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A woman holds a sea turtle

Thank you for caring for our sea turtle patients, Jess!

National Veterinary Technician Week is October 16-22, and we’re celebrating with profiles of the Zoo’s veterinary nurses! Each provides quality, compassionate care to the animals who call our Zoo home. Their work is critical to our mission to help wildlife thrive!

Meet Jess, our Sea Turtle Healing Center coordinator:

How long have you been with the Zoo? I have been with the zoo for 4 years this month.

Education: I have an associate of Art in History and I am in school for Veterinary Nursing right now, due to graduate at the end of the year. I am hoping to sit for my boards in spring and then be an official Certified Veterinary Nurse! Besides school, I have been working with sea turtles in many capacities for almost 12 years now, so I have a lot of on the job learning and experience.

How did you choose your field? I have always wanted to work with marine animals and reptiles. Later in life, I whittled it down to wanting to be a biologist and to study sharks and sea turtles. One of my first days at my last job, SeaWorld San Diego, we were moving their resident juvenile green turtles to their new exhibit. They were slapping me and pooping on me, they were so mad, but in that moment, something clicked, “I want to work with sea turtles the rest of my life!!!” I loved caring and doing the husbandry side of working with turtles so much. I would also get to care for the turtles that came into rescue. Later in my career at SeaWorld, I decided I wanted to take this passion and experience and apply it to just helping sick and injured sea turtles. We would only get a couple turtles a year that needed help in San Diego and I just wanted to be enveloped in it! Which is what lead me to the Brevard Zoo Sea Turtle Healing Center!!

Jess Patterson releasing green sea turtle BostonHow would you describe your work at the Zoo? My job here is to care for any sick and injured sea turtles that come through our hospital doors! The second they come in, we are assessing their needs and running diagnostics so we can provide the best care. With my position, I do physical examinations, watch their behaviors, wound care, give fluids and injections, pull blood, and processes it, take radiographs, assist with surgery, and so much more. I also get to do a lot of educational outreaches, which is always a great time. I love to talk about sea turtles!

What do you enjoy about your job? It’s so easy to say I love everything about my job. I love my team, my volunteers, the environment at Brevard Zoo and simply everything about what I get to do here. The BEST thing about my job though, is seeing my patients start turning around for the better. Getting to celebrate milestones with my patients in rehab like when they start to eat or poop for the first time, for that matter!! Sometimes those moments don’t happen for weeks or months, which makes it all the sweeter when it finally does.

A veterinary nurse watches as a green sea turtle recovers from surgery.

Sea Turtle Healing Center coordinator Jess watches Nephron recover after surgery to remove fishing line from their intestines.

What are some challenges about your work? Patients that are brought to us because of human-related incidents like boat strikes and fishing line entanglement, are hard to stomach. It’s easy to dwell on and get mad at humanity when you’re seeing an animal suffering so badly because of human impact. On the flip side, its only more motivating to get out and educate people on safe boating practices and how to discard fishing line properly. Did you know there is something called a “Prop Guard” that can be easily attached around your boats propellers that could help prevent deadly propeller strikes on marine animals? See, I’ll take any chance to get some important information out there that could save an animal’s life!

What advice do you have for people who want to work in your field? The field of wildlife rehabilitation requires extra work passed schooling. A lot of veterinary medicine programs do not offer information passed dogs, cats, small exotics, horses… animals that you can own. To get the experience, you must spend the extra time volunteering, doing internships or get a job at a zoo or aquarium like I did. I did things backwards. I started at SeaWorld when I was 19, got years of experience under my belt with sea turtles, fish, sharks, rays and other cool creatures like octopus and giant Japanese spider crabs. Then I started school for veterinary nursing, while still working. It doesn’t matter which way you go about it, but the schooling plus the extra experience of working with wildlife helps. This doesn’t only help you get a job; it helps you give the best care for those animals in need!

Have you found a sea turtle that needs help? Visit this page or call the Sea Turtle Preservation Society at 321-206-0646.

Want to help the Sea Turtle Healing Center? Support our Zoo, or view our Healing Center’s wishlist.