Claire started her dog scanning business after completing her canine ultrasound training course with Vet Image Solutions in 2016. Before coming across the course online, she hadn’t even known that non-veterinarians were able to scan for pregnancy. In a remarkably short space of time, her work has led her to not only build up a strong animal scanning client base in Tameside and surrounding areas, but to make ultrasound her full-time career, ultimately becoming a human ultrasound technician whilst maintaining her animal scanning business.
None of this was planned from the start, and none of it was easy. I spoke to Claire just before Christmas to find out more about her ultrasound journey…
How did Claire build her scanning business?
Claire admits that getting her first paying clients took patience and perseverance. Rather than let her training fade from her memory as she waited for enquiries, however, Claire took an active approach during these first few months. She connected with a local breeder who had two pregnant chihuahuas, and scanned both of them once a week throughout their pregnancies, from day 28 through to whelping. The experience Claire gained from this was invaluable, and meant that when her first paying client came along, she could approach the scan with confidence.
Since those days, Claire’s emphasis on delivering a high quality, professional scanning service has earned her the loyalty of her clients, as well as the trust of her local veterinarian who regularly refers pregnancy scans to Animal Excellence. Claire also supports her local community by performing voluntary pregnancy checks at her local cat rescue shelter.
How did Claire approach learning ultrasound?
It was quite clear from our conversation that when Claire decides to learn something new, she immerses herself in knowledge. Claire’s background was in canine nutrition, and like most students, she came on a training course with no prior knowledge of ultrasound. “At first it’s a lot to take in. When you’re new to something and you’re out of your comfort zone, it’s all a bit scary… but I loved it, I loved learning everything.”
Claire was fascinated with the technology, spending any free time she could find researching online – anything to do with canine or feline scanning. She also found the Facebook group to be a great help, allowing her to learn through images shared by others, asking questions, and offering her own ideas and advice in return.
Claire wasn’t afraid to experiment with her scanner’s controls. Frequently using herself as a guinea pig, she would play with her depth, gain and focal points, to become familiar with how they worked and train herself into using them as second nature. A lot of people beginning with scanning are nervous about playing around with buttons, but Claire recalls: “I always remember Yvette saying at the training: as soon as you turn it off and back on again, it’ll go back to factory!”
An enriching skill
Personal development is all the rage at the moment, particularly at this time of year. Without intentionally jumping on that same bandwagon, there really is something to be said for truly committing to mastering a difficult skill like ultrasound scanning. As I discussed in my recent book on canine ultrasound scanning (to which Claire was an important contributor), becoming proficient involves a lot of different areas of the brain. Scanning is very practical, but it’s also very theoretical, which in many ways makes it quite a unique field to be in. Becoming proficient in this skill brings so many areas of the mind together as one, it really can be a very satisfying experience. It’s also a skill that you are constantly refining and improving – anyone who says they are no longer challenged by any of their clients is surely a fibber! Scanning becomes easier with experience, yes, but every now and again, your knowledge and scanning skills will be truly tested once again.
Claire expressed this perfectly when she stated that every hurdle she got over, and everything she had to accomplish over time, has only ultimately added to her confidence. It’s very easy to be defeated by one bad scan. Self-doubt is the enemy of the budding ultrasound technician, but so too is reckless self-confidence. A blend of humility, yet quiet self-belief, is what is required – and a hunger to keep learning and improving on every scan. “Every scan that you do, you learn something new from it every time,” Claire told me; and any profession where you are always engaged and challenged to improve yourself is surely one big part of the self-fulfillment puzzle.
What does Claire think about 3D/4D scanning?
Claire frequently uses 3D and 4D ultrasound scanning in her human work, so I was interested to hear her thoughts of how it might be transferred to animal scanning. Like Yvette, Claire sees multiple foetuses as the major barrier to current techniques. Claire suggested that a singleton scanned early on in gestation when there was still a lot of space and amniotic fluid around the puppy could produce high quality 3D images, but with a full litter, it would be very difficult. Claire agreed that at the present time, the technology does not lend itself well to animal species with large litters, nor is there economic justification for making the significant financial investment in this technology.
What is Animal Excellence most proud of about the service that it offers?
Animal Excellence primarily scans dogs and cats, but is also happy to scan rabbits and guinea pigs for pregnancy. Claire sets her business apart from local competition by:
- Being highly trained and competent in what she does
- Using only AUA-certified equipment
- Always taking high quality images and videos to share with her clients
The general public are not aware of what does or doesn’t make a professional pregnancy scanner, and many just assume that owning an ultrasound machine makes somebody competent in its use. Even though Claire is rarely questioned about her training or experience, she makes a point of delivering the highest quality service possible. Her professional approach is clear for her customers to see in the way that she delivers her service from the initial booking, through to consent forms and the scanning process itself.
What you can learn from Claire if you’re just getting started:
In just over two years, Claire has made ultrasound scanning a major part of her life. There were no shortcuts, however: she achieved this through her commitment to learning, and determination to succeed. Claire’s story offers the following tips for any aspiring scanners:
- After your training, find a pregnant bitch that you can scan throughout her pregnancy (Claire found a lady with two). You may even have one of your own. By the end of the pregnancy, you will have had experience of scanning through every stage of gestation. By saving the images and cine loops, you can then refer to these stages over and over again. I have worked with a large number of professional scanners across the UK and North America, and this cataloging of images is a common habit of all successful canine pregnancy scanners.
- As well as building a database of example images to refer to, Claire made a habit of looking back over her scans and critiquing them, as well as sharing them with others on social media. This accelerated her learning.
- Don’t be afraid of playing with the controls. “Every day I would learn something new that the machine could do that I wouldn’t have known if I didn’t play about with it.”
- Don’t give up. “I’m really glad I did stick with it, because I really love what I do now.”