology on the animal health industry?
Oh, there’s a lot of cool stuff. We’re able to do a lot with the lab like nowadays you can take pictures of something on the scope and then collaborate with others. For example, you can get other pathologists involved. It’s great to be able to email back and forth saying, “Hey, this is what I’m seeing. What are you doing?” That kind of sharing of information is great.
And now, Quakertown has a large enough laboratory that we have a lot of interesting technology that allows us to do testing in-house, right at the point-of-care. Since we’re an emergency hospital, we need to have answers now—so in house testing is really critical to what we do.
What keeps you inspired?
I love learning. I love the challenge of figuring out how things work. I also love sharing my knowledge with my team. I think it’s cool to find the next challenge, learn more about it, and put that into use at the clinic.