Let’s talk about how I became a laboratory animal technologist. The road I took was full of twists and turns, but has led me to a successful career and a 23-year association with the American Association for Laboratory Animal Science (AALAS). It has been the experience of a lifetime.
I was raised in West Texas in an oil and ranching community. From the age of 3, people would ask me what I was going to be when I grew up, and I always said that I was going to be a cowboy. I had no idea at that point that I was going manage laboratory animals.
I started elementary school in 1948, at which time my teachers observed that I had some sort of vision problem. I was placed on the front row of the class and was teased by some of my classmates. After graduating from high school, my parents encouraged me to attend a small state college, Sam Houston State Teachers College, where in 1965 I earned a Bachelor of Science degree. I majored in Agriculture and minored in Biology.
Due to insufficient work experience, it was difficult to land my dream job, so I took whatever came along for several years. In 1970, an opportunity in respiratory therapy came my way and, because of my biology background, I thought it might be just the ticket. I received my certification as a respiratory therapy technician from the National Board of Respiratory Care in 1971 and stayed in the field for eight years.
My vision problem plagued me along the way. During my youth I had several eye examinations, but it wasn’t until I was 35 that a doctor diagnosed my eye problem. He told me I had hemiopia in both eyes (½ the normal visual field) and amblyopia (commonly known as "lazy eye") in my right eye that was caused by a congenital defect. Fortunately they were non-progressive.
I was working at the Veterans Administration Medical Center in Dallas, Texas when I saw a job announcement for a biological laboratory technician/animal on the bulletin board. I filled out a transfer request and was interviewed. In January 1980, I started my new job working with large animals (dogs, goats, swine, and some cats). One of the laboratory animal technologists there and our consulting veterinarian took an interest in me. I was encouraged to pursue joining AALAS as soon as I started work. They were aware of my vision problems, yet were always supportive, giving me assignments that did not involve delicate vision (like surgery). When I had ample work experience, they encouraged me to get my certification through AALAS as a Laboratory Animal Technician (LAT). Later, I was also encouraged to pursue certification at AALAS’ highest level, the Laboratory Animal Technologist (LATG).
In 1988, I went to work for the Poultry Science Department at Texas A&M. At the time, Texas A&M was raising 1200 chicks for a cancer project for the Baylor College of Medicine. I was placed in charge of the project, which I managed until its conclusion. My boss was doing heat stress research in chickens, and my job involved raising the birds as well as doing citation searches and other library work. During my tenure at Texas A&M, I worked on a feed trial study and managed the judging team birds. In my spare time, I also pursued my master's degree in agriculture from Sam Houston State University and received my degree at the age of 51.
In September 1993, I was hired by a company to care for their rat colony at Brooks Air Force Base in Texas. They needed someone with small animal diet and controlled feeding experience. The job announcement stated "AALAS certification preferred." I am always concerned with how employers will view my physical limitations, but when I told them, they were very understanding and have been able to work around my problem. I’m proud to say that my feed-control experience has paid off and the animals under my care vary by only 10 grams per project. I have worked at Brooks for nearly 10 years now. In 1999, I was honored to receive the Texas AALAS Branch Recognition Award, Level II, for my work at Brooks, and in 2001 I received the AALAS "Technician of the Year" award. Today, I work with a team of Air Force and civilian scientists, helping with their literature searches, special animal projects, and the education of less-experienced technicians. I also work to ensure the organization maintains its Association for Assessment and Accreditation of Laboratory Animal Care (AAALAC) accreditation.
In 2000, while at the AALAS national convention, I expressed an interest to the AALAS president to work on a AALAS certification or education committee. To my surprise, the chairperson of the Certification Registry Board invited me to become one of the AALAS District 7 representatives. I eagerly accepted, and my company has graciously supported me in this endeavor.
My exciting career in this field continues and I look forward to each day. The challenges are many and varied. I hope my story will encourage others with physical problems to keep their dreams alive, for your dreams are what give you the will to succeed.
Working in this field, you could be involved in developing a new procedure, new treatment for my problem or some other health related condition. The answer to some significant medical question could be you.