Five-year-old Jade Cheney was absolutely devastated when her pet gerbil passed away. She kept wondering if there was anything she could have done to save him.
It was her mom’s words that changed her life forever: She couldn’t save her gerbil, but when she grew up, she could become a veterinarian and help other animals.
More than 20 years later, Cheney, of Addison, is now a certified veterinary technician after graduating from Joliet Junior College’s veterinary medical technology program in 2014 – at the top of her class.
“JJC made me feel like I was back on my career path,” Cheney said. “This program took a lot of blood, sweat, and tears, but it was such a great program – it’s tough but it has a 98 percent pass rate for the National Board exams. You get a lot of hands on experience and practice, and get to go out into the field. I’m happy at this place in my life of transition and adulthood.”
Before JJC, Cheney attended Loyola University Chicago, with a plan to go to veterinary school.
But the coursework was difficult, and things didn’t work out. Although she graduated with a bachelor’s degree, her goal of becoming a veterinarian was unresolved.
After that, she started volunteering at the DuPage Animal Hospital. She eventually became a veterinary assistant there, and after a few years, she struck up a conversation with a JJC veterinary technician student who was working there as part of an externship.
The student raved about JJC’s vet tech program, which got Cheney thinking: what if she took vet tech classes at JJC to do the same thing? Instead of working as an assistant, she could go behind the scenes and have more responsibility with the animals – something she had always wanted to do – without having to take on so many years of school to become a veterinarian.
The very next semester, Cheney was in a vet tech class at JJC.
When she first started, she expected the program to be easy; after all, she had gone through college once before. But the coursework surprised her. It was challenging, yet interesting, and involved a lot of hard work and dedication.
As a certified veterinary technician, Cheney graduated with two job offers: a promotion at the DuPage Animal Hospital, and a permanent position with one of her externships, AbbVie, a biomedical, pharmaceutical research lab in North Chicago. Cheney couldn’t make up her mind because she enjoyed working at both places, so for a while, she worked for both companies, until she ultimately decided to stay with the DuPage Animal Hospital. She realized that after eight years, there was never a day where she didn’t want to be there.
Like Cheney, JJC’s vet teach program averages at least two job openings for every graduate, said Dr. Scott Keller, veterinarian and JJC veterinary medical technology department chair.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, veterinary technician careers are expected to grow 30 percent by 2020. Vet tech jobs have been on the rise since 2008, and were deemed one of the most recession-proof jobs, according to Keller.
Cheney credits JJC’s program for preparing her so well, and teaching her the hard lessons as a student.
“At JJC, I not only learned about veterinary medicine, but I learned ethics and professionalism,” she explained. “While this program has confidently prepared me with the technical skills and knowledge I will utilize for the next chapter of my life in veterinary medicine, it also taught me the importance of ethics in this field and how intrinsic that is to the way we practice medicine.”
In addition to her degree, Cheney also gained a group of great friends at JJC – bonds that became strong due to the challenging coursework, experiences and camaraderie shared between them.
“You go through a lot together,” she said. “There’s a lot of crying, and laughing, but we all miss it. We’re jealous of the first year students. We wish we could do it all over again.”
Cheney and her friends took advantage of the many resources offered at JJC to help them through their journey, such as the study rooms in the library. Cheney also made tutoring appointments with her professors as well as Vet Tech Tutor Kathleen Bilski.
“The professors were so accommodating,” Cheney said. “They have a wealth of experience and we learned from their experience in the field. The vet tech program, with their professors – they’ve hit the jackpot. I loved all of them.”
In addition to her externship with AbbVie, Cheney also did an externship with the Chicago Veterinary Emergency and Specialty Center. Emergency medicine is where she definitely excelled, according to Keller.
“Her experience in emergency and critical care – the sky’s the limit for Jade. I see big things in her future,” he said. “She definitely has these skills, and performs on a high level.”
Cheney said she plans on pursuing specialty veterinary medicine in 2015.
In addition to graduating from JJC’s vet tech program at the top of her class, she also received scholarships, including one provided by the DuPage Community Foundation. These scholarships helped offset her college costs, though they weren’t very high to begin with, thanks to the low tuition of a community college, and a chargeback which allowed her, as an out of district student, to pay in district tuition.
“I love this program. I’m so happy I chose JJC,” Cheney said.
For more information about JJC’s Veterinary Medical Technology program, visit www.jjc.edu/academics/divisions/career-technical/vet-tech/Pages/default.aspx, or contact Meg Kemper at email@example.com or 815-280-2247.