Elevating Veterinary Excellence: A Path to “Leveling Up”

Amanda Shelby RVT, VTS (Anesthesia & Analgesia) joined Central Line: The AAHA Podcast at AAHA Con 2023 in San Diego, to share her insights and passion for the veterinary field, discussing her unique journey as a VTS and the importance of pushing the boundaries of knowledge and expertise.

By Katie Berlin

A Conversation with Amanda Shelby, RVT, VTS (Anesthesia & Analgesia)

Amanda Shelby, RVT, VTS (Anesthesia & Analgesia), joined Central Line: The AAHA Podcast at AAHA Con 2023 in San Diego to share her insights and passion for the veterinary field, discussing her unique journey as a veterinary technician specialist (VTS) and the importance of pushing the boundaries of knowledge and expertise.

She also delves into the concept of “leveling up” in veterinary medicine and the need for collaboration and tolerance among all stakeholders to advance the profession. If you’re a veterinary professional looking to make a difference and bring positive change to the field, this episode provides valuable inspiration and guidance on how to get started. Join us for an engaging conversation with one of the leading voices in veterinary medicine.

Katie Berlin: Amanda, VTSs to me are like the unicorns of the veterinary world because there are not all that many of you, but when you’re around, magical things happen. Would you mind giving people a little introduction to who you are, like why you’re so passionate about what you’re passionate about?

Amanda Shelby: VTSs are emerging. I think it’s the direction that veterinary medicine is going, modeling itself after human medicine, where people become more specialized and more in their niche, which I think will help alleviate what our profession is really seeing a lot of: burnout, poor work-life balances, poor wellbeing of our peers.

“VTSs are emerging. I think it’s the direction that veterinary medicine is going, modeling itself after human medicine, where people become more specialized and more in their niche, which I think will help alleviate what our profession is really seeing a lot of: burnout, poor work-life balances, poor wellbeing of our peers.”

—Amanda Shelby, RVT, VTS (Anesthesia & Analgesia)

I really think that allowing people an avenue for growth in their professional career, whether that’s through becoming a VTS if you’re a credentialed veterinary technician and you’d like to pursue a specialized field, or even the practice management end of things; having those certifications and allowing people to really excel in areas that they’re passionate about is going to help our profession.

I knew I was either going to do clinical pathology, which is completely on the other spectrum, or anesthesia. I am really fascinated by the interactions between anesthesia, pharmacology, and the body, so physiology and pharmacology. And to me, it’s like a petri dish of excitement and experiments.

KB: The theme of this year’s AAHA Con is Level Up. And it can mean so many different things to so many people on a personal and professional level, but I’m curious to know what leveling up looks like to Amanda Shelby.

AS: I think it’s really important that we challenge ourselves to try to work outside our comfort zone. One area that I have found myself professionally gravitating toward is building educational modules for a global audience. So I applied to grad school in a completely different field . . . a Master of Education in instructional systems technology. My hope is that it makes me level up, that it allows me to build a skillset, and to improve what I have been fortunate enough to stumble into.

The same thing with anesthesia. In a simple context, if you don’t understand pharmacology, that is absolutely okay. It doesn’t mean you’re incapable of performing anesthesia. But, I would challenge you to try to level that up so that you can recognize side effects of medications, or unexpected side effects or a patient not responding the way you would hope it would respond so that you can do that patient more justice in providing optimal care.

podcast-stethoscope.jpgSo leveling up to me is just really biting off more than you chew. It’s been more than 20 years since undergrad, and here I am in a graduate level course, completely in a different field. It is intimidating. There’s terminology that we’re expected to know in these graduate-level courses that is not terminology that you know unless you have an undergraduate degree in that field. So just whatever it is, stretch your comfort zone, chase your dreams, and try to do better. And that doesn’t have to be a huge jump into a subsequent degree; it could be just as simple as making sure you take care of yourself after you go home. It can be whatever you need, but I think, on a personal level, that’s what we all should be achieving.

I would love to see our profession model itself maybe a little bit after human medicine. Coast-to-coast credentialing, standardization, support of all members of the veterinary care team, receptionists front door to back door. Give receptionists medical-based training so that they can explain bills to clients, so that they understand the difference between a radiograph and a CAT scan and why those bills might be different, why there were three views for that chest versus one right lateral radiograph for an abdomen and why you’re searching for that. Empower every member of the veterinary care team to do the best they can, including the pet parent.

“Stretch your comfort zone, chase your dreams, and try to do better.”

—Amanda Shelby, RVT, VTS (Anesthesia & Analgesia)

KB: That’s an area I’m super passionate about too: Setting people and pets up for success. And that’s something that I think a lot of veterinarians feel intimidated by because it takes time. But in the long run, it saves time. And this is where the veterinary team can really come in handy because, man, the veterinary teams that I’ve worked with, they understand animals and their body language. And that’s an area that I feel like a lot of veterinary team members are willing to try to level up in if it’s brought to their attention that it’s something they can do. And learning how to read patients and how to communicate that to their people is as essential a skill as knowing how to safely anesthetize them or treat their diabetes or what vaccines they need. We’re learning that now, and I just think that’s fantastic, to me, that’s leveling up.

You had talked about coast-to-coast credentialing. If you could make one wish and have it come true, what would it be?

podcast-amanda.jpgAS: Okay. It’s really hard. In an ideal world, we all are striving to provide the best care to pets regardless of what side of any argument we’re, and there’s not just two sides, right? I wish the people involved in all aspects of the organizations that could make this happen could sit down collectively and work towards a common goal. The common goal is already established: that’s to optimize care to pets and people. Whether it be food production, the human animal bond, animal welfare, the goal is the same. We just need to be a little tolerant of everyone’s different opinions and find the common denominators that move us towards the goal.

My wish is that that could happen respectfully, to everyone, and we can agree to disagree, absolutely. Through those disagreements, we can learn where our common grounds are. That’s my wish, and right now I think there’s lot of loud voices. I have a personal opinion, but I don’t feel, when I represent an organization and I serve on a variety of boards, that I’m there to express my personal opinion. I’m there as an expression of the community that I’m representing, and I really want people to focus on the end goal and represent all the constituents that have put them in the role of leadership that they’re in, get buy-in and work towards a tangible goal. We’re going to spend so much time squabbling over definitions that it prevents us from accomplishing the goal.

“I really think that allowing people an avenue for growth in their professional career, whether that’s through becoming a VTS if you’re a credentialed veterinary technician and you’d like to pursue a specialized field, or even the practice management end of things; having those certifications and allowing people to really excel in areas that they’re passionate about is going to help our profession.”

—Amanda Shelby, RVT, VTS (Anesthesia & Analgesia)

We’re capable of accomplishing the goal. We need to work together, we can do it from a different viewpoints, we just need to be tolerant of our differences and try to get to that goal, and it’s optimizing patient care, the lives of pets, safe food production, and building that human animal bond and improving people’s lives, so let’s focus on the end goal.

KB: Well, that sounds easy.

AS: Yeah.

KB: It’s a great wish, and I totally agree with you. Did you see the Barbie movie?

AS: I did.

KB: And you know the scene where all the Kens are fighting on the beach, the Nerf swords and stuff, suction cup arrows? I think if we can stop like hitting each other over the head with the Nerf swords, then we could actually start coming together and facing what we actually want to accomplish, yes, and coming up with solutions, and there are, that’s happening piecemeal and pooling resources, pooling brain power, pulling support.

AS: Representation from every aspect.

KB: Exactly. Like co-professionals working together rather than one person, person meaning organization or body deciding for everyone, I think that would be so wonderful, and I like to dream big, so I’m there with you, I like that wish, yeah.

podcast-main-vts.jpg

AS: And it starts small. Get involved whatever level you’re at. Be part of the body and help the movement. I am a fighter, but as I get older, I’ve learned it’s easier to work from within than it is to fight from outside.

KB: But because of that, if there’s a technician or team member listening who wants to work towards that dream, that big goal and they’re not currently involved, they’re on the sidelines, but they’re feeling that itch to get involved and do something, what is a good first step?

AS: Yeah, your local VMA [veterinary medical association] is your first step. Get involved locally. Usually there’s opportunities as a technician to be involved; there’s liaison opportunities, or any professional credentialing body. AVMA has opportunities for involvement; AAHA has opportunities for involvement.You guys just filled a technician director role.

KB: That’s right.

AS: So there’s opportunities everywhere and you don’t have to go all the way to the top at that level, but there are opportunities to serve on committees, get exposure. Learn about organizations, what their goals are, where you align first. Make sure you have time, reflect on what time and energy you have to dedicate, ‘cause a lot of times these things can become quite encompassing from a time standpoint. But sometimes the smallest involvement allows you to find an area where you can be most impactful. That’s where I would start: be involved; sometimes it’s just being on forums and in Facebook groups.

Getting involved in those organizations, sometimes just as a member, observing the conversations, listening, recognizing names and voices in those areas, asking questions—it can be as simple as that level of involvement to actual service. I would encourage you to serve, but sometimes it’s just heightening your awareness as initial involvement.

KB: I love that, and once you’re involved, you can sort of shout out to other people who might want to get involved and help open the door for them too.

AS: I think that’s really important. When you join those groups, you start to recognize who is really there serving your common goal, and if your goal is to empower others you’ll find others that are showing you ways to do that.

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Central Line: The AAHA Podcast is generously sponsored by CareCredit.

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Got something to say? We’re always up for constructive comments and conversation. Send us feedback or questions anytime at podcast@aaha.org.

Catch the full episode, and every other episode of Central Line: The AAHA Podcast, on major podcast platforms, YouTube, and at aaha.org/podcast.

Photo credits: ©AAHA/Alison Silverman, Heorhii Aryshtevych, karpenko_ilia, seamartini, Kaleb da Silva Pereira/iStock via Getty Images Plus

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