That Research and Exotics Guy

Posted: Aug 21, 2014
Views: 2693 - Comments: 5

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That research and exotics guy, what’s he all about?

Hey Everybody! I must say I am extremely excited to be asked to contribute to atdove.org and share my perspective and experiences. My background is a little different than most people on this site as I come from the research field and also do relief work in a zoo setting.

I still have the same goals as anyone else; to offer the best veterinary care for all of my patients and be an animal advocate. I know, I know, research right? Ewww! How could someone? That was my initial reaction before hesitantly jumping into the field. It wasn’t until I was immersed in it and saw the value of what research with live animals adds to both human and veterinary medicine that I hooked. I'm devoted to the animals in a research setting. I’ll promise to make this not too heavy of a read, but I do think it is important for you to understand my background and perspective on things.

Yes, I absolutely question why we are testing on animals, and hate it in fact. I mean we do have AMAZING computer systems, cell cultures and even micro dose pharmacokinetic testing in humans, but to each model mentioned there are limitations. Just like there are limitations with using a live animal model as well. Doctors cannot practice surgery adequately using cadavers or computers. And trust me! You want your surgeon to have practiced on a pig or sheep prior to slicing you open! The stories I could tell would amaze and terrify you!

Limitations in animal models are like how a mouse might react differently when testing the efficacy or side effects of cancer drugs. However, I would rather doctors have an idea of potential effects before flying blind and shooting grandma up with an experimental chemo drug.

Originally I started my lab animal career at the California National Primate Research Center at UC Davis. This is one of the largest breeding and research facilities in the country filled with brilliant minds. Notice how I said, “breeding". We do not take animals from the wild in case you were wondering.

I started with the mentality of “I am going to be an animal advocate." I did this and still hold on to this mentality fully. I didn’t know what to expect or how I was going to react. To my surprise it felt like any other regular veterinary practice, except all my patients could pick the locks, slap you and even outwit me.

I would be lying if I said I didn’t see things that I didn’t agree with or thought could be better, but remember my goal was to be an advocate. Seeing things I didn’t like or agree with was also very true at the specialty hospital or general practice I had worked at as well, so that adaptation had already evolved. However, I would say nine times out of ten if I suggested a different, or what I thought were better methods of doing things, they listened. I made a positive change! I also had some very personal moments where what I was involved with on the research side came full circle to help a loved one.

Here’s a very personal example: We activity researched an antiretroviral drug called tenofovir. This drug has the aim in eliminating, greatly reducing viral loads or preventing HIV infection in humans. A dear friend of mine had, unfortunately, tested positive for HIV and was subsequently placed on medications. I asked to see what drugs they were on and sure enough tenofovir was one of them. This drug that I had a very personal attachment to by caring for animals that underwent drug trials was helping keep my friend healthy and alive.

The drug is also now marked in combination with another antiretroviral as a preventive and post exposure treatment. We also had an investigator help create a drug that prevents the passing of HIV through breast milk to the infant. Obviously the result of this drug is amazing, especially for impoverished countries where breastfeeding is the only means of feeding an infant. The drug is now being dispersed to nations where scenarios like this exist to help slow the HIV epidemic.

These are just two of the many stories I could tell and it’s all thanks to the sacrifice animal models provide.

Scared of the recent Ebola crisis in Africa? Check out this link that also shows the importance of animal research.

So, what does this all have to do with me writing for atdove.org? Diversity, first off. No, not because I’m Latino, although that does fit I guess. But, as mentioned, I come from a very different world in veterinary medicine compared to the majority of small animal affiliated bloggers. Secondly is my experience with exotics and large animal species. We all run into them eventually at our clinics, whether we specify a clinic is for cats and dogs only or not. Thirdly is purely as a resource for you. I want to share my experiences and what I get to do to help you, the reader! I encourage discussions on important issues, like animal welfare, compassion fatigue, career options and what we can do to better our technical skills. I hope you enjoyed reading a bit about my perspective and me.

Saludos!
Stephen Cital RVT, SRA, RLAT

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Chelsea Hester's picture

Hello Stephen!

I am an assistant in small animal medicine, but I would like to ultimately be involved in exotic animal research. I was wondering how you got that awesome job at the research academy- that sounds like an excellent stepping stone and I wondered if you had any advice. I have a BS in biology, but I am not sure if I want to go to vet school, get a masters or ultimately a PhD, or go to tech school. I was also wondering how you made this choice.

Thank you for sharing your experiences with us!

Stephen Cital RVT, SRA, RLAT, VTS-LAM's picture

Hey Chelsea! As much as I encourage you to go to tech school and get licensed, it is not a must for the research field, especially since you already have your BS. There are other lab animal specific certifications you can get through AALAS and the Academy of Surgical Research. But, if you want to be super cool and get the proposed VTS in lab animal that is underway, you will have to get licensed.
When I originally considered taking the leap it was a tough one, made easier by having one of my best friends, soon to be Dr. Lisa, already in the field. When I accepted the offer it literally was just a leap of faith and exploration. I have found it extremely important in my life and career to not become complacent. Complacency for some if great, but for me I always want to challenge myself and grow in different skill sets.
A lot of research facilities love what small animal techs have to offer in the way of skills. Definitely highlight skills such as anesthesia monitoring, blood collection and any data, recording or computer skills you have.
As far as schooling goes for you - Do it all girl!! #YOLO
Fortunately many research jobs pay better compared to small animal practices. Can you believe I know techs that make $70-100K a year!! I know there is that meme "I do it for the money, said not vet tech ever", but seriously we can make good money and still be 110% devoted to our patients. ROI (return on investment) is also the benefit of lab animal, especially since you have an interest in graduate degrees. They are expensive to get! With a MS or PhD you could run your own lab! (Email me for graduate degree programs if you are still looking) I hope you get my point there is SO, So, sO much room to grow in lab animal.

Lara Cosanella's picture

Hi Stephen!

I am so excited to read more of your blogs and what you have to offer! I am an assistant and want to become licensed. I had the "urrgh!" reaction to lab animal science but now I am especially intrigued. I am also very interested in animal welfare and wildlife. Cannot wait to read more! Any suggestions for places to look for more information and resources regarding lab animal technician jobs and labs?

Stephen Cital RVT, SRA, RLAT, VTS-LAM's picture

Hi Lara! Well I am glad your "Urrgh!" went to a "huh?" ! SLAVT.com and AALAS.org are probably my top two. Feel free to privately email me with any other question, comments or concerns. I'd love to help.

Tasha Spencer's picture

Welcome Stephen! I'm really excited dove invited you to contribute! I've always been interested in research but do not know anyone in the field. From what I've heard technicians have a lot of responsibility, have the opportunity to be involved in more advanced procedures, are really respected, and are challenged each and every day. Emergency medicine offers a lot of the same which is why I went that route (and I do not have my BS yet which is required by most research jobs to my knowledge.) I'd really like to hear what a typical day on the job is like for you (or if everyday is completely different!) and how you got started in this part of field. Thank you!!