A high school student recently told me that she was thinking about becoming a vet tech and she asked me what I thought of the choice. I found myself surprisingly tongue tied and I didn't know why. Part of me wanted to say "That's fantastic, welcome to the club!". The other part of me wanted to talk her out of it.
Don't get me wrong, I love my job. I love it for so many reasons, most of which are intangible. After almost a decade in vet med, I often look back wistfully at my early days in this career and think about what I would tell that new tech fresh out of school. It hasn't been an easy road. We all know the path this career takes is an emotional, under-paid, and often challenging one. Knowing what I know about the industry now, what would I say to someone wanting to be a vet tech?
1. You will cry for other people's pets
This for me (and for most people in vet med) has been the most difficult part of the job. No matter how hard you try and how many walls you put up, the fact is, you're going to get attached. It's the beauty and the beast of this career. You will lose patients. You will deal with euthanasia of pets you've known for years. You will console owners on one of their worst days. All of this can catch up to you in a very real way; mentally, emotionally, and even physically. It's important for new grads to be aware of the effects of compassion fatigue, and to know that there are resources out there to help. Here are a few good articles on the subject:
-Fighting Compassion Fatigue In The Veterinary Industry by Veterinary Practice News
-When Caring Hurts: Managing Compassion Fatigue, a CE course by VetMedTeam
-This blog post by JesstheLVT has some good tips on how to deal with burnout
2. You will not make any money
No one becomes a vet tech for the paycheck. We get paid in puppy breath and feline purrs while the dollars and cents are usually a bit lacking. It's something we hope will change in the industry, but for now we just have to deal with it. Good financial planning is key. There are often talks about this subject at conferences, and we strongly advise all techs to attend these lectures to learn how to use their funds wisely.
3. You will have to deal with people
The majority of people going into veterinary technology say they want to work with animals because they DON'T want to work with people. This is unfortunate, because guess who's at the other end of Fluffy's leash? You see a lot in this profession, including a side of the public you won't like. Frankly, people just suck sometimes. They refuse to treat a sick animal, are rude to the staff, or don't want to pay their bill. I've even been called a "used car saleman" after advising an exam was required before dispensing NSAIDs. Communication skills are essential and often overlooked and undervalued by new technicians. Some people have the personality where they naturally have great communication skills with even the most difficult of clients. If you're not one of them, don't give up hope. Time and practice will help if you're willing to improve. I've seen many shy new grads blossom into amazing techs who love dealing with clients. If you choose to sequester yourself in the back and not deal with people, it will make your job much more challenging when you DO have to talk to clients!
4. You will take your work home with you (literally and figuratively)
I wish I could say you will get home from work at 5 pm and leave work behind, but often the events of the day don't get washed away with the dog hair on your scrubs. You may bring home abandoned kittens that need feedings through the night. There will be cases that stay with you, clients who upset you, and patients you can't forget about. It's important to remember not to isolate yourself and let work events consume you. Get out and get involved in a club, team, or gym. Learn a new skill or take up a new hobby (or enjoy an old one!). Even just going for a movie with a friend can be a distraction from constantly thinking about work.
5. Despite what you think, you don't know anything right now
Everyone gets out of school thinking they know it all. This isn't unique to this field - it's not unusual for recent grads from any area of study to have over-inflated egos. Count on the rest of us to deflate them. It can be a difficult transition from school to the real-life world. In practice, things won't be as nicely laid out as they are in the classroom. The clinic setting is usually less than ideal when you compare it to the bar school sets for you, but it's just how it is. Try your best to adapt and learn from the people around you. As much as you learn in a classroom, there are no limits to what you will learn in practice.
6. You will find it very rewarding
Despite its challenges, you will be proud of this career. When someone asks me what I do for a living, I still feel a sense of pride when I tell them. I get satisfaction from educating the public, from working with a team to solve problems, and from seeing "un-saveable" animals make it through and go home to their families. It's a very rewarding career knowing you are making a difference.
I've had a lot of people say "I could never do your job" after they hear I'm a vet tech, but for those of us that do it every day, we "get it". There's an unspoken connection between those of us who choose this career. We are a special club full of diverse and compassionate members, and in the end, despite its challenges, I'd encourage a potential new member to join any day.
What would you say to someone wanting to be a vet tech? Let us know in the comments below!
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