Tessie Baldwin

Portrait of Tessie inside of her mobile imaging truckTessie Baldwin credits her potbelly pigs as the inspiration for starting Discovery Animal Imaging, her mobile veterinary imaging company. At the time, Baldwin was a student in Missoula College’s Radiologic Technology program and completing her clinicals. A former veterinary technician, she was struck by how efficient and effective CT scans were for those who visited the emergency room.

Tessie’s pigs were struggling with bad hip dysplasia (their ball and socket joints were malformed) and she found herself frustrated over the lack of radiology resources in the area for animals. A question hit her: why couldn’t CT scans be just as accessible for animals as they were for humans? The pigs eventually had surgery and are healthy, Tessie graduated from the program and pursued the launch of Discovery Animal Imaging. We sat down with her to talk about her company and how her experience at Missoula College helped her achieve her dreams.

What was the process of starting Discovery Animal Imaging?
It was a long process to get the truck and have it outfitted with everything I needed. The truck itself took several months to build. Laboit, based out of Ohio, specializes in these trucks – if you’ve ever been in Red Cross blood mobile, you’ve seen how incredible their mobile medical facilities are.

I contacted several companies about CT scanners that would fit my needs, before finally settling on Epica Medical, based in California. Once everything was in place and the truck was in Montana, I started working on marketing materials. I wanted the process to be as easy as possible for clients, so I often work directly with vets in western Montana. I connected with many of them and let them know what services Discovery Animal Imaging offers. It’s been great working with all of the vets in the area!

Tessie stands outside her truck with her dogs. Image by Jessica GouldingWhat is a usual work week like for you?
Every day is different! This week I’m going to Hamilton to scan a mastiff’s skull, and also will be doing scans here in Missoula. I never know what to expect each day, but love being able to get to people quickly when they need scans done.

What kind of animals have you worked with?
Outside of cats and dogs, the most interesting scan I did was a baby owl for a wildlife rescue. They weren’t able to tell what was wrong with his beak, and by doing CT scans we were able to tell that his bone structure had developed in a misaligned way.

Did you have a favorite professor at Missoula College?
Ashley Preston is fantastic. She is passionate about the subjects she teaches in a way that makes her students passionate about it too. She’s also supporting them in any way they need, and she made a huge difference in my time at Missoula College.

What is one of your favorite things about Missoula College?
One really unique thing about Missoula College is that the classes are almost always small and personal. Not only does this allow more time with your peers and professor, but it’s also motivating. You’re held accountable for showing up to class every day, but you’re also encouraged to do your best and not give up on your schoolwork when things get tough.

How about your favorite (or the most memorable) moment in the Radiologic Technology program?
Learning how to take proper radiologic scans was mind blowing. In vet technician school you have to cover a lot of ground and often don’t get much time to focus on particular subjects. There’s so much more to imaging than simply putting an animal on a table and pushing a button – and this program goes into that. The preparation this program gave me for my job was extensive, and I’ll always be grateful for that.

I also spent a lot of time at Marcus Daly Hospital in Hamilton for my clinicals. The staff at Marcus Daly were so accommodating, and genuinely want their students to learn as much as they can. They gave me a lot of opportunities to gain experience in the field and learn different techniques. 

Interior shot of Tessie's truck showing the CT scan equipment. Photo by Jessica GouldingDo you have any advice for incoming students?
Just go for it, even when it feels terrifying. There is always a way to make schooling work, whether that’s support from your professors and classmates, or the community as a whole. I’ve even had other small business owners support me on this journey. Encouragement goes a long way!

For me, it was tough going through school again as a non-traditional student at 29. However, I wasn’t the only non-traditional student in my program, which was refreshing. But, whatever you do, don’t give up or else you’ll regret it. It will be tough, there will be nights where you’re stressed out and have a lot of homework, but it is all worth it in the end. Stick with it!

What are your future goals for Discovery Animal Imaging?
I would love to add another truck and more imaging technology, like a CT scanner for horses. Being able to diagnosis dogs, cats, and other small animals so effectively has really inspired me to do the same for larger animals. I’m looking forward to what the future holds for Discovery Animal Imaging!

October 2017