Friday, May 26, 2017

Early Career Member Profile: Nora Hickey

Nora Hickey is a veterinarian working at the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission. 

1. What is your current research/position?
My current position is Program Veterinarian at the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission. I work along with three AFS-FHS certified Fish Pathologists to provide fish health services for wild and hatchery Pacific salmon in the care of twenty treaty tribes in Western Washington. I started this position last year after graduating from vet school. This June I will have been in the position for one year.

2. What sparked your interest in aquatic animal health?
Aquatic animal health was a way to combine fish with medicine. I’ve always kept aquariums, and during my undergrad at MIT I volunteered at the New England Aquarium in the Freshwater Gallery with Scott Dowd of Project Piaba, which was incredibly awesome. A lot of my friends from MIT were going the pre-med route to become human doctors, which seemed like a very interesting career. When I discovered vets working with fish at the New England Aquarium and in zebrafish labs at MIT, I decided to become a fish vet.

3. What has been your favorite fisheries-related job?
Anything with field work. When I was in college, I spent four summers working for the University of Wisconsin-Madison Center for Limnology on the fish crew sampling lakes for a long term ecological research project. This involved activities like electrofishing for giant muskies and wrestling rogue snapping turtles out of fyke nets. It was very fun, especially considering how terrible I am at fishing—I could never have caught any of those fish on my own.

4. How did you find your current position?
My current position was advertised on a variety of mailing lists for aquatic animal health professionals. I wasn’t sure about applying for it because it was advertised in September, and I wasn’t graduating until May of the following year, but fortunately my mentor encouraged me to apply.

AFS-FHS and other organizations have mailing lists where fish health positions are regularly advertised, and I think it is really important to start reading position advertisements early on in your education, even if you aren’t ready to apply for jobs yet. I monitored job advertisements throughout vet school to get an idea of what the average fish veterinary position looked like—salary, required qualifications, responsibilities, hours (including after-hours expectations), and progression—so I could have a better idea of what I wanted when I started applying for jobs.

5. What do you like about your current position?
I really enjoy working for the tribes because they are incredibly committed to protecting both the salmon and the ecosystems they live in.

Clinical work is my favorite part of my current position. Spending a day at a hatchery looking at fish and working with the hatchery staff to figure out strategies to improve fish health is very rewarding. I usually spend several days a week in the field doing clinical work, often more—spawning season is my favorite!

6. When and why did you first become involved with AFS and the FHS?
I joined AFS and the FHS last summer right after I started my job. This past April I attended the AFS-FHS meeting in East Lansing, which I found very useful. The meeting was a good opportunity to see how different regions and agencies are approaching fish health. The talks were incredibly diverse, covering topics from vaccination and disease transmission to coral diseases to laboratory methods to determine antimicrobial resistance—but I was able to take away information from each of these talks that was applicable to my own work with the health of salmon in the Pacific Northwest.

7. What are your long-term professional goals (FHS or otherwise)?I was fortunate to have an excellent mentor in Dr. Myron Kebus, who helped me get the experience and knowledge I needed to secure a position as a fish vet. There are many vet students who are interested in fish medicine, but it can be difficult for them to get access to experiences with fish veterinarians for a variety of reasons—difficulty establishing contacts in the field, a shortage of formal externship opportunities, and competition for educational opportunities to name several. I would like to collaborate with other fish health professionals to make a more accessible path for vet students to gain knowledge and experience in fish health. This is something that Doug Munson with Idaho Department of Fish and Game has been working very hard on for several years, and I am hoping to collaborate with him on this project.

8. Do you have any tips or advice for others that may be looking for a job soon?
Shadow people who have the job you want. This will give you specific experience and knowledge that shows you are serious about that particular position. While you are shadowing, pay attention to how the person you are following actually spends their time—and make sure that this aligns with how you imagined the job. I think that liking your job is at least as important as salary, work hours, benefits, etc