Hustle, Bustle, Compassion and Know-How: Behind the Scenes with UW Veterinary Care Staff

When clients bring their animal to UW Veterinary Care, they often speak with a receptionist, veterinarian, fourth-year DVM student, veterinary technician, or some combination. But between the handoff of a patient and the pickup of that cherished companion or livestock animal, innumerable people throughout the hospital collaborate to deliver the best possible care.

Behind the scenes of UW Veterinary Care, kennel staff tidy up clinical spaces. Pharmacists and pharmacy technicians fill prescriptions and prepare medications. At the same time, pathology services conduct diagnostic tests and analyze patient samples, while elsewhere, radiologists perform imaging tests. A purchasing team ensures supplies are procured and put in their place, and call center and medical records specialists support client needs and recordkeeping. And that’s just a glimpse of the activity.

In total, more than 400 committed staff members, student workers, and veterinary medical students team up with world-class clinical specialists. Often out of sight, they go out of their way to deliver an exceptional experience for clients and patients.

The following profiles shed light on just some of the ways a range of dedicated, specially trained staff support the delivery of compassionate, expert clinical services around the clock.

Kimberly Legler, radiologic technologist and supervisor, Diagnostic Imaging

Kimberly Legler, right, holds Isabella, a 15-year-old Boxer mix, following chest radiographs while radiologic technologist Shana Stroebel, left, views the images.

Since fourth grade, Kimberly Legler has known she wanted to work with animals. After considering a career as a veterinarian or veterinary technician and pursuing a few other paths, she made her way to the radiography training program at Madison College.

While enrolled, she came across a job posting for a radiographer at the UW School of Veterinary Medicine teaching hospital, where she came on board in 2006. “That was it,” she recalls. “I knew that’s what I wanted to do. I found my way back to animals.”

Purpose: “The diagnostic imaging department plays an integral part in finding answers to help doctors treat their patients, which ultimately results in a positive impact. We perform almost every type of imaging that they do at a human hospital. We have MRI, CT, ultrasound, fluoroscopy, a large animal standing CT, nuclear medicine, mobile fluoroscopy, and radiography.”

An ‘average’ day: “You never have the same day twice here. I lead a team of eight amazing technologists. Managing the workflow, coordinating procedures, maintaining equipment, and performing imaging studies is all part of a day’s work.”

UW Veterinary Care by the numbers sidebar describing employees and students

Little known fact: “The nine of us are American Registry of Radiologic Technologists (ARRT) certified radiologic technologists. This means we have gone through schooling and training in human imaging. Most of us had worked in the people world before we came here. We learned animal anatomy and positioning after we started in our positions. We are qualified to teach the students about the physics and different aspects of imaging modalities.”

Heavy load: “Something else people may not realize is how physical this job is. You are lifting and restraining patients in the necessary positions for most of the day.”

Top priority: “Though it may sound cliché, my favorite part of my job is helping animals. I don’t just mean performing imaging studies to aid in diagnoses (though that part is great too). I can help them by ensuring and expecting quality care and optimal imaging from the department’s technologists, by teaching future veterinarians how to obtain diagnostic images, and by keeping equipment functioning so animals can have the studies they need when they need them. Cuddling the occasional cute puppy isn’t so bad either.”

Approach: “I try to have a positive attitude. I believe treating all people with respect is important, which makes it easier for others to feel they can talk to me. I am known for wearing fun shirts (mostly cat-related), which often leads to smiles or giggles as I walk through the hospital.”

Team dynamics: “We are all here for the same reason. No one patient is more important than the next. We need to be able to work together for the big picture of helping clients and their beloved pets. We also need to be there for one another, whether it’s a tough case, the pandemic, or whatever the circumstance. We are stronger together.”

Room to grow: “To provide advanced technology and optimal images, it would benefit us to be able to upgrade our CT, MRI, and fluoroscopy equipment and expand on it. One of the things on our wish list for the building expansion project is a PET CT scanner.”

Caley Haas, barn crew member, Morrie Waud Large Animal Hospital

 Caley Haas tends to the stall of Ginger, a blood donor and teaching cow for the school, at the end of an overnight shift from midnight to 8 a.m.Caley Haas tends to the stall of Ginger, a blood donor and teaching cow for the school, at the end of an overnight shift from midnight to 8 a.m.

Some students might shudder at the need to report to work at 6 a.m., but for Caley Haas, it’s a plus. The UW–Madison animal sciences major and self-reported morning person is part of the Morrie Waud Large Animal Hospital barn crew. This team of student workers helps maintain a clean presence in the large animal hospital and keeps accurate patient records across morning, evening, and overnight shifts.

Routines: “Barn crew is responsible for cleaning all animal stalls, recovery stalls, and procedure rooms with proper personal protective equipment protocol twice a day; charting urine and fecal output as well as feed and water consumption; removal of trash and biohazard waste; stripping and disinfecting of used stalls; disinfecting floors and manure carts; milking cows; and feeding any vet school animals staying in the large animal hospital.”

Perks of the job: “I enjoy the physical labor aspect of barn crew. After a day of class, it is nice to do something physically to tire my body. Through barn crew, I have met so many people with so much knowledge. And everybody is so willing to teach. It is a welcoming and stimulating environment.”

Faye Hartmann, medical technologist and manager, Clinical Pathology lab

Microbiologist Emily Vander Zanden performs a subculture test to assess antibiotic susceptibilityMicrobiologist Emily Vander Zanden examines a wound culture plate.

When UW Veterinary Care clinicians need insight into a patient’s illness, they often turn to the hospital’s full-service laboratory for comprehensive diagnostic tests.

Day after day and into the night, medical technologists, laboratory technicians, and veterinarians run an array of tests – tens of thousands annually — on patient specimens. They use cutting-edge equipment, scientific expertise, and specialized training to uncover details about an animal’s health. And by doing so on-site, they can quickly pinpoint a wide range of conditions.

Whether analyzing blood work, diagnosing disease, detecting parasites, or more, these lab services compose an essential part of veterinary care. Leading the team is Faye Hartmann, who got her start in the microbiology laboratory of a human hospital but now lends her knowledge to animals.

Veterinary medical student Michelle Milanov conducts a urinalysis (urine test) on a patient sampleVeterinary medical student Michelle Milanov conducts a urinalysis on a patient sample.

A test strip used to determine changes in a patientA test strip  used to assess if a patient’s urine sample is abnormal.

Medical laboratory scientist Sarah Miller selects bacteria for an antimicrobial susceptibility testMedical laboratory scientist Sarah Miller selects bacteria for an antimicrobial susceptibility test.

Veterinary medical student Aaron Goebel views the results of a patient blood specimen run through a hematology analyzerVeterinary medical student Aaron Goebel views the results of a patient’s blood analysis.

Precision and speed: “We are very fortunate to have our own in-house microbiology laboratory. When you’re dealing with infections, you need to know as soon as possible what is causing that infection in order to get the patient on the right antibiotics. With an in-house lab, the turnaround is super fast. We have results within one to two days, compared to three to five days if the culture was sent out. This allows clinicians to select appropriate therapies for patients sooner. For all tests performed by our Clinical Pathology lab, our goal is to deliver accurate and rapid test results for patient care.”

Highlights: “My favorite part is that no day is the same. Every day presents a chance to work with a great laboratory team, and to facilitate and help people get the results and information they need. I also enjoy being involved in independent and collaborative research projects. It’s exciting to work on projects relevant to the cases we’re seeing.”

Collaborative care: “Some tests have a very rapid turnaround time, so we can deliver results quickly to clinicians. For example, when we have a positive blood culture, we may have a preliminary identification of an infection within ten hours from the time they collected the sample. And then, maybe six hours later, we can provide clinicians with presumptive antibiotic susceptibility results to get a patient on the right antibiotics sooner.”

Scientific sleuthing: “We have so many antibiotic-resistant microorganisms we’re dealing with and trying to detect and identify, similar to human medicine. It’s a lot of work, because antibiotic susceptibility testing is very complex and you have to be up on the current guidelines to perform and report susceptibility testing appropriately.”

Worthwhile: “The exciting thing about microbiology is that it is a lot like detective work. You try to find or grow (from any body site imaginable) and identify whether any microorganisms are present and causing an infection. It is very rewarding when you have identified the pathogen or pathogens causing an infection, determined the antibiotic susceptibility, and provided results to the clinician quickly so they can get the patient on appropriate therapy as soon as possible — truly rewarding.”

Leah Krawczyk, client care liaison, Medical Oncology and Radiation Oncology

Leah Krawczyk, right, and certified veterinary technician Jennifer Borgen, left, tend to Prim, a UW Veterinary Care oncology patientLeah Krawczyk, right, and certified veterinary technician Jennifer Borgen, left, tend to Prim, a UW Veterinary Care oncology patient.

Leah Krawczyk has worked as a veterinary technician for 18 years but recently made the transition to client care liaison with the Medical Oncology and Radiation Oncology services. This new position, launched across a range of specialty services at UW Veterinary Care in 2021, supports expanded client care efforts.

Client care liaisons now serve each hospital service. The role interfaces with clients to prepare them and their animals for appointments, share information, answer questions, and more. This integrated process better prepares each member of the animal’s care team. “It’s important for everybody to be on the same page,” Krawczyk says.

Customer service: “My favorite part is providing support so that everything is taken care of when the patients and clients come in. I really enjoy the client care part because they get to know me and I get to know them.”

sidebar about curbside service at UW Veterinary CareSetting expectations: “Part of it is getting people to understand expectations with appointments. They may have never had a pet come to a specialty part of the hospital, and there is confusion as to what will happen after they get to their appointment or how long they’re going to be here. It’s a big part of my job to communicate that, which helps a lot. We don’t want to surprise people.”

Running point: “Having one person the client knows they can talk to creates more of a personal relationship. Because at a teaching hospital, there could be rotations of the residents and faculty a lot of times. It helps to have a point person they can ask questions. Bringing their pet in, especially with oncology, can be a stressful experience. Knowing someone can make the transition as seamless as possible.”

On supporting clients: “I think one of the best ways is to try to be as understanding as possible that they could be going through a lot of stress. And trying to be empathetic also. The clinicians and faculty are very good at recognizing that people find themselves in really stressful circumstances with their pets or whatever else they have going on in their life. It’s good to ask owners what their goals are for appointments — focusing on their quality of life, their goals, and ours is really helpful.”

Jacob Jankowski and Laura Mikkelson, kennel managers

UW Veterinary Care employee Kate Hopfensperger pauses to visit with a puppy while cleaning kennelsKennel worker Kate Hopfensperger greets a puppy amidst cleaning duties.

Kennel manager Jacob Jankowski retrieves pill pocket treats to aid clinicians in delivering medication to UW Veterinary Care patientsKennel manager Jacob Jankowski retrieves pill pocket treats for UW Veterinary Care patients.

Jacob Jankowski and Laura Mikkelson serve as kennel managers for UW Veterinary Care’s small animal hospital. They oversee a hospital custodian, employ nine student workers, and support virtually every area of patient care.

Yes, kennels staff clean up messes (and boy, have they seen some messes). But their work also includes ordering kennel supplies, stocking and distributing specialized animal diets, coordinating the laundering and delivery of hospital linens, ensuring proper protocols for patient isolation, and much more.

Custodian Kwok Kuen Chu, part of the kennels staff, vacuums an entrance to UW Veterinary CareCustodian Kwok Kuen Chu, part of the kennels staff, vacuums a faculty and staff entrance to UW Veterinary Care.

Their function: “Kennels is like the oil of an engine. We are necessary to keep the hospital running smoothly and create space allowing the doctors to focus on their patients.”

Best parts of the job: “Two things stick out. First must be the animals. If you are having a rough day, it’s great to have the opportunity to pet a cat or snuggle with a puppy for a few minutes. Everyone in this building is here to help the animals. But, more exclusive to the kennels, we are a great starting point for undergraduate students to get into the veterinary field. And we can help them secure more hands-on jobs if they want to continue.”

A takeaway: “The kennels are not unique in that our work is done behind the scenes. There are multiple other areas within this hospital that are often overlooked, and there are people outside of this building that do jobs that aren’t seen. All jobs are necessary for places to operate.”

—Alisyn Amant and Meghan Lepisto

This article appears in the summer 2022 issue of On Call magazine.