Dr. Heather Gordon is a Veterinarian at Trilake Animal Hospital & Referral Centre here in the Okanagan, and also one of CAT’s Veterinary Hospital Assistant program’s valued instructors. This issue we get to know her a bit better through 10 quick questions!
- What made you decide to become a vet?
I was pretty lost after finishing my bachelor of science degree. I knew that I wanted to pursue a career in science, but didn’t think that human medicine or pure research would be a good fit. I had never considered veterinary medicine as a potential path; I assumed it was a career for people who are crazy for dogs and cats, and that just wasn’t me (at the time, at least!).
It all started to fall into place when I was backpacking around New Zealand and ended up getting a job at a dairy farm in the middle of nowhere. One day, the farmer I was working for called me out to help him with a cow that was having difficulty giving birth to a calf. He wasn’t able to get a vet out to help, and he had injured himself and was on crutches, so I had to roll up my sleeves (literally and figuratively), and try to help this poor cow who was in distress.
It was such a challenging and rewarding experience. Compassion, creative problem-solving, physical strength and knowledge were all a part of it. I knew right then that veterinary medicine would be a good fit for me.
- What is the most unusual animal you have ever worked with – or the most unusual scenario?
The most unusual scenario would have to be my experience as an “ice roads vet.”
In my final year, five of us students and a few of our professors went up to the Northwest Territories with all the gear necessary to run a mobile spay/neuter/vaccine clinic. We loaded our stuff up into pickup trucks, and drove for hours at a time on ice roads to some very isolated communities.
We set up surgical suites in wildlife pathology labs, community center gyms, and high school science classrooms. We drove around the communities and vaccinated sled dogs in -40 degrees. We visited the home of a trapper and watched him skin a pine marten.
It was an amazing experience, and such an education in the importance of versatility and collaboration. I wish I could do it again!
- What is the best thing about working in the Veterinary environment?
I love how every day presents a new set of challenges and opportunities to learn. The varieties of species, diseases, clients and situations means that I am never bored.
Also, the collegiality that is fostered in the environment is second to none: we laugh and cry together and learn from one another every day.
- What is the most challenging thing about working in the Veterinary environment?
Unquestionably I find the financial aspects of the job to be the most challenging. When clients experience financial hardship because their pet becomes ill, and they are faced with very difficult decisions, it wears on everyone.
When we put an animal to sleep that has had a long and happy life, and is surrounded by their family, it is definitely sad, but we know we are doing the right thing.
On the other hand, the situations where you know that something more could have been done, these are the ones that haunt you.
“When we adopted our orange tabby, ‘Constable Carrots’, we were hoping that he could someday be promoted to ‘Detective’. But his problem-solving skills are not exactly stellar, so I think he will remain a ‘Constable’ forever.”
- What pets do you have?
I have two cats. An orange tabby called “Constable Carrots” and a silver tabby called “Doctor Highwood.”
When we adopted “Constable Carrots,” we were hoping that he could someday be promoted to “Detective,” but his problem-solving skills are not exactly stellar, so I think he will remain a “Constable” forever.
“Doctor Highwood” has an honorary doctorate in anthropology, and he gets really mad if you refer to him as “Mister.” He is a bit of a snob that way.
- What is the funniest thing that has ever happened to you on the job?
Once, I was holding a dog to help a vet express its anal glands. Somehow, and I still am not sure how this fits with the general laws of physics, the stream of anal gland material came right up at me, and straight into my eye! It was pretty yucky, but definitely hilarious.
- If you weren’t a vet, what would you be instead?
Definitely a park warden or conservation officer. I love the idea of being outdoors in all types of weather, engaging with the public, and protecting wildlife.
- What do you like most about teaching here at CAT?
I love the enthusiasm and diversity of the students. They all come to the program with different backgrounds, expectations, and plans for the future. I feel really lucky to be a part of their educational experience.
- What are the most important qualities that you look for when hiring new Veterinary Hospital Assistants to the clinic?
A strong work ethic, curiosity, and willingness to learn new things. Having perfect grades doesn’t always translate into career success, so I am always trying to encourage students to focus on the larger picture, and not the number on the corner of the exam.
Setbacks and challenges are daily occurrences in the working world, and the most important thing that any employer wants to see is how you overcome and learn from these experiences.
- What is the one piece of advice you would have for students entering the industry as Veterinary Hospital Assistants?
Recognize that you are a vital part of the team, and the responsibilities of your job are not to be taken lightly. Without smart, hard-working assistants, we cannot function as a Veterinary Hospital, and the way you do your job directly affects patient outcomes.
So take every opportunity to offer your help, learn a new task, or share helpful observations with your team members. Be proud of your integral role in the hospital!