Vet Tech career is true passion for Navy veteran
With over 20 years of experience in the military, a Bachelor’s degree, management expertise and tons of knowledge in specialty fields, Jennifer Turner-Oliveria was shocked to discover her interest in a career that would take her in a completely opposite direction. Veterinary Technology was not on her radar when she retired from the Navy in 2012.
It was four years ago when a good friend asked Jennifer to help take care of her menagerie of birds, dogs and chickens for three days. At the end of that experience, something had settled into place. “I discovered I really enjoyed working with animals,” says Jennifer.
She was at the height of her professional capabilities and had many options for post-military work, particularly in government. “But I had a nagging feeling that I wasn’t doing what was going to make me happy,” she says. She was tired of sitting at a desk and needed something she could do that was much more hands-on.
But did she really want to make the dramatic shift in focus from people to animals? She took some good advice and started to volunteer at an animal hospital close to her home in Hanford. It took only three months for the staff to recognize her talents and offer her a full-time paid position. She would be there for three years.
Two years in, Jennifer realized that she wanted the formal training and credentials that would give her greater opportunity and skills in her new-found career.
“I had a GI bill and needed to use it,” she says. Earlier, Jennifer had tried online studies, but that did not seem a good fit for her. “It wasn’t holding my interest; I knew my learning style was more immersive, so I needed to be in school.”
It was important to Jennifer to find a Veterinary Technology program offered by an accredited college. Her search brought her to SJVC in Fresno. “They were pretty much the only show in town,” she says. But she still had some reservations. “I kind of turned my nose up at a vocational school, not knowing just how immersive they could be. But I just made a leap of faith, and I feel they over-delivered.”
There were lots of positive surprises in her Vet Tech program. “Having the chance to work with large animals, like horses and cows, was pretty neat,” she says. “I was a city girl, so being comfortable and confident around such a large animal that can do a lot of damage to you if you’re not holding it right was important to learn.”
Being in an accelerated program can be overwhelming at times. “There was a lot of material to cover in a short amount of time,” says Jennifer. Jennifer’s husband, Ed, encouraged her all along the way. “He was there on those days when I was just burned out going to school.”
That path was not easy. Jennifer made the 90-minute, round-trip drive from Hanford to Fresno each Monday through Thursday afternoon, after her shift at the animal hospital. Studying took up most of her evenings. “Those were long days, but it was worth it.”
After the first six months of the Veterinary Technology program, Jennifer let go of her part-time job. “I was burning the candle at both ends, and this old lady just needed some more sleep,” she says.
Jennifer hit her stride and pulled a 4.0 GPA. “Ed was really proud of me for making the decision to do what I wanted to do (Vet Tech career),” says Jennifer.
There was another voice Jennifer heard when things were hard to balance. “My mom, Georgene, finished her B.A. in nursing when she was 55 years old, after having worked years in the medical field,” she says. “She gave me the courage and confidence to do it as well. She knew I was going down the right path when I went into this program. She knew that I was where I was going to be happy.”
Jennifer graduated from the Vet Tech program last December and was hired soon after by a large, well-staffed veterinary hospital. “We are trained in radiology, surgery, dental, pharmacology and vaccinations, and to perform diagnostics ordered by the doctors,” she says. “The chemistry of the staff is the best; they’re on the same page as I am. It’s not about the numbers coming in the door, but about making sure pets and people are taken care of. They are compassionate, involved with patients, very knowledgeable and have diverse levels of experience.”
Jennifer wants the credentials in her field that will affirm the skills and knowledge that she worked so hard to acquire. She passed the national exam and is about to take the state exam to earn the title Registered Veterinary Technologist.
“The dynamic of the military taught me to have the confidence to know who I am and what I want to do. I paid my dues there for over 20 years and enjoyed that. But, it’s not like having the passion for something, like I do now.”
Change takes courage and discipline. Jennifer had that going in.