The Goal of Australia’s first and only Veterinary Technician Specialist in the field of Nutrition- Victoria Koks.
BY RAELENE SCHAFER-EVANS - OCTOBER 31, 2019 - VETERINARY PRACTICE
Nutrition is an interesting specialty. Globally, it represents the smallest number of members when compared to any other specialty in veterinary medicine. And yet, it is the one specialty that will be needed by every single patient regardless of species, age, gender, health status or any other comparison parameter. Every patient, regardless of life stage or disease state, is a nutrition patient.
Sure, nutrition doesn’t have the life and death excitement of anesthesia, the guts and glory of surgery or the life saving power of emergency and critical care. You will never find a nutritionist sweating it out holding six live puppies from a pre-eclampsia caesarian, removing 30 teeth from a cat with severe stomatitis or celebrating the successful recovery of an ASA IV patient from anesthesia. And yet, each of these patients will require the services of the nutritionist.
Nutrition is a very conceptual specialty. We deal with concepts that are impossible to visualise and rely heavily on science. You can’t hold a single amino acid or see it off to work in the body. It is impossible to glance at a patient and know their vitamin or mineral status. We will never be able to identify specific nutrient absorption individualised to each patient. And yet, nutritionists have the power to sway and even deter disease processes, enhance longevity of life and reduce reliance on medication use.
It is this idea that initially drew me to nutrition. The thought that I could influence the quality and longevity of my patients lives through administration of different nutrient admixtures is an incredibly powerful idea. What else can we do for our patients that can impact the quality and duration of their lives to this degree? Absolutely we can prevent parasites, and vaccinate against diseases, we can treat pathology with medication and surgery, but only nutrition can support a patient’s total physiology each day to achieve maximum quality of life.
My interest in nutrition started very early in my career. I was lucky to have some very patient and supportive Hill’s Territory Managers support our clinic. It was their passion in sharing the message of the power of nutrition and how it can influence our patients that got me hooked. I was educated to how changes in amino acids can influence kidney performance, lipid concentrations can influence pancreatic and liver function, carbohydrates can influence insulin and other hormones in the body and the list goes on.
I was educated to how changes in amino acids can influence kidney performance, lipid concentrations can influence pancreatic and liver function, carbohydrates can influence insulin and other hormones in the body and the list goes on. The idea that I could use nutrition as a kind of medicine, another tool in my toolbox, to achieve better patient outcomes in a faster timeframe was exciting.
I quickly sunk my teeth into every CPD event I could get my hands on. Luckily, Hill’s’ never ending support of veterinary nurses meant I had a plethora of options at my fingertips. From lunch and learns, online and live webinars, and live CPD events, I consumed it all (pun intended!) with great enthusiasm. The thing with nutrition is that we will never know it all. Every year, science and technology evolve and we learn more.
My passion for nutrition enabled me to implement some very positive and exciting changes in clinic. I was able to introduce nurse nutrition consults, onboarded the entire team (yes, even the vets!) to take a nutritional history and make a nutritional recommendation for every patient, and incorporated nutrition as a key component of primary patient care – both for wellness and disease treatment plans.
In 2015, I was presented with a pivotal moment in my nursing career – the opportunity to participate in a pilot program for veterinary nurses through Hill’s Pet Nutrition. This pilot program saw 15 nurses from across Australia enrolled into the Veterinary Nurse Nutritional Consultant course. This saw me undertake over 100 hours of nutrition CE, present lectures to my peers and case studies at the national VNCA Conference, and implement nurse nutrition consults in clinic.
Hill’s recognised and rewarded our dedication and hard work with the ultimate opportunity – the chance to attend a trip to the US to visit a Hill’s manufacturing plant, the Hill’s Pet Nutrition Centre and attend one of North America’s largest veterinary conferences, NAVC (now VMX), in Orlando, Florida.
The Hill’s Pet Nutrition Centre includes the health center that cares for the cats and dogs used in the Hill’s feeding trials. These animals live in family-like colonies and have the highest standards of health care. The facilities and care of these animals is so high, we were all tempted by an open vacancy for a nurse to join the team!
It was on the plane from Kansas to Florida to attend NAVC that I was put on the path of becoming a Veterinary Technician Specialist. Through pure coincidence, I was seated next to an inspirational veterinary technician, Vicky O’Grain. Vicky is a multiple past president of the North American Veterinary Technician Association (NAVTA), the then-current president of the American Veterinary Nutrition Technicians (AVNT) society, and is an Education Specialist U.S. Professional and Veterinary Affairs for Hill’s Pet Nutrition. Vicky inspired me to continue to learn and grow through the challenge of attempting to become a Veterinary Technician Specialist (VTS).
The VTS is an American qualification, recognised globally, and is the nursing equivelant of veterinarians becoming board certified, and is representative of 16 different specialties. The VTS presented an exciting opportunity for me to continue my learning and development in a specialty where no Diploma or advanced study options were available within Australia.
In June 2019, after completing all of the extensive pre-requisite work for the VTS, I travelled to Phoenix, Arizona to sit my board exams, and attended the American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine (ACVIM) Forum. This was both an incredible learning and networking opportunity and I count myself so lucky to now include amazing technicians, whom I’ve looked up to and drawn inspiration from for many years, such as Kara Burns, Ann Wortinger, Ed Carlson and many more, as not just colleagues but lifelong friends as well.
Just days before being invited to speak at the 2019 Hill’s Vet Nurse Advocate weekend, I received the results of my exam, and am so proud to be awarded Australia’s first and only Veterinary Technician Specialist in the field of Nutrition. My goal is to continue to educate around the importance of nutrition, empower veterinary nurses to learn, grow and take charge of nutrition nurse clinics and apply my knowledge and skills to every patient I treat.
Today, I work as a Practice Development Advisor for Crampton Consulting Group (CCG) and Animal Industries Resource Centre (AIRC). I challenge the self-limiting belief that once a nurse has graduated from veterinary nurse to practice manager there are no further ways to progress. In our globalised environment, we are living in a time where the world really is our oyster. Whether your interests take you further into business, leadership, education or specialisation, there are infinite opportunities for us, as veterinary nurses, to follow our passion. I am so grateful for the opportunities afforded me by Hill’s and look back with a smile at the turn of events that have led me to this place in my career.