Women in Veterinary Medicine – Part 2

While men may outnumber women in most scientific fields, that’s not the case in veterinary medicine. In fact, women now outnumber men in veterinary schools by a significant percentage. This is true not just for veterinarians, but also for veterinary technicians (“vet techs”), too! This week we continue our theme of Expanding Girls’ Horizons in Science and Engineering month by talking with one of our vet techs, Lauren Murray, about her chosen career.

Vet techs are an important part of every veterinary practice – they’re like nurses for our pets, administering medications, collecting blood samples and much more! Like veterinarians, many vet techs can specialize in their work. Lauren specializes in caring for MSAH’s oncology (cancer) patients, and she loves her work.

 

Lauren was always interested in science, but that wasn’t what drew her to veterinary medicine. Instead, it was her life-long love of animals. As a little girl growing up in Norco, LA, Lauren always had an animal of some kind that she had picked up and was taking care of, from turtles to birds to cats and dogs! After a detour into her family’s business, she came to the realization that she needed to spend her life working with what she loved – animals. So eight years ago she got her first job in veterinary medicine where she started as a vet tech doing “normal” stuff. She’s been here at MSAH for the last four years and has been doing oncology for the last two. She’s a member of the Veterinary Cancer Society and does continuing education every year to further her knowledge and practice.

Oncology patient, Ruby.

 

Before starting oncology work, Lauren says she began reading about it and realized there were lots of misconceptions about it. For example, when most people think about chemotherapy, we think about the worst side effects – hair loss, extreme nausea, fatigue and more. Pets, though, require much lower doses of chemotherapy drugs, and as a result, normally suffer only mild nausea, slight diarrhea and tiredness. (Only a very small number of dog breeds are prone to hair loss during chemotherapy.) Armed with this information, Lauren decided to help educate people about veterinary oncology and let our clients know we offer it. Working closely with MSAH’s veterinarians and a consulting board certified oncologist, the oncology practice has grown from one that only required her time occasionally at first to being nearly full-time now.

Doing this kind of work, Lauren says, is the perfect combination of caregiving and science. Since pets “can’t talk to us, we have to go slow” and pay attention to their responses to treatments, “but it’s a very exact science.” Doses must be calculated absolutely precisely and the chemotherapy drugs must be closely monitored since they’re sensitive to any environmental changes. For example, Lauren said that some drugs are so sensitive that once they’ve been exposed to the air for 8 hours, their chemical makeup changes, rendering them useless. This means that their use must be carefully planned and that treatments are done carefully and accurately.

Lauren prepares a chemo treatment.

 

When asked what kinds of information she would most like pet owners to know about cancer in pets, Lauren said it was incredibly important that pets get their yearly exams. While vaccines are critical, the exam itself (with blood work!) can find cancer in its early stages before it begins to visibly affect the pet. Just like preventive care for humans, it’s critical for our pets, too, and can prolong their lives. As she tells her patients’ owners when she first meets them, her “main goal is providing a good quality of life, first and foremost” for their pet.

While she can’t get enough of veterinary medicine, Lauren does occasionally leave MSAH to be with her husband, their 1 ½ year old “2-legged kid” and their 3 fur-kids (2 Chihuahuas and a German shepherd mix). She recently was invited to Warren Easton High School for a lunch-and-learn with some of the students to talk about her work, and she would love to more of that.

To find out more about MSAH’s dog oncology services, click here.

To find out more about MSAH’s cat oncology services, click here.