Thanks to an innovative partnership between the University of Saskatchewan’s School of Social Work and Western College of Veterinary Medicine, Erin Wasson is Canada’s first (and for now, only) veterinary social worker.

Wasson is part of the Veterinary Social Work Initiative, a groundbreaking program that provides social work support to animal owners, clinical faculty and staff, and veterinary students. On any given day you might find her helping families that are grieving the death of a pet; or working directly counselling colleagues on communication, stress management, and more.

She did not, however, originally set out to land this role. A lover of horses, Wasson had hoped to marry her interest in animals with her experiences working in support services. She went back to school to get a master’s in social work, hoping to pursue equine-assisted therapy. Instead, Wasson landed her dream job – a new role that combines her skills and strengths with her passions.

Here are some lessons she’s learned about finding her niche (and landing the dream job no one knew existed).

Be open to new directions

Wasson was finishing up her master’s in social work when this role was introduced by the university and took the chance to shift her path ever so slightly. Cut to a few years later, and she is exactly where she wanted to be, but nowhere near where she imagined she’d end up.

The key is to be open to new opportunities and ideas and willing to follow your instincts and change plans and directions when something feels right. Do you have passions? Interests? Hobbies? There are often opportunities to combine your professional experience with what you love. You just have to be ready to spot them.

Build on your skills

The better you are at your job, the easier it is to find a new one. Funny how that works out, isn’t it? But by seeking out educational opportunities and constantly building on your skills, particularly transferable skills like communication, management, and administration, you increase the odds of being able to transition into something new and different. After all, Wasson found the perfect job – one where she gets to use her strengths, and work in an area she’s passionate about – by setting out to further her education and advance her career.

It wasn’t just luck that her dream job found her – she put herself exactly where she needed to be for it to work out.

Surround yourself with people who get it

As Canada’s first veterinary social worker, Wasson encountered numerous people who simply did not understand what she did or how it might help them. A number of early champions, however, saw potential in her role and helped her make inroads in the larger veterinary community. “As those connections started to form,” she says, “people started to say, ‘You know what? We really need Erin in on this case.’”

This kind of support group can be especially important if you are trying to change careers or break into a new industry altogether.

Define your role by understanding what’s needed

By moving into a new niche role, Wasson had to spend time educating her new colleagues and clients about her role, but she also had to learn about them and their specific needs. What is it that a veterinary social worker does exactly? How can she be most effective in her new role? By focusing on her community’s (and colleagues’) needs, and being open to collaboration, Wasson has created a role that leverages her strengths and experience to really make a difference.

Know what matters to you

The secret to finding great work, according to Wasson: “Finding what makes me happy has been to work in a way where I’m always challenged and interested, but I never feel alone, where I feel capable and competent, and where the people around me have similar perspectives on what’s important.”

It’s out there – the job that merges your passions with your skills, where you are doing work that you care about with people you enjoy working with. Follow your path, with those skills, interests, passions, hobbies – and maybe a bit of surprise, for good measure – acting as guideposts on your way, and you’ll find your place.

If you’re thinking that place might be at the intersection of social work and veterinary medicine, you can find out more about the University of Saskatchewan’s program here. Wasson would love to add some colleagues to her network.