Alumni Spotlight – Meet Kristin Heersema

Kristin-Heersema-AlumniKristin Heersema was always going to work with animals; she’s been riding horses since she was 6-years old and her first job, at the age of 14, was in a mom & pop pet shop. At 16, she went to work at PetSmart, becoming Store Manager before concentrating on her studies at Carrington College California.

For her friends and family, it was no surprise when Kristin graduated from our Pomona campus with an Associate of Science degree in Veterinary Technology in January 2013. But it had been a long road to get that qualification…until she found Carrington College California.

I spent five years, on and off, at a state school. It just wasn’t happening. I ended up taking random GE classes just to fill time because I just couldn’t get into the Vet Tech classes I needed. I also tried to get into a program at a junior college, but they only offered classes once a year, so that was impossible.

It was thanks to a friend/past instructor that she first heard about the Veterinary Technology program at the Carrington College California Pomona campus.

An instructor at one of the other schools, who became a friend, moved to Carrington to help set up the Veterinary Technology program in 2010. She thought that might be a better option for me.

I actually hadn’t heard of Carrington before Trisha mentioned it; so I went in to the campus and talked with Student Finance and an Enrollment Services Representative. They let me do the pre-enrollment testing right away – that was just the second time I stopped by. I started the program real quick – I timed it very well. It was just what I needed after the frustration of the previous five years.

Kristin managed to work 45 hours a week at PetSmart while trying to get classes at those other schools, but when she joined Carrington she knew that would have to change.

I quit working for PetSmart when I started at Carrington, but I got a part-time job as a Veterinary Assistant while I went to school – the experience I got there actually helped a lot.

A member of just the second ever Veterinary Technology class at the Pomona campus, Kristin admits that there were some bumps in the road, but it was a learning experience that taught her a valuable life skill.

 I learned to have more patience. With all the stuff you have to juggle at once in that first term, you have to learn to be patient. I was in the second class to go through the program, so there were a few kinks we all had to work out together, students and faculty, to help the program grow.

The instructors were great – I wouldn’t have traded them for the world. We had one instructor pretty much the entire time, Melissa M., and she was wonderful.

It was definitely tough at times, and many students underestimated the demands of the program, but those who graduated became a fairly close-knit group and still keep in touch – usually via text or Facebook, or for kids’ birthday parties – and the great majority of them have had success since graduation.

So now, nine months after graduating, and six months after getting her license paperwork from the state, Kristin is enjoying her career. A career she’s dreamed of since the age of three when her folks videoed her caring for baby birds in the backyard.

I actually still work at the same clinic I joined when I started at Carrington. Once I passed my Boards and got the licensing paperwork through, I got promoted to a full-time position as a Registered Veterinary Technician. I work at Banfield Pet Hospital in Rancho Cucamonga, California. Believe it or not, I’m back working in a PetSmart! Many Banfield hospitals are located inside PetSmart stores.

During her time at Carrington College California, Kristin did an internship at the Big Bear Zoo; and zoo keeping is a direction she still hopes her career path could take in the future.

I was initially hoping to work at a zoo; I have references from the RVT [Registered Veterinary Technician] up at Big Bear Zoo if I ever need a letter of recommendation. I thought having tech skills behind me would be awesome for a zookeeper position, but to get a good job at a zoo is borderline impossible, they just don’t have openings very often!

While it’s still something she remains keen to do, she’s happy building her experience for the time-being although she does hope to be able to diversify her skills in the future.

I did apply for a zookeeper position at the Santa Ana Zoo but I wasn’t qualified enough. They wanted someone with much more experience, but it’s hard to get experience if you can’t get a job in the field!

I’d love to work with large animals one day, but a lot of large animal vets don’t have the money to pay an RVT, so I don’t know if that would ever happen. I’d like to do something a little different than a dog and cat practice. Maybe in emergency or some sort of specialty practice – somewhere that does a little more in-depth stuff.

Nine months on from her Carrington graduation, Kristin looks back with satisfaction on her time at Carrington, and is happy to encourage others to follow the same path.

It was a very positive experience for me. I’ve actually recommended the program to a few co-workers; one has already been to the campus to look into the program. She’s completed some preliminary paperwork and interviews. I’ve told her that it’s definitely worth it, but she has to be prepared for a lot of hard work.

Because the Banfield hospital Kristin works at is also a Carrington externship site, she gets to see and share advice with a lot of our students in the early days of their program.

We get a lot of first term Carrington students in rotation at work; this last term we had six interns. I think it’s because the Program Director knows I’m here and sends a lot of students our way! I always tell them that they have to be prepared to put in a lot of extra time into their studies.

The advice that she shares with the students she sees holds true for many of our Carrington College California programs, not just those hoping to become veterinary technicians.

Come prepared to work and make sure your heart is in it. If your mindset isn’t right, if you’re not convinced that this is what you definitely want to do, then you’re probably not going to make it.

She also has a little extra advice that may be more pertinent to veterinary technicians!

I tell them they also need to have a strong stomach! And a tough heart. It’s not an easy career, but it’s always rewarding.

Kristin and her fiancé Anthony are planning to get married in June 2014; they’ve recently bought a house in Yucaipa, CA, and they’ve already started populating the property with a menagerie of animals.

I’ve already moved my two dogs, my horse and my miniature horse. We also have two hens and six chicks right now. It’s a decent sized property, so there’s little doubt it’ll become a bit of a zoo!

Thanks for your time Kristin, and for sharing your thoughts and advice. Good luck with the wedding next year, and with the continuing efforts to build your own little private zoo!

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