How Veterinary Technicians Model Practical Companion Animal Care

Oct. 21, 2022

Veterinary technicians at the University of Arizona College of Veterinary Medicine put their hard-earned expertise to work in the classroom as they create models to assist students with learning vital animal care techniques.

Group shot of five CVM Veterinary Technicians in a classroom.

Veterinary technicians at the University of Arizona College of Veterinary Medicine put their hard-earned expertise to work in the classroom as they create models to assist students with learning vital animal care techniques. Our technicians are highly experienced professionals with a passion for education. Their compassionate and curious approach to teaching informs their daily work and enhances student learning.  

Education and Experience at Work 

With robust experience in fields from large animal and production medicine to general practice to emergency medicine, our Clinical Skills veterinary technician team has built the skills and knowledge to enhance teaching crucial care procedures. Veterinary Technician Lupe Santillan worked in veterinary clinics for almost ten years before moving to Tucson. She shared,  

“I was the main technician [and] I oversaw surgery. I placed IV catheters, carried out blood draws, intubation, cystocentesis, and much more. In 2019, I moved to Tucson, AZ and I immediately started working at veterinary practices. Even though I love working with animals, I felt like it might be time to start teaching my skills to other people.” 

Our veterinary technicians merge their passion for animal care with their inclination toward teaching. Each technician comes to us with education and enthusiasm. When asked how he applies his professional experience at CVM, Veterinary Technician Joseph Scarber explained,  

“Having a background in the practical application of the skills we are teaching helps me explain scenarios where these skills will be needed in the students’ careers. The models we create require a certain degree of anatomical and medical knowledge to appropriately reflect the skills we are trying to teach.” 

Few are more equipped to impart practical skills than the professionals who daily relied upon these skills. 

Modeling Arizona Excellence  

Veterinary tecnician Abbi Matzdorff displays the canine Body Condition Score models she created.

Exemplifying Arizona’s commitment to exploration, our clinical skills team considers the skills they use most in their own careers and develops innovative ways of teaching students those same abilities. Developing this technical know-how will serve students in their future careers and empower them to carry out vital procedures from day one. Models can also help students develop a sense of what is normal or abnormal in an animal. For example, Veterinary Technician Abbi Matzdorff created canine models using fabric, a model skeleton, and discarded wool. These models reflect canines of various weights, from underweight to obese. Students develop a sense of identifying each weight class by palpating the animal’s ribs. Matzdorff used less wool for the underweight models and used progressively more for each additional weight category. This hands-on example helps students learn how to care for furry companions effectively. Matzdorff explained her design process, stating, 

“I try to take what I’ve learned and pass it on to the students in the most basic sense. I think that they get so much complex information that sometimes the basics can get lost in translation. In my opinion, if you don’t understand the basics, it’s hard to start diving into the more complex material. As far as models go, I try to make them as lifelike as I can for the students. Having the opportunity to have my hands on many dogs throughout the years made the canine BCS [Body Condition Score] models fun and easy to make. Obesity in companion animals is on the rise and it’s important for doctors to initiate a conversation about weight since extra pounds can lead to health problems in our furry friends.” 

Lisa Hallam demonstrates examining a cat with thyroid issues.

Models also aid in efficient diagnosis and help students learn to recognize common issues quickly. Lisa Hallam, an Animal Care Manager, devised new ways of teaching how to identify several health issues in cats. Calling on her experience as a veterinary technician, she created a model of a cat with a blocked urethra, which can result in the cat being unable to eliminate urine. Hallam took a model cat and added a tennis ball to simulate the enlarged, tight bladder an animal may experience when its urethra is blocked. Students engage their senses to learn how this condition feels when palpating a cat’s abdomen. When veterinarians can diagnose this issue effectively, they can move forward with treatment more quickly. Another model created by Hallam aids students in diagnosing thyroid conditions in cats. Knowing that one of the hallmarks of hyperthyroidism is a rigid mass in the throat area, Hallam designed the model to demonstrate this concept to students. Because students engage with the model before engaging with live animals, they become prepared to identify issues correctly as day-one-ready veterinarians. 

Lily Bonhoff displays a dog breed identification guide.

Veterinary Technician Lily Bonhoff, too, applies her professional experience and generates ideas to aid students in treating our furry family members. She recalled that learning dog breeds was difficult at first, so she created a study aid for students to identify dog breeds by sight. Our technicians’ professional experiences treating pets inform their understanding of what practical skills may help our students.  

Real-World Ready 

Students interact with these learning aids, apply theoretical knowledge, and become better prepared to utilize these skills in real-world situations. CVM Veterinary Technicians exercise their technical savvy by asking themselves what techniques students might benefit from learning via models. Their creativity and curiosity enhance student learning and advance our College’s mission of educating day-one-ready veterinarians.