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Suffolk resident earns TCC faculty award

A Suffolk resident is the recipient of a high honor given to faculty members at Tidewater Community College.

Megan Taliaferro, 41, earned the Faculty Special Achievement Award, selected by her peers, for her work setting up the college’s first veterinary assistant certificate program. It is the only accredited collegiate program for veterinary assisting in Hampton Roads and the first program in Virginia to be accredited by the National Association of Veterinary Technicians in America, Taliaferro said.

“I’m really proud to say I was able to do that,” Taliaferro said. “It was a very exciting moment when we got the letter of approval.”

The award was presented Thursday during the college’s fall convocation at the Roper Performing Arts Center.

The program accepts 15 to 18 students every spring semester for the two-semester program. Taliaferro teaches all the classes, which include plenty of hands-on training with animals.

“It’s a very small, personal program, which I think is one of the best parts of it,” Taliaferro said.

The program also includes off-site internships in local veterinary clinics all over Hampton Roads, so there is always one close to the students even though they must travel to the college’s Virginia Beach campus for classes, Taliaferro said.

Taliaferro is well known in Suffolk, as she formerly worked at Nansemond Veterinary Clinic prior to moving to TCC. She also worked at Banfield Animal Hospital in Chesterfield after graduating from the Virginia Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine in 2002. She earned her bachelor’s degree from the College of William & Mary.

Taliaferro said the world of veterinary medicine has changed a lot in recent decades, even in the mere 15 years since her career started. The changes have necessitated formal training for veterinary assistants, she added.

“Veterinary medicine has advanced and exploded the last 20 years,” she said. “It used to be when veterinary medicine wasn’t as advanced, it was easy to walk into a veterinary clinic and say you want to be a veterinary assistant and get trained on the job. Now when we diagnose an animal with cancer, we’re saying, ‘Guess what? We can do radiation. We can do chemotherapy.’ We’re offering our clients the kind of medicine that they would choose for themselves. It’s just so advanced that our veterinary assistants need to know all this right off the bat.”

Taliaferro said many of the college’s first class of veterinary assistant students, who graduated in December 2016, are working at the veterinary hospitals where they did their internships during the program. Four of her current students have even already been hired by their first-semester internship locations before even finishing the program.

“It’s working out really well for the students and the employers,” Taliaferro said. “It’s a very practical program. It’s not all theoretical. From Day 1 they’re working with live animals.”

Students get the opportunity to get up close and personal not only with dogs and cats but also with larger animals. Students visit local stables as well as the Virginia Zoo in Norfolk to get a broader view of today’s veterinary medicine.

“By the time they graduate, they have 240 hours of on-the-job training in local veterinary clinics, Taliaferro said. “When they graduate, they’re very proficient in a working hospital.”

Taliaferro said she is living the dream. Throughout her career in private practice, one of her favorite parts of the job was having interns and students, she said.

“I just loved teaching and incorporating that into the day-to-day clinic life,” she said. “It’s really just been a joy working with the students and helping them start their career in veterinary medicine. It’s just been a pleasure.”

Taliaferro said the program is accepting applications for its third class, which will begin its program in January. She is also in the process of developing an associate degree program for veterinary technology, which would be the first new program of its kind in Virginia in 37 years.

Taliaferro and her husband, Tom, have two daughters, Evelyn, 13, and Claire, 11. They have a cat named Owen and a yellow lab named Luke.