Mercy's Sandra Bertholf '97, M.S. '18 Finds Teaching a Full Circle Experience

Sandra Bertholf ’97, M.S. ’18 feels the full circle nature of her work every day. She finds instructing students in the same Veterinary Technology program she graduated from a truly gratifying experience.

As the hiring manager at an animal hospital where she worked for 20 years, Sandra says she began to clearly see how the solid preparation sets Mercy College graduates apart from other job candidates. “This is a line of work where it’s not enough to love animals,” said Bertholf, who explains that often animal lovers see the soft touch of veterinary professions while disregarding the science.

From years of training as an extern on the clinical side, Sandra began to realize the impact she could have on the training of these students from the beginning. It was that calling that drove her in a new and inspired direction, signing on as a member of the Mercy faculty full time in 2014.

One of the first lessons she imparts to any students who enter her classroom is that a love of animals is crucial to the work, but can not be the only reason for entering the profession. “Our patients can’t speak to us, they can’t tell us what’s going on so it’s a whole other level of challenge,” said Bertholf.

From day one in her classroom, the role of critical thinking and problem-solving skills are a primary focus. Those fundamental skills have served her well through many years of encountering furry and feathered patients, and now teaching those skills has become another passion. “Mercy gave me the foundation that I needed to be able to solve problems when I don’t have all the answers in front of me,” added Bertholf.

Along with the regular coursework, voluntary work done through Mercy’s program is an extreme source of pride and fulfillment for Bertholf. Through the outreach of Mercy’s program, Veterinary Technology students have provided essential care to underserved communities through spay and neutering clinics. This volunteer work, in addition to the global experience trips they coordinate for students, travelling to places like Costa Rica and Peru to care for animals, helps to renew her spirit. “There are some beautiful stories that are students get to be a part of through their training,” she said.

In a practical sense, mental and emotional wellness is another part of the curriculum Bertholf is resolute about incorporating for her students. “I tell the students ‘you’re going to be the one who needs to be there in that animal’s worst moments.’ It will take being mentally tough enough to step up to the plate and put your focus on that animal,” said Bertholf. Her recognition of the stresses tied to the profession she prepares them for comes from experience, but her desire to teach clearly comes from the heart.