Fall 2017

On the Front Lines of Animal Heart Care

Meet Cummings School’s Kristen Antoon, one of only 20 veterinary technicians in the country certified in cardiology.

By Laura Ferguson

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Veterinary technician Kristen Antoon works to build trust with each pet. Photo: Alonso Nichols

A year ago, Kristen Antoon, a veterinary technician at Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine’s Henry and Lois Foster Hospital for Small Animals, became the 20th certified veterinary technician specialist in cardiology in the United States. She works with clients and their pets to conduct evaluations such as electrocardiograms (ECGs), echocardiograms, and blood pressure and catheter-based tests. Antoon pays “remarkable attention to patient care,” said Emily Tompkins Karlin, V08, a cardiology resident. “She is so dedicated to the health and overall well-being of our patients, and consistently goes above and beyond for them.”

We spoke with Antoon about her work and how she’s inspiring other veterinary technicians to aim high.

Cummings Veterinary Medicine: What’s a typical day like as a cardiology technician?

Kristen Antoon: I help ensure that the cardiology service runs smoothly. For example, I make sure that students are getting into the appointments on time, and teach students routine procedures, like drawing blood or obtaining ECGs. For surgeries, I set up the table, prepare the patient for the procedure. During the surgical procedure, I make sure the pet remains stable, which includes close monitoring of the ECG and blood pressure. On a typical day, we may perform anywhere from four to 10 echocardiograms, for our outpatient appointments and/or in-house consultations. Overall, our patient flow varies from day to day; the emergency room could have six cardiac cases come in back to back, and we have to be ready to respond.

How do you make a potentially stressful experience less stressful?

Keeping calm is a good start. We understand that cats and dogs have their own personalities and respond to stressful situations differently. So we learn from our experience with individual patients and make a note in their records regarding their individual preferences. For example, some behave better with their owners close by. Others are calmer if they can hide with a blanket over their head. Still others prefer a minimal amount of restraint, so that they don’t feel confined. Getting to know our clients and their animals on a personal level always makes the next visit easier.

What’s the most rewarding part of your job—and the most difficult?

I think for everyone working in the veterinary field, the most rewarding thing is seeing our patients go home and knowing that we gave them more time to spend with their families. The most difficult part of my job is the emotional side. Showing constant empathy and compassion goes a long way in helping our clients who may be going through the very difficult time of caring for a sick pet, but I have to be sure my own emotions don’t get the better of me.

What’s your perspective on the future career path for specialty cardiology technicians?

It’s really opened up professional opportunities for me. I spoke at the annual ACVIM [American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine] conference this year with two other specialty cardiology technicians, one from New Jersey and the other from Colorado. We presented on cardiac catheter procedures. I’m also mentoring a veterinary technician at Virginia Tech who is starting her application process, and I’d encourage anyone who’s interested to take this extra step of pursuing specialization, whatever specialty they are interested in.

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