Q&A With Mary Berg, 2024 VMX Technician Speaker of the Year

Mar 19, 2024 at 4:34 pm

VetPartners member Mary Berg, BS, RVT, LATG, VTS (Dentistry) was recently named VMX Technician Speaker of the Year. Mary has been an active VetPartners member for eight years and volunteers her time to many other industry organizations. I sat down with Mary to find out how she got her start in the industry, how she feels about receiving such an honorable title, and much more.

Angela Beal: First of all, congratulations on being named VMX Technician Speaker of the Year.

Mary Berg: Thank you. I’m honored and excited about this, especially since I’m the first dentistry technician to get it. I always joke that critical care or anesthesia always gets it because that’s exciting stuff. Dentistry is kind of like the rescue kittens of the lecture world. People think it’s boring but mostly because they don’t understand how important the oral cavity is to the animal’s overall wellbeing.

AB: How did you get into veterinary medicine?

MB: Oh gosh, totally by accident. Growing up on a dairy farm, I knew I wanted to be in the vet field. But I had a cousin who couldn’t get into vet school with a double major and a 3.98 GPA, so I didn’t even try. I went to school for animal science but switched to biology and microbiology.

In 1991, I moved to Lawrence, Kansas, and I applied for a job at the university’s microbiology department. They laughed because I had a degree, but I’d never worked in the field. But they called me back right away when they realized that I had a lot of managerial and administrative experience—as a military wife, you take whatever job you can get. They paired me with a company that did companion animal dental research. I started as an administrative assistant and became vice president over 13 years. We were a contract research organization in dentistry. We worked with many companies on many products, including Hills and the development and testing of Prescription Diet t/d. We worked on developing the methodology currently used for the Veterinary Oral Health Council (VOHC) Seal of Approval.

While I was there, I went back to school and got a degree in laboratory animal science, as well as my veterinary technology degree, passed the VTNE, became a registered veterinary technician, and started working on my VTS.

AB: How did you start your business, Beyond the Crown Veterinary Education?

MB: For seven years while my kids were still in school, I worked as a practice manager and dental technician for a general practice in town. I was already doing training, but I decided at 2012 WVC to just jump in with both feet and start my own dental training business.

AB: You seem to have your hands in everything veterinary-related. What organizations are you involved with?

MB: I still do VOHC evaluations for companies since I’m one of the few evaluators who can travel. In addition to in-hospital training, I speak and write. I also decided this was the time to give back to the profession, so I started volunteering. My husband will tell you that if I spent half the time I do volunteering at work, he could retire.

I served six years on the AVMA’s Committee on Veterinary Technician Education and Activities (CVTEA). I served on the VTNE Committee for the American Association of Veterinary State Boards (AAVSB), and I’m now the chair of that committee. I serve as a VetPartners board member. I was on the National Association of Veterinary Technicians in America (NAVTA) board and served as president in 2017. I’m now the editorial chair for the NAVTA journal and serve as an advisor for the district rep group. I also serve as the veterinary technician on the Foundation for Veterinary Dentistry board and the VOHC committee. I’m the treasurer for the Academy for Veterinary Dental Technicians (AVDT) and the Kansas Technician Association. I teach lab animal and dentistry courses for St. Petersburg’s College, and I teach dentistry for Colby Community College.

AB: How did you get into speaking?

MB: I started doing presentations back in ’93 or ’94, when I was with the research group. We presented our clinical studies data at the Veterinary Dental Forum. I like to tell new speakers who are nervous the story of my first lecture. There were maybe 20 people in the room, but I was a nervous wreck. My knees were shaking like crazy behind the podium. During the presentation, the professor I worked with came onstage and grabbed my hand holding the pointer. I asked him, “What are you doing?” and he said, “You’re making everybody nauseous. Give me the pointer.” I was shaking so badly that the pointer was everywhere on the screen. I tell people that story to show that I got over my fear of speaking, and others can too. It just takes repetition and practice. Although I honestly think if I had to go back and do a presentation like that again, I’d probably still be just as nervous. Because you’ve got all the statistical significance and all that kind of information, so you’ve got to be on point.

About 15 years ago, I was asked to speak at what was then NAVC. I remember being in my office at the practice and getting that email, and I was just dumbfounded. It was the biggest conference in the world and they wanted me to speak. I walked into the large lecture room and—big mistake—I counted the chairs. There were 1,300. I had maybe 500 people in that lecture, but it only looked like 50 since they were spread out, so that helped. Now I do everything from international to state conferences, as well as webinars. I’ve sat through so many tedious lectures over my 30 years in the field, so I want people to have fun when they’re in my lectures.

AB: How do you think VetPartners has helped your career?

MB: I think the biggest thing for me is the people I have met. Other organizations I’m involved with can be discussing something in a board meeting and saying, “Hey, I think we should have an attorney look at this. How will we find an attorney?” If they give me five minutes, I’ll find us one. If they want to ask a CPA a question, I can reach out to a CPA. If I have a question about an architecture issue, I can find an architect. It boggles people’s minds that I can find people so quickly.

AB: What do you like to do when you’re not working?

MB: We live on a small five-acre farm in Kansas. We have some livestock during the summer because my grandkids have their 4-H animals here. I love to garden, and my husband and I make several hundred jars of salsa every year and give it away to friends and family. We have peach, pineapple, and regular, and sometimes we’ll throw in mango or something else just to make it fun. I’ve been told by friends to stop this dental stuff and just make salsa full-time. But that would take all the fun out of it.

Last summer, my husband surprised me and bought an RV camper. We booked a week in Colorado this summer to go camping and get away because we never go on vacation.

Congratulations again, Mary, on receiving such an honor!

VetPartners is an organization where talented professionals converge, network, and make lasting changes to the veterinary profession. Whether you’re a long-time member or a first-time guest, VetPartners can boost your career and provide opportunities for you to impact the veterinary field. Check out our resources or learn more about our next conference!

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Dr. Angela Beal

Angela Beal, DVM, is COO of Rumpus Writing and Editing, a veterinary-specific writing and editing company. Her past endeavors include working in small animal practice and directing a veterinary technician program for 15 years. Angela resides in Columbus, Ohio, with her husband and two soccer-loving teenage boys.

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