Pivoting as a Mid-Career Professional with Leslie Ferguson, RVT
In this interview series, we follow veterinary professionals working in various facets of veterinary medicine. We’re learning about the plethora of career options in vet med and how these professionals transitioned from practice to an alternative career. We hope to educate mid-career professionals, and new professionals alike, on the alternatives to private practice and how to prepare for a pivot in the future. If you like this series and would like to learn more, join us for our 3-hour summit in September by registering here.
Our first speaker is our own Director of Marketing & Communications, Leslie Ferguson, a Certified Fear Free Professional, Registered Veterinary Technician, and President-Elect of the Purdue University College of Veterinary Medicine Alumni Board.
Tell us a little bit about your journey in veterinary medicine.
Leslie: I’m a registered veterinary technician, registered since 2002 - started off in small animal practice. I love the school I went to, I did my undergrad work at Purdue and then several years later went back and got my vet tech degree from Purdue’s College of Veterinary Medicine. It’s a really great opportunity for technicians to learn alongside DVM students. I worked in small animal practice and really enjoyed the education, working with clients, pets, and the staff. Veterinary medicine people are my people so it’s always been a joy. I’ve had a unique experience of knowing people outside of vet med which helped me see possibilities of things to do outside of veterinary medicine.
You graduated in 2002 from Purdue’s nursing [technician] school. You started in practice and then transitioned into industry. Can you tell us how you transitioned, how you learned about that position, and what that position was?
Leslie: Back in West Lafayette, Indiana, our territory manager from Merial, one of my good friends from undergrad was giving a Lunch and Learn talk about heartworm prevention. She mentioned to me that there was an opportunity to cover for two people going on maternity leave and she thought I’d be great. I hadn’t really thought about moving into industry especially that early in my career because I hadn’t been out that long at all. Even back then, I had a little bit of “I’m ready to do something else” because people can be crazy sometimes and when you get that day in and day out in the practice, you need to take a step back.
I worked in the Chicagoland area for about 6 months with Merial as a temporary territory manager and had the opportunity to move into an inside sales position in the corporate headquarters outside of Atlanta. I was there for a short amount of time because my goal was to have my own territory. So I had to prove myself with my own clients. I was then given a territory in the Tampa Bay area. I loved it. It was a great opportunity to stay in vet med and use your education as far as working with the teams. Going from clinic to clinic and developing relationships was really fun for me. Helping them understand why flea, tick, and heartworm prevention and vaccines are important. And I really enjoyed that.
Do you think that some of the skills that you had as a technician and working in practice translated over into this position in sales?
Leslie: It does. You learn resilience because you have days that you walk in [to the clinic] and everything is different. In vet med you can’t guarantee that everything is going to be the same. Being able to be resilient and work with different people and different cases and then moving that into having a new goal to reach, how I’m going to do that, and how I’m going to talk to veterinarians and technicians about it. I think that, not only my education as a veterinary technician, but also my undergrad degree was helpful in being able to enjoy talking to people. I’m such an introvert, but every role I’ve ever had has forced me to be an extrovert. It’s a challenge to be able to speak in front of people and give presentations. In my industry career, I’ve spoken in front of thousands of people. It’s nice to be able to grow [in that way], be better, and bring veterinary technology to the front.
I can imagine if you walk into a clinic and don’t have [clinical] experience [how hard it must be to build trust with them].
Leslie: It’s so easy to build that trust when you’ve been in their shoes because you know what it’s like to have five euthanasias in one day. That’s a a lot. And you can really be empathetic and understanding of what's happening. They understand that I know about the products from a medical standpoint, why they should be used, when they should be used, and when other opportunities should be considered like surgery. There’s that initial rapport that you can build as a veterinary professional when you’re going into a clinic you don’t know and I think that was really easy for me. They know that I’ve walked in their shoes and done their job.
It sounds like this job stumbled upon you. Did you have any idea that a job like this was an option when you were in school?
Leslie: I don’t think I did. I got into veterinary nursing the way many people do - because you love animals. My undergrad degree is in liberal arts and publishing and we were publishing general reference books about cats and dogs, so they let us bring our animals in. And I thought to myself, why can’t I just work with animals? And that’s how I got into vet med. Vet med can really be a stepping stone. There’s this general understanding that you can be a vet, an office manager, a nurse; you work in referral, private practice, ambulatory. There’s a lot of different things you can do. But we’re not always presented with the opportunities outside of that like government, nutrition work, industry, pharmaceutical companies. Outside of [knowing Gina], [industry] was not a goal of mine.
Knowing that you have options really helps when you’re ready to transition to something different. Talk to us a little bit about where you are now. Did you go back into practice? How are you using your skills now?
Leslie: I started using my skills again after a huge break. I was working with animal health pharmaceutical companies for more than 10 years and moved from sales into marketing. I love marketing, it’s a lot of fun and it’s a big challenge. Maybe a year before the pandemic, we’d move and we adopted a new dog. I started taking her to a practice close to our house. They had all of these RVTs and they knew about Fear-Free. I was very happy I found them and while I was there they asked if I wanted to work with them. I decided to start working part-time again, a Saturday here and there. I’m also using my skills as the Director of Marketing and Communications for BlackDVM Network, which is a new role. And I’m loving it because it marries veterinary medicine and working in marketing; being able to communicate with and educate with a demographic that is close to my heart and wanting to be able to see diversity in veterinary medicine.
You’re such a multi-faceted veterinary professional. You’ve done it all it seems like. Thank you for being willing to share your story with everyone around your journey in vet med. We assume that everyone has the same pathway and we don’t always know how others are moving and shaking in this industry.
If you had to give one piece of advice for someone transitioning from practice to industry or other careers in vet med, what would you tell them?
Leslie: Looking to your connections is really important. It doesn’t matter where you’re coming from, it’s about where you want to go. You might not have had the experience [outside of practice], but that doesn’t mean you can’t go for it. Keep your mind open and talk to people about opportunities even before you’re looking for something. That way you have someone you can go to and ask questions about. Genuine networking is invaluable in vet med.
Watch the live interview here.