"The Work is Healing:"
Drawing Blood and Strength

By Raquel Mueller

For Rose Wahl, an LVT at MSU’s Veterinary Medical Center, healing animals is just as much about caring for their medical needs as it is about supporting everyone involved in their care.

Rose Wahl with Danny

Wahl’s journey to veterinary nursing started through an unlikely connection at a high school party, when a stranger told her about applying to veterinary nursing school. This off-hand comment drove her to research the profession. “What I liked about veterinary nursing was the patient care, as opposed to the diagnostic work of a veterinarian,” Wahl says. Her work since has involved drawing strength from a network of connections, including her patients.

“One of my favorite parts of veterinary nursing is being creative about what you can do specifically to help this patient that no one else has thought of. Or, what I can do—how I can creatively make this animal a little more comfortable, whether that’s giving it a little extra bedding or putting a fan in front of a big malamute who’s too hot. The patients can’t tell us what they need—that’s where we come in. I enjoy the challenge of trying to figure out what’s going to help,” says Wahl. According to her, it’s always painful to see patients in rough condition, but being able to help them is worth the heartache.

Wahl started working at the Hospital in the intensive care unit (ICU), then added the blood donor program to her docket. Recently, she transitioned from the ICU to internal medicine. Blood donation continues to be a mainstay and holds a special place for Wahl. “It is a strictly volunteer-based program—it is people who volunteer their healthy animals to give blood. Each blood donation can save two lives,” she explains.

Rose examining dog

The donors are healthy cats and dogs, and recipients of blood donations are often anemic, severely injured, undergoing surgery, or have immune issues. Thanks to these community volunteers, the lives of other animals are saved.

Unlike her critical care patients, those who come to donate blood are often thrilled to be visiting Wahl. “The people are happy to be there, and the dogs are excited to be there. A lot of the owners say that they turn onto the corner of Hagadorn Road, and the dogs start getting all excited to donate blood. That makes my heart happy because I know I’ve made it a good experience for them,” says Wahl. “Moreover, I get to work with these happy, healthy animals to collect their blood, and I get to see it used on the critical care side to save lives. It’s a really rewarding job! It’s the perfect combination for me because I enjoy helping the sick and critical patients, but it takes an emotional toll, so then I feed my soul with happy and healthy donors.”

Balancing the challenges of the job by bolstering the moods of those around her is a crucial part of Wahl’s work. She notes that the teamwork at the Hospital is inspiring. “We have so many different services, so many different specialties. It’s such an amazing feeling when you see all those people come together to focus on and save this one patient and make people’s lives better.”

This feeling is reciprocal and essential to her love of the career. “There are days that I am feeling drained or low, and then I come in and one of my coworkers or one of my doctors is excited and enthusiastic about a patient, or there’s a new student telling everyone, ‘I got a blood draw today!’ That feeds my soul and pumps me back up. And I try to do the same thing for the people that I work with when I see they’re having a hard day.”

Her 30-year career in veterinary nursing is built on a wealth of skill and compassion for her patients and her fellow veterinary professionals. For Wahl, it’s essential to sustain herself on the job. “Associate with people that are enthusiastic in the job—like we do with the students—so you can continue to experience that enthusiasm,” she advises. Working with new learners also reminds her that her veterinary nursing skills were hard-won and not to take them for granted. Going to work for Wahl is about appreciating the positive feedback loop that’s possible from working with her team and clients—a loop that allows her to support students when managing a struggling patient, and which allows others to support her in turn.

“Veterinary nursing is a profession of love, and it is worth every ounce of difficulty. There are hard days, but it is a rewarding, challenging, exciting career that I don’t regret going into.”