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Practice Makes Perfect with Joe Popowski

When it comes to clinical skills, you can never have too much practice. For Cummings School veterinary students preparing to make the transition from classroom to clinic, they now have a new ally in mastering the suturing, bandaging, and hand tying that can leave students in a cold sweat. His name is Joe Popowski.

While Joe is a familiar face around campus, having worked as a vet tech at Cummings School for 16 years, he now has more face time with the students, thanks to his new position: Teaching Tech. Within this new role, which he began in October 2016, Joe is dedicated to helping students master clinical skills through wet labs, one-to-one tutoring, and the creation of new teaching tools such as videos and models.

It’s not your typical job for a vet tech, but it is the perfect job for Joe. With 22 years of experience as a veterinary technician, Joe has spent 16 years at Cummings School, gaining experience in Foster Hospital for Small Animals, the Pathology department, and in the anatomy building.

His skillset and mindset are perfectly suited to his new position. From the preparation of lab specimens, to the organization of wet labs, and the hands-on demonstration of techniques, Joe combines all the specialties that he’s developed over the years, with his passion and enthusiasm for educating students.

For nervous students who are preparing for their first spay, spending time with Joe in the lab can mean the difference between self-questioning and self-confidence. And, for students who have had little experience with handling animals, it can be the difference between a successful exam and a cat scratch.

As part of his job, Joe is developing models for students to practice clinical skills on. A creative and industrious professional, Joe’s inspiration for practice models often comes from household items, including children’s toys. A cat-handling model he’s creating incorporates mouse-traps in the legs, and a bouncing ball that causes the animal to squirm when loosely held. Other models he’s worked on include an avian air sac model composed of a stuffed animal and an inverted sandwich bag, a rabbit intubation model, and a IV catheter model.

He’s also been creating instructional videos of experienced clinicians demonstrating various clinical skills, which are available to students 24/7. Joe is detailed and diligent in creating these videos, production typically takes Joe just three days. As he says, “I don’t like the sun to set on my projects”.

Joe is an enthusiastic educator with a can-do attitude. In addition to regularly scheduled wet-labs, he makes a point to make himself, and his educational materials available to students outside of official class time. Students are welcome to email him to set up time outside of class to practice their skills, or to set up a smaller lab with a few friends to get some extra practice. No matter what the request, Joe hardly ever says no.

For Joe, his work with the students is a two-way street. Even though he’s been performing the same procedures for years, he says that the students give him a new perspective. They have a different way of looking at things that keeps Joe’s job fresh.

In his free time, Joe has been brushing up on some of the new skills required in his new position. He’s taken it upon himself to attend classes in the evening in Marketing and Communication. He sees communication as a key ingredient in successful teaching, commenting, “If I can’t present myself well to the students and do it articulately, then what good am I?” Answer: Joe is a lot of good, to a lot of people.

It’s not hard to find a student with something nice to say about Joe. Brianna Molter Gentile, V18 wrote:

    Joe was a lifesaver before my spay week!  He was able to get me a cadaver on short notice to practice mock surgery and he helped me with suture patterns.  I know he is also making himself available for students at lunchtime to help with whatever skill you want to learn whether it is suture patterns, bandages, or catheter placement.  He is there for you and will figure out a way to model whatever you want to learn; you just have to ask! Also, Joe is the best cheerleader I have ever met that you never knew you needed. He always has a kind word for students in need of a pick-me-up!

And, as Lauren Rose, V18, simply put it, “Joe always goes out of his way for us and is such a valuable part of our veterinary education.”

The ultimate vision for Joe’s new role is that he will one day run the Multi-Purpose Teaching and Simulation Lab, for which the university is currently fundraising. The lab will be a center for hands-on learning, where students can access animal models, educational tools, and Joe.  While the plans for the Lab continue to develop, Joe has had an immediate positive impact on the current lab-learning component of the student curriculum.

From creative animal-model engineering and film production, to meticulous lab planning and enthusiastic instruction, Joe has proven to be the right man for the Teaching Tech position.  With plans for the new Multi-Purpose Teaching and Simulation Lab afoot, and Joe available for individual instruction, there has never been a better time for students to get the valuable hands-on experience they need to feel confident. After all, practice makes perfect.