A Rehab Technician Who Leads by Example
When she isn’t getting patients back on their feet, Purdue’s Jessica Bowditch is training the next generation of veterinary professionals.
With a voice as warm as sunshine, Jessica Bowditch, RVT, VTS, CCRP, bubbles over with enthusiasm for her career in physical rehabilitation.
“When you walk into rehab, it’s like a rainbow hits you,” she said. “The students come in and say, ‘It just feels so happy in here.’ I want the dogs to feel that way. Seeing a patient walk out of here that couldn’t walk before, and have a great quality of life, just makes you feel good.”
This article is the first in a series on veterinary nurse empowerment and the people accomplishing great things in the field.
Although she’s always been drawn to animals and medicine, Bowditch didn’t know when she was in high school that the specialty of veterinary physical rehabilitation existed.
“Freshman in college, I was trying to decide between [the human and veterinary fields] because I love athletic training and sports medicine, but I also really loved animals,” she said.
At that point, Bowditch couldn’t imagine that she one day would become a registered veterinary technician working at the Purdue University Veterinary Hospital or that she would become the first veterinary nurse in Indiana to achieve the veterinary technician specialist credential in physical rehabilitation from the Academy of Physical Rehabilitation Technicians. Only about 20 veterinary nurses are credentialed in physical rehabilitation worldwide.
“I can’t wait to see how we grow and how many more rehab techs we get to add on in the future,” she said.
An Expanding Service
After being hired at Purdue, Bowditch worked with neurologist Stephanie Thomovsky, DVM, MS, DACVIM, CCRP, to create the hospital’s rehab service from scratch. Within a few months, the doctor and technician built a clinic complete with physio balls, rocker boards, wobble boards, an underwater treadmill, a therapeutic laser, a TENS unit that does NMES, and therapeutic ultrasound.
“It’s been fun to see it grow and to see the other doctors in the hospital realize what rehab can do for their patients,” Bowditch said. “Purdue is building a new hospital, and we’re getting a big room with an in-ground pool. We have big goals for this service.”
In school, Bowditch participated in basketball, volleyball, soccer and track. A black belt in taekwondo, she is fascinated by anatomy and physiology, making physical rehab the perfect fit for her. In addition, she enjoys the challenge of persuading animal patients to participate in therapy without fear.
“The first rehab session is figuring out what they will allow me to do and what works for them,” she said. “For instance, we had two TPLOs recently, both six weeks postop. One doesn’t like the rocker board, and one loves the rocker board. I’m going to do the same type of exercise for each of them, but I have to get them to perform it without being scared in different ways.”
Sharing Her Knowledge
Educating veterinary and veterinary technician students is a large part of her job at Purdue. She does rounds, teaches on the floor and presents didactic lectures.
“I try to integrate the physical rehab service enough so that the students are aware it’s an option for their patients,” she said. “I am teaching on the floor all the time. If [students] ever need help with their patients or want to be there while I do rehab with their patients, that’s always something I can do.”
She learns from others, too.
“We have 18 VTS technicians in 11 different specialties here,” she said. “We challenge each other and watch each other grow and watch each other do better.”
Like many industries, the veterinary field is struggling with understaffing and the stress of taking on more duties to compensate.
“We want to do our best for our patients, but we don’t have enough bodies,” Bowditch said. “It’s not sustainable. Some of the main things that would help is staffing in general, but also maybe a little bit of a pay raise, especially for technicians.”
Outside of Work
Bowditch believes that the industrywide Veterinary Nurse Initiative could elevate the profession. The initiative seeks credential standardization across all 50 states as well as a title change to veterinary nurse, which would replace certified veterinary technician (CVT), licensed veterinary technician (LVT), licensed veterinary medical technician (LVMT) and registered veterinary technician (RVT).
“When you talk about the VNI and going after state recognition and having this credential that every state sees as an actual credential, I think that is super important,” she said.
A natural go-getter, she writes industry articles and speaks at conferences. Maintaining healthy boundaries was something she struggled with early in her career, she said.
“It’s easier to have a work-life balance now,” she said. “I still have goals, both personally and professionally, but I’ve learned and taught myself it’s OK to say no sometimes. I don’t need to do everything at one time. No one’s going to be disappointed in that, and I shouldn’t be disappointed in that.”
Jackie Brown is a former veterinary assistant who writes for pet and veterinary industry media. She is a contributing writer for National Geographic’s “Complete Guide to Pet Health, Behavior and Happiness,” a contributing editor at Dogster and Catster magazines, and the former editor of numerous pet magazines. Contact her at jackiebrownwriter.wordpress.com.
MEET JESSICA BOWDITCH
- Age: 31
- Home: Lafayette, Indiana
- Employer: Purdue University Veterinary Hospital
- Credentials: Registered veterinary technician, veterinary technician specialist (physical rehabilitation), certified canine rehabilitation practitioner, Fear Free certified
- Years active: 9
- Pets: Australian shepherds Echo (7) and Dash (1)
One of Jessica Bowditch’s most memorable cases was a greyhound named Wendy who, despite a debilitating fibrocartilaginous embolus (FCE), defied the odds. Wendy was admitted to the Purdue University ER about a year after the rehab service opened and was placed on a ventilator for 10 days.
“Usually, when dogs go on the vent, they don’t come off it, or they have a very hard time coming off it,” Bowditch said. “When a dog goes on the ventilator, ICU will contact us in rehab to continue to work their muscles and do range of motion and massage.”
Coming off the ventilator, Wendy couldn’t walk, so Jessica and the team rehabbed the dog for six months, her owner attending almost every session. Wendy eventually could stand and sit and was moved to outpatient rehab.
“It was fun to see a patient do so well from being on a ventilator to now walking and running,” she said. “That’s why we’re here: to improve quality of life to the best of our ability for these patients.
“There were so many doctors and technicians who worked with her. We had a walking Wendy party at the end. Everyone was there.”