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The University Magazine

Med tech grad’s patients are real animals

Stephanie Otto ’98 took a walk on the wild side and found a rewarding new job.

When an elephant gets a fever, when a gazelle goes off her feed, when a flamingo is feeling blue, the veterinarians at the National Zoo might order a blood test to determine what’s wrong.

That’s when Stephanie Otto ’98 (medical technology) goes into action. Otto recently joined the staff of the zoo’s veterinary hospital as a lab technician. Her duties range from conducting blood tests to testing the water in marine animal tanks.

“Our job is to support the veterinary staff and help keep the animals healthy.” Although the patients might be lions, lizards or laughing kookaburras, she says the laboratory principles are similar to human labs even if their chemistry differs from humans. Most of the lab equipment is the same as what’s found in hospital settings where Ottoe has worked.

She began her career at the Clifton Springs (N.Y.) Hospital and Clinic, where she spent a year. Then she returned to her hometown, where she worked as a hematologist at Albany (N.Y.) Medical Center and then at New York Oncology and Hematology in Albany for a total of eight years.

In the meantime, thinking she might want to move away from medicine, she earned a master’s degree in public history and museum studies from the University of Albany and began looking online for a museum job. That’s where she spotted the National Zoo’s ad. She had the requisite skills and experience and the job sounded interesting, so she applied. She started her new position in November 2008.

“It’s the best job I’ve had in a long time. This is a nice place to work.” The National Zoo, located at 3001 Connecticut Ave. in Washington, D.C., shelters about 2,000 animals from about 400 different species, many of which are endangered.

Otto’s job doesn’t generally include direct contact with the residents. And that’s OK – she’s allergic to some animals.

She encourages others with backgrounds in medical technology to consider zoos as potential employers.

“I never would have thought of it,” she says. “I found this job completely by accident.”