Ever since Purvi Patel was a child growing up in Malawi, she knew she wanted to work with animals.
Now, her hard work as a veterinary technician at the Laurelwood Veterinary Clinic on Benjamin Road has earned her the honour of Vet Tech of the Year at the 2017 PetPlan Veterinary Awards.
Selected from among more than 600 nominees for the award, Patel says it was a surreal experience from start to finish.
“To be honest, I was just honoured by the nomination on its own. It started with 600, to the final six, then the final three are flown to Florida,” she said. “The other two nominees I was up against have been practicing for decades, a lot longer than I have. It was just such a surreal moment and such an honour. There aren’t many Purvi Patels I could have been confused with, but it’s true, you kind of go, ‘wait, did they just say my name?’”
She realized her love of helping animals while growing up in Africa. Her family lived in Malawi and she says dogs were just a part of her everyday life there. Unfortunately, there isn’t much in the way of veterinary medicine in the developing world.
“They definitely don’t have the same medical resources that are in North America for human medicine let alone veterinary medicine, but most people do have dogs on their properties. It is mostly for security because the crime rate is higher. We had four big German shepherds and they were beautiful dogs,” she shared. “But unfortunately, if they fall ill, there really is nowhere to take them. That is a big struggle. Two out of my four dogs passed away. There was no help, they were suffering and it was just tragic. It was really awful. I think for me, seeing that, that was a pivotal moment for me. I wanted to make sure that I don’t feel this helpless again and that no other owner should either.”
Her career in veterinary medicine began when she earned her bachelor of science in animal biology at the University of Guelph. Then, she attended one of the best veterinary technician schools in Canada, located in Ridgetown, Ont. and run by the university. For the past four years, she has been working at the Laurelwood Veterinary Clinic.
For her, the best part of the job is helping those that can’t help themselves.
“The profession chooses you. You have to have a natural affinity and affection for animals,” she said. “My favourite part of being a veterinary technician is just being a jack of all trades. We wear a lot of different hats. On any given day, we are doing dentistry, we are doing surgery, we are doing x-rays, we are doing lab work, working with clients on education – there are just many different tools in your belt that you can use.”
She says it is a unique profession to be in, especially considering the four-legged patients she sees on a daily basis.
“It is a selfless job. You don’t get told ‘thank you,’ your patients are generally terrified of you, they don’t understand that you are trying to help them,” she said. “There isn’t that much gratification in that way, like there would be in human medicine. It can make it that much sweeter, though: you are helping an animal that doesn’t even know that you are helping.”
She believes earning the Vet Tech of the Year award wouldn’t have happened if it hadn’t been for the team she works with at the Laurelwood clinic.
“I have been here long enough that we are all friends. Everyone can tell when someone needs an extra hand, or a bit of extra support,” she said.
She also has some advice for young people looking to get into the veterinary world as a career. It isn’t easy, but it is possible.
“I would tell them to get as much experience as you can. It is tough to break into the field. Volunteer somewhere. Even if you are too young to work at a clinic, volunteer walking dogs at the humane society or in your neighbourhood. Maybe it is pet sitting – just anything that you can do. It can be hard to get in if you don’t have the experience, so do what you can with what you have,” she said.