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Connections Across the Carolinas: How an NC State Alumna’s Encouragement Transformed a Veterinary Technician’s Career

Veterinary medical director Dr. Allison Hassinger and NC State Veterinary Hospital ICU supervisor Alexis MacKinnon share a tie to the College of Veterinary Medicine that started in South Carolina.

A brunette female veterinarian in light blue scrubs stands in front of the sign for her practice in South Carolina.
Dr. Allison Hassinger graduated from the NC State College of Veterinary Medicine in 2009. She started working at South Carolina Veterinary Specialists and Emergency Care in 2011 and now leads the facility as its medical director. (John Joyner/College of Veterinary Medicine)

From the moment veterinary technician Alexis MacKinnon started working with Dr. Allison Hassinger at a Columbia, South Carolina, animal hospital in 2011, she knew Hassinger was special.

Hassinger had graduated from the NC State College of Veterinary Medicine just two years before, but she already had an undeniable talent for building relationships with pet owners and staff at South Carolina Veterinary Specialists and Emergency Care, MacKinnon says.

“Allie is extremely caring and compassionate,” says MacKinnon. “She has a special touch with patients and owners and a great rapport with people. You knew if you were going to work with Allie, you were probably going to have a good shift.”

MacKinnon knew just who to talk to when she saw a vet tech job opening at the NC State Veterinary Hospital in 2014. Though MacKinnon was hesitant at first, Hassinger persuaded her to apply.

“As a student, I saw a lot of our learning was enhanced by the quality of technicians that the College of Veterinary Medicine hires,” Hassinger says. “I could see in Alexis the skill set that would transfer well to being in the teaching hospital. She’s a very good technician, she had great people skills and she was open to teaching and mentoring — which is important when you have a bunch of students learning to take care of cases.”

Hassinger even helped MacKinnon find housing in Raleigh once she got the job. 

Nearly 10 years later, MacKinnon has saved countless pets’ lives in the NC State Veterinary Hospital as supervisor of its small animal intensive care unit. Hassinger’s support helped her realize her potential, she says.

“Allie’s encouragement completely changed my career path,” MacKinnon says. “Coming to NC State was a new challenge, which is exactly what I needed, and working with the students is a great bonus.”

Alexis MacKinnon is now the small animal ICU supervisor at the NC State Veterinary Hospital, nearly ten years after starting at the College of Veterinary Medicine as a veterinary technician on Hassinger’s recommendation. (John Joyner/NC State College of Veterinary Medicine)

For Hassinger, her friendship with MacKinnon is just one of many ways she keeps connected to NC State across the Carolinas. The lifelong member of the Wolfpack says the College of Veterinary Medicine instilled in her the skills and training she draws from daily as SCVSEC’s new veterinary medical director.

“The College of Veterinary Medicine gave me the confidence that I’ve carried through my career to ‘go out and just do it,’” Hassinger says. “I came out of NC State with a great education that prepared me for my practice.”

From Wolfpack Fan to Double Alumna

Hassinger grew up 2 miles from the College of Veterinary Medicine in a “big Wolfpack family.” It made perfect sense for her to attend NC State for her bachelor’s degree in biological sciences and to return for her DVM, she says.

Some of her fondest memories of veterinary school are studying in close-knit groups of friends she made in class. Finding and strengthening that support system helped carry her through challenging days in the classroom and clinic.

“We had a fantastic class of very supportive and friendly people,” says Hassinger. “The Class of 2009 was just phenomenal. Actually, I randomly ran into one of my surgical teammates walking down the streets of New York with my daughters last year, and we picked up right where we left off.”

Hassinger studied small animal medicine but maintained a passion for public health and epidemiology. She explored that interest through a summer internship with the North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services’ Emergency Programs Division but decided she preferred clinical practice.

Hassinger removes stitches during a follow-up appointment with a patient at South Carolina Veterinary Specialists and Emergency Care in January. (John Joyner/NC State College of Veterinary Medicine)
Hassinger and Dr. Jessica Withycombe examine a patient’s X-ray during an appointment. (John Joyner/NC State College of Veterinary Medicine)
Hassinger discusses cases with her colleagues around the hospital. (John Joyner/NC State College of Veterinary Medicine)

She names Dr. Terri DeFrancesco, professor of cardiology and critical care, and Dr. Steven Marks, former associate dean and director of veterinary services at the Veterinary Hospital, among her College of Veterinary Medicine mentors. Her instructors, she says, made NC State a welcoming learning environment.

“NC State does a fantastic job of preparing student veterinarians for entering into private practice in whatever capacity that they want to be in,” Hassinger says. “In particular, our vet school does remarkably well in equipping students to handle surgeries. Even right out of school, my first boss told me, ‘You come across as very confident in your surgical skills.’ And I said, ‘Well, NC State trained us well!’”

Hassinger’s first job after graduation was as a general practice and occasional emergency medicine veterinarian at Riverside Veterinary Hospital in Rocky Mount. She worked there for two years before moving to Columbia with her husband Stanley Hassinger, an NC State alumnus, for his residency in human emergency medicine at the University of South Carolina’s Keck Hospital.

Making Time for What Matters

Hassinger has worked at SCVSEC since August 2011 and was promoted to medical director in October. Her new role still involves seeing patients and using her clinical skills to quickly resolve medical mysteries, which is what initially drew her to emergency medicine.

“Any given day is so drastically different from the next,” she says. “I have both clinical time and administrative time, and sometimes those things come together as one.”

Outside of work, Hassinger dedicates much of her time to raising three children she hopes will one day attend NC State. 

Coordinating her childrens’ routines with her and her husband’s hospital schedules can get hectic. Thankfully, Hassinger’s veterinary training gave her plenty of experience with time management and setting boundaries around her time.

“This profession can certainly burn you out if you don’t have your priorities in line,” she says. “So take a good look at what your priorities are and make sure that you are aligning your work with them in a way that you’re getting the work-life balance that you really want. And I’ve been lucky to have a job that I really enjoy at a place that is understanding of those boundaries.”

Even Hassinger’s stethoscope pays tribute to NC State, with a dog tag of the university’s athletics logo. (John Joyner/NC State College of Veterinary Medicine)