For Pleasant Hill Vet Tech Instructor Ben Sigel, a Love of Animals Sparks Passion for Teaching Others How to Care for Them
If there’s one thing Ben Sigel loves more than animals, it’s teaching others how to provide them with compassionate, quality care.
For nearly six years, Ben has been an instructor in Carrington College’s Veterinary Technology program at the Pleasant Hill campus, teaching, mentoring, and encouraging hundreds of students to follow in his footsteps and become Registered Veterinary Technicians.
“I’m passionate about what I do, and I think students pick up on that energy,” says Ben. “I love working with people who have curious, open minds, and I’m a big believer in creating a space where learning is stimulating and fun.”
Ben first heard about the Carrington’s Veterinary Technology program years before he ever set foot on campus.
“When I was working at a veterinary hospital in Oakland, several Carrington students completed their last-semester externships at our practice,” Ben recalls. “I was impressed by their knowledge and level of commitment, and I really enjoyed helping them translate what they’d learned in class into a real-life setting. So back in 2015, when I heard a teaching position was opening at Carrington’s Pleasant Hill campus, I decided to apply. It’s turned out to be the best career move I could have made.”
While Ben enjoys his reputation as one of the “cool, chill” instructors, he says he’s no pushover. In fact, he says, his standards are high and his expectations are great.
“While I like to think of myself as open and encouraging, I expect students to stay focused, do the work, and always do their best,” he says. “Excellence is a habit, and the earlier that habit is developed, the better. When you’re out in the real world assisting in a surgery, for example, anything less is unacceptable.”
Ben, 40, remembers what it’s like to launch a career in the veterinary field. While working at a skateboard and surf shop in 2004, he completed his AA degree at Diablo Valley College. A year later, he earned his Veterinary Assistant certificate. He worked as a pet nurse at a Dublin pet hospital, a dog groomer at a San Ramon pet shop, and as a kennel assistant, front desk receptionist, and veterinary assistant at an Oakland animal hospital.
In 2010, he completed his AS in Veterinary Technology and became a Registered Veterinary Technician. He worked as an RVT at an urgent care facility, a canine rehabilitation center, and at several veterinary hospitals. Over the years, Ben has also volunteered to treat and transport raccoons, opossums, hawks, squirrels and other animals to a wildlife hospital, which further rehabilitated and then released them back into nature. He also spent a Thanksgiving providing care to pets who were displaced or separated from their families during the Butte Camp Fire in Chico.
“I think one of the reasons students like my classes is that they know I’m teaching something I’ve lived, something I really care about,” Ben says. “I’ve drawn blood, given injections, placed catheters, and vaccinated and microchipped hundreds of dogs and cats. I’ve shot x-rays, filled prescriptions, performed ultrasound and other diagnostic procedures, and assisted in life-saving surgeries. I’ve also comforted patients who have had to say goodbye to family pets they’ve loved for years. Helping students prepare to do the same things is something I’m grateful I get to do.”
Learning—and teaching—during the pandemic has been uniquely challenging, but Ben says he thinks he, his program, and his students have adapted well.
“I never thought I’d be teaching from my kitchen table, but life is full of surprises,” says Ben. “I’ve been doing my lectures remotely for 10 months now. We do required labs on campus, with all necessary protocols and precautions in place. In some ways, I think adapting has been easier for teachers and students in our program than it might have been for some others because taking preventive safety precautions and wearing personal protective equipment (PPE) are normal operating procedure in our field.”
The structure of the Vet Tech program on the Pleasant Hill campus—in which a cohort or class has the same instructor for all five 16-week terms of their program—creates a continuity that Ben says both he and his students value.
“Students seem to love the continuity of having one instructor for the entire program, rather than having to adjust to a different teaching style every few months,” says Ben. “I like it, too. It gives me a chance to develop a rapport with students that I think makes the learning experience more productive.”
Ben says it also provides the opportunity to see students evolve as they progress through the program.
“I love seeing students develop their analytical abilities and practical skills as they progress through the program,” says Ben. “At the beginning, most students are understandably hesitant and timid, especially when it comes to surgery and things like injections and blood draws. But then they grow so much during the five terms of the program. I take a lot of pride in seeing them develop into capable, confident professionals who are prepared to go out into the world and provide the kind of quality care every animal deserves.”