Veterinary Hero

Chimene Peterson

Chimene Peterson, RVT, CVT, grew up on a farm in Iowa, so animals have always been a major part of her life. On the farm were beef cattle, horses, chickens, pigs, and of course, cats and dogs. Her yard had a was vast timberland with a creek running through it, where she would roam and play. “I feel like I developed a good connection with nature early on,” Peterson said during a dvm360 interview. “I mean, some of my favorite smells are still fresh cut alfalfa and plowed dirt.”

Peterson is the recipient of the 2023 Credentialed Veterinary Technician in dvm360’s “Veterinary Heroes” program. Nominated by peers and selected for the recognition by a committee of veterinary professionals, 15 award recipients were chosen in various veterinary industry roles and specialties in the third year of the program.

Peterson always knew she wanted to do something with animals for her career. “I don’t ever remember not knowing that,” she said. However, she did stray for a bit from this dream after graduating high school, when she was set to pursue court reporting. “And then I just felt unsettled about it and didn’t feel like it was me,” she said. Peterson ended up having an epiphany while sitting in her bedroom. She noticed a magazine clipping of a veterinary technician program that she had posted to her bulletin board when she was about 12 years old, and it inspired her to go to veterinary technician school. “It was kind of a light bulb moment for me, and I haven’t really looked back,” she said.

Peterson received her associate degree in veterinary technology at Kirkwood Community College in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. She then became a registered veterinary technician in Iowa and certified veterinary technician in Minnesota and has maintained them both for the past 29 years. She first worked at a private specialty practice (theriogenology) in Minnesota, and then she went to back to home to work at Iowa State University’s Lloyd Veterinary Medical Center in Ames, focusing on internal medicine and ophthalmology. She furthered broadened her ophthalmology experience while working at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis and a Blue Pearl veterinary hospital in Minnesota. Peterson then returned to Iowa, where she is again teaching ophthalmology at Iowa State University.

Her love for ophthalmology blossomed when she noticed a lack of information on the topic. “A lot of people aren’t really comfortable with eyes, and there’s a void there. And I felt like once I learned ophthalmology, I could really help with that void,” Peterson said. She also enjoys ophthalmology because it’s typically a happy place. “We’re not usually seeing terminal patients,” she noted. “[We’re] giving vision back to pets, seeing them wake up from anesthesia after cataract surgery and seeing them stare around the room. And then when their owners come to pick them up, the joy that the clients and the pets have is awesome.”

Her biggest professional accomplishment has been making a difference in people’s education. “That gets confirmed when the residents finish their ophthalmology residency, and then they go out to the real world and [are] working somewhere and call me [to] either ask for help or say, ‘Oh, I really miss you. I wish you were here working with me,’” Peterson said.

In her personal life, Peterson said her greatest achievement has been raising 2 boys, now aged 20 and 13 years, who have developed into “kind, intelligent, functional adults.” She was sure to instill in them that they don’t have to conquer the world to have an impact, but rather, they can do many small things that are just as important to make others’ days.

Growing up, Peterson’s parents served as role models for her and taught her kindness and a good work ethic. Her dad worked on the farm, and her mom was a nurse who took Peterson to nursing homes to spend time and participate in activities with older patients. “I feel like she taught me a lot of compassion and patience with people,” she said.

Peterson carried this into her adult life by having her yellow Labrador retriever named Quest, a Canine Good Citizen, accompany her to nursing homes. “First you go in there, and they talk to Quest,” she said. “And they always wanted to feed him and pet him. And then you can just see them relax, and they start opening up about their own lives and their own pets. And I think it’s really healthy because they get to share their own life with someone younger, so they feel like it’s getting carried on.”

Peterson’s award nominator wrote, “Chimene is organized, proactive, effective, and thoughtful. She is a great problem-solver and can help troubleshoot clinical equipment as well as surgical devices. She frequently recognizes opportunities to provide extra clinical service (eg, calls ahead [and offers to move up clients’ appointments] and fit them in earlier if we have a surgical case cancel) and has great ideas to improve patient care or clinical efficiency. These qualities significantly contribute to our ability to meet the heavy caseload the ophthalmology service currently manages.”

On winning a Veterinary Heroes award, Peterson said, “I feel like it’s very prestigious, and I’m honored to be picked. I’m even more honored that my peers nominated me for the award because it makes me feel like I’ve made a difference in their lives.”

July 2023