Vet Tech Program Builds Partnerships, Friendships

BRCC vet tech students Lydia Poland and Sydnee Baker pose with a dog on campusMAY 3, 2019 — When it comes to big hearts, you’ll be hard-pressed to find any bigger than those of Sydnee Baker and Lydia Poland. Both graduate from Blue Ridge Community College’s (BRCC) veterinary technology program – known as the vet tech program for short – this weekend.

They’re affectionately known as bleeding hearts – for animals, especially. The two sat down at a picnic table on BRCC’s campus on a crisp, breezy day to talk about their favorite subject.

(Pictured l-r: Lydia Poland and Sydnee Baker pose with a dog in their care in BRCC's vet tech program.)

They hesitantly admitted how many pets they have between them (seven).

Baker laughed and said, “Are you recording this? I’m too embarrassed to admit how many pets I have!”

She has a dog and three cats. Poland parents two dogs and a cat.

Their lives revolve around animals, and soon, their passion for animals will become their livelihood. Baker, 28, and Poland, 23, each moved to Staunton two years ago to pursue their education in one of the state’s most coveted vet tech programs.

Poland is from Rocky Mount, located just south of Roanoke, and Baker is from Reedville, which is in Virginia’s Northern Neck. They each were drawn to Staunton for the charm and laid-back lifestyle and its convenient location to home and the college. But the reputation of BRCC’s vet tech program beckoned them most of all.

BRCC vet tech student Lydia Poland observes a cat while in the campus kennel“Whenever I mentioned to certain people that I wanted to become a vet tech, they always asked me, ‘Are you going to Blue Ridge?’, Baker said.

Poland chimed in, “BRCC has one of the highest pass rates for national board exams. It's almost 100 percent. Blue Ridge has a great reputation.”

BRCC offers a competitive, full-time, two-year program in veterinary technology. Once students complete their education, they receive a veterinary technology associate of applied science degree. Graduates of the program must also take the Veterinary Technician National Examination to obtain licensure, and students prepare vigorously for the exam. Instructors give practice tests to help them prepare, and students put in countless hours of study time.

(Pictured above: Lydia Poland examines a cat in the care of students in BRCC's vet tech program.)

Vet tech students become fast friends during the program. Baker and Poland have developed a close friendship and serve together as members of the college’s Vet Tech Club. Poland is president and Baker is vice president.

Poland chuckled as she said, “We came here for animals, and we made friends with people.”

Shelter Partnership Enhances Student Experience

Their education in the vet tech program has been enhanced by the college’s partnership with the Shenandoah Valley Animal Services Center (SVASC) in Lyndhurst, a regional municipal pound and shelter serving Staunton, Waynesboro and Augusta County. Staunton and the two other localities help to fund the shelter, which takes in stray, abandoned and surrendered animals.

Students look through microscopes in a BRCC vet tech labStudents enrolled in BRCC’s vet tech program work with as many as 40 cats and dogs a year from the shelter. They learn how to administer anesthesia, assist the veterinarian with spaying and neutering, give vaccines, do lab work, and administer medications and treatments. It’s a mutually beneficial relationship for the college and the shelter.

Beth Robertson, director of SVASC, used to teach anesthesia and surgery classes in the BRCC vet tech program, plus scheduled surgeries, managed the campus kennel and oversaw the students caring for the animals. Her background has helped her strengthen the shelter’s partnership with the college.

(Pictured right: Students in BRCC's vet tech program look through microscopes during a class.)

“Working with our animals instills a sense of compassion in students, knowing these animals have nobody else,” Robertson said. “It’s been a really beneficial partnership for everyone. The college doesn’t charge the shelter anything. And a lot of the animals that go [to BRCC] get adopted because they get a ton of exposure on the campus – especially the dogs because they’re out walking around the campus.”

Both Baker and Poland have adopted animals from the shelter since coming to BRCC.

Robertson said Baker’s and Poland’s leadership in the Vet Tech Club has resulted in frequent donations to SVASC through bake sales and material donations at Christmastime. Last fall, the club raised $600 and a minivan full of food and supplies through fundraisers at Walmart in Harrisonburg and Staunton.

Robertson’s goal now is to get students into the shelter to volunteer so they can get additional applied experience in a real-world environment. The shelter would get some much needed helping hands in return.

“When I was teaching, I always encouraged students who had no experience to go to shelters to volunteer and get hands-on experience handling animals,” Robertson said. “It amazed me how many people went into the vet tech program having never walked a dog on a leash. So, volunteering here will benefit them even more.” 

What’s Next?

BRCC vet tech student Sydnee Baker poses with a dog on BRCC's campus.With graduation day quickly approaching, it’s time for Baker and Poland to put their experiences and education to use in a career. The training they received at BRCC revealed new aspects of the field and helped them focus their interests.

For Baker, exposure to large animals, like cows and horses, was a brand new experience. She’d been accustomed to working with small animals at shelters.

“Working with large animals opens you up to all the different possibilities where you can take this profession,” she said.

Baker will begin her career as a veterinary technician at Sycamore Veterinary Hospital in Richmond after graduation.

(Pictured right: Sydnee Baker cares for a dog in BRCC's vet tech program.)

Poland started out with a passion for training service dogs after a five-year stint as a volunteer at a service dog agency. Once she settled on becoming a veterinary technician, her horizon expanded.

“I didn’t have shelter experience, and so I really loved working with the shelters,” Poland said. “And I would love to do more with horses. My heart will always be with service dogs, though.”

After graduation, Poland is heading to the University of Tennessee’s College of Veterinary Medicine where she’ll do a veterinary technician internship for a year. She’s hoping to return to Staunton and work at a clinic in the Valley.

“The Shenandoah Valley has an amazing veterinary medicine community, and being a graduate of Blue Ridge, I have great job security,” she said.

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