When Moira Fitzgerald BS, RVT owned her own ballet studio in high school, veterinary medicine was the furthest thing from her mind. What began as keeping a few friends company during shifts at an emergency veterinary clinic in Sacramento, California, grew into a passion for veterinary medicine, teaching, and helping others, particularly, other veterinary technicians.
Tell us a little about how you got started in the veterinary community.
Oh my goodness! When I was in high school, I taught ballet. I even owned my own studio. But, I also did food animal ambulatory work with a local veterinarian. I was his gopher when we were out at farms. I never actually worked on the animals. It was a great job for a high school kid. I had no intention of a career in the veterinary field. Back then, dairy herds were still a big thing in Northern California. You could still find them everywhere from Stockton, Lodi, everywhere. I was going to be a dairy herd health manager.
In 1978, while I was at UC-Davis, some of the people I met worked for a small animal emergency veterinary practice in Sacramento. One of my friends worked the graveyard shift and she was bored, so I went with her to keep her company. I never did anything with the animals. I just hung out. Then one day the practice found out that two of their technicians were marrying each other and leaving on a two week honeymoon. The practice manager panicked—they needed somebody quickly. They hired me and trained me quickly to assist with basics.
At the time, I was still in school at UC-Davis, devoted to herd health management. While I was only supposed to do the emergency clinic job for a few weeks while the couple was away, it ended up turning into a 37 year career, 35 of which were spent at the University of California’s Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital! It was a total accident but once I got into it, I was totally hooked.
What was one lesson you took with you transitioning from working with large animals to small?
My background with large production animals actually came in handy back in those early days. In the 80s, the veterinary school didn’t emphasize how critical a solid understanding of behavior was when working with small animals. When you’re dealing with animals that weigh 1,600 to 2,000 pounds, managing behavior is a really big deal. There’s no way that you can force these large animals to do what you want. You have to work with the animal. There’s a lot of work to understanding behaviors and I started applying that to small animals. My opportunities at the University’s Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital were huge. I worked on everything from hummingbirds to elephants.
Any memorable stories from your days at the Veterinary Teaching Hospital?
There are so many stories! I managed both the small animal nursing department at the Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital and the exotics department at the same time. A colleague of mine, Mike Reese, managed the production animal department. He really appreciated my fearlessness in supporting both small animal and large animal cases. At the hospital, everybody got along really well, but small animal and large animal—did not mix. I was the only one who would do both. When Mike would have a big emergency coming in, like a goat herd that had been attacked by a pack of dogs, he would yell for me, and I would come down and help them triage and start treatment
So looking back at your career has it been what you thought it would be?
Ha! Most people don’t plan their future. They plan their vacation better than they plan their life. But when I was planning my future, my future was dairy herd health management. Then, boom, out of the blue, I went down a completely different route. It’s been an adventure.
What inspired you to make the transition from daily practice to consulting on personal development and leadership?
My passion for supporting people. At the University, in addition to my daily clinical duties, I was required to teach veterinary students and resident veterinarians. I didn’t have any experience with teaching initially, but I discovered a passion for it.
Early in my career, I was the same age as my veterinary students. They started coming to me as a friend about personal struggles they were having. People would come to me and say, “God, I haven’t even seen my kids awake in a week,” or “My spouse and I are having trouble.” I was not prepared as anything other than an friend to say, “I’m so sorry that’s happening in your life, what can I do to help?” After a span of several years, I realized students were constantly coming to me, so I decided to up my game.
I started looking into what training the University offered for conflict resolution, leadership, and other topics, but there weren’t any resources. I began to search outside of the University and discovered John T. Maxwell, a personal development expert, and really started to study people and how we handle conflicts. That’s where it all began!
Tell us how VetTechLife.com came to be?
While I continued to learn more about personal development, my students were graduating or completing their residencies and heading out into the real world. A year or two later after they moved on, they would start calling me for insights about different things from dealing with challenging employees to recruiting new team members.
Kacy Davis BS, RVT and I were working together at the veterinary teaching hospital. We realized that the veterinary community was supporting veterinary technicians all across the nation in the sciences, but not offering any personal development opportunities. We decided to put together a program that supported the whole person and our idea ultimately morphed into an outlet and resource for technicians, VetTechLife.com.
Tell us about VetTechLife.com.
VetTechLife.com supports all aspects of a veterinary technician’s life. We have offer information on the science of veterinary medicine, but we also focus on topics like leadership, interpersonal skills, and personal finance. It’s been amazing! We have grown to a group of over 40,000 members in 31 countries since we started this journey 11 years ago!
Our website is busy and we’re planning updates to the overall look and feel as well as the functionality of the site in the coming year. Kacy also has an advanced degree in computer science, so she has kept the wheels on this site!
How did VetTechLife CE on The Sea come to fruition?
As veterinary professionals, veterinary technicians attend a lot of conferences and events to maintain continuing education (CE) requirements. Vet Techs are interested in hearing from other people that are at the forefront of the field. But, the big problem with a vast majority of large conferences, is there’s nothing for your family to do while you’re in the lectures at the conferences, so veterinarians and technicians don’t often bring their families.
So not only are you taking time away from your professional life, you’re taking time away from your family to attend conferences. That’s what lead Kacy and I to create an event that vet techs could afford to attend and have the opportunity to bring their families. VetTechLife CE on the Sea was born.
We were only going to host one event back in 2016, but we haven’t stopped! Each year we host 250 to 300 attendees plus family and friends. Our goal is to maintain a smaller group setting so we can encourage interactions and mingling within the group. The fun without the chaos of largely attended event if you will! We are really blessed. We’re just so lucky that this has become a big thing.
What do you think it means to be courageous as a vet tech?
Courageous people are the ones who continue to do even when it would be easier not to do. For me, the most courageous people are those that have identified what their values are and they don’t hesitate to stick to them, even in the face of great pressure.
What is one of the most rewarding things about what you do? What’s one thing that moves you?
In the veterinary profession, it’s very easy to point to an animal, or an experience with animals that would define that. I have plenty of those. But I would say my biggest reward is when I see someone who has struggled to either grow or to learn—get it. When you see that light switch go off in their head and they’ve got it. You see them start to fly. That’s the most rewarding thing.
A HEALTHY VET IS JOYFUL, PROFITABLE, EFFECTIVE, AND COURAGEOUS
This is a series of interviews with veterinarians, veterinary nurses and technicians, and practice managers discussing their devotion to the noble veterinary profession and love for their pet patients. We hope you will follow us during this series.
If you are a clinical vet, vet tech or practice manager we want to interview you for this series. It only takes an hour of your time and Zomedica makes a donation in your name to an animal charity of your choice.