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Growing up as an only child who spent her earliest childhood days either traipsing around her half acre backyard alongside the family German Shepherd and Siberian Husky or learning the ins and outs of grooming her grandfather’s American Saddlebred mare, it may not come as a shock to you that I chose to work with animals later in life. It certainly wouldn’t be stretching the truth to say I grew up respecting animals, wild or domesticated, as creatures capable of feeling and deserving of human consideration and protection. I saw and experienced the profound effects that animals had in people’s lives whether it was watching wildlife from afar or sitting on the couch with a beloved family pet draped over my lap. However, I didn’t always want to work in the veterinary field. And when I did decide to pursue a career in veterinary medicine, I quickly realized that my love for animals by itself was not going to be enough to make me stay in this profession long term. Is it a prerequisite? Perhaps. An advantage? Oh, absolutely. But it is not a guarantee that you will do well or even like the veterinary field.

Do a Google search of “Veterinary Technician”, and you will find countless advertisements touting something to effect of “Love animals? Then become a veterinary technician!”. Which is odd considering that if you ask any vet student that has been asked “Why do you want to become a veterinarian?” in a vet school admissions interview, they will tell you that the answer “Because I love animals of course! Why else?!” is at the bottom of the list. Or not even on the list. Why is that? It might seem strange to those not in veterinary medicine that this wouldn’t be the first thing you say to a vet school admissions board. Well, simply put, it is because that admissions board knows that a love for animals, no matter how strong, isn’t enough to get someone through vet school and a career as a DVM. Lots of people love animals. And God bless every single one of them. However, their love for animals doesn’t mean that veterinary medicine (either as a veterinarian or technician) is the right field for them. The following are additional characteristics that have personally gotten me through the toughest days on the job.

Love for science. There are so many facets to veterinary science; from clinical practice, to research, to academia and teaching. As a veterinary technician, you could be involved in microbiology, pathology, epidemiology, radiology, anesthesiology, pharmacology, the scientific method, the latest surgical technique published in JAVMA, teaching the latest batch of future veterinarians how to place an IV catheter, behavioral science, nutrition, endangered species conservation, developing a cure for cancer in humans… and I’m just getting started. If not a single one of these things makes your heart leap for joy, then you have no hope in veterinary technology. Or you are dead… in which case you are still precluded from veterinary technology. Sorry.

Good work ethic. Vet techs keep the hospital running whether it’s cleaning the toilets or monitoring anesthesia. A veterinarian needs a technician who is going take the initiative and responsibility for… well, whatever needs getting done. No “that’s not my job description” type attitudes allowed. Multitasking is a must. In human medicine there are surgery technologists, radiology technicians, laboratory technologists, nurse anesthetists etc. In veterinary medicine, the technician must be all of these things. Veterinary medicine, at least currently, cannot afford to have such specialization of support staff that human medicine does. And, in most settings, a profit must be made (like it or not) and the technician must therefore do all of these things in a time efficient manner without cutting corners on patient care. Alongside good work ethic, integrity is also a must. Technicians must always keep in mind that the veterinarian is the one who is ultimately responsible for what happens to a patient- good or bad. If mistakes are made in patient care, that comes back on the veterinarian, even if it was the technician who made the mistake. Therefore, technicians must always be forthcoming, willing to own up to mistakes, and trustworthy.

Ability to get along with people. ALL kinds of people; from the ignorant client who willfully refuses to follow post operative instructions to the egocentric veterinarian who thinks you are nothing more than someone who takes out the trash, you must respect people. At least respect them outwardly even if you don’t inwardly in the name of maintaining some semblance of professionalism. It never ceases to amaze me when people assume veterinary medicine is for those who have no people skills. Pets always have an owner attached to the other end of that leash. It is the owner we have to convince that keeping a dog confined who just had a femur fracture repaired really is best. No really. Seriously, sir, chasing squirrels is out of the question. And whether you are working as a veterinary sales representative or a laboratory animal technician, you always have coworkers. And yes, I mean the human kind. The clinic cat does not count. Do you have a logical, rational personality type while your coworker is more of a feeling, emotional type? Well, you better study some human psychology and communication skills or you will never be able to work together to treat that critical patient or wrestle that aggressive animal so that everybody gets to keep all of their fingers. And arms. Trust and respect are crucial to an efficient veterinary team, and these are won through humans communicating efficiently with each other.

Healthy dose of realism. I tend to be a bit of an idealist. I see an organization, a cause, or a person for who they can be and what they could be capable of. All pet owners could call immediately when their dog chews its incision open instead of waiting a week. A new manager could make some positive changes in employee morale in a currently toxic work environment. Veterinary technicians could have comparable knowledge, training, and respect that human nurses do. Every dog, cat, and other domesticated animal could have a loving home, good veterinary care, and live out all of their days in pure critter bliss. And world peace. Yeah, add that to the list too. These are all noble goals and there is nothing wrong with striving to make these things happen. However, in veterinary medicine (as in anything else in the world) reality often falls short of one’s ideals. Owners are neglectful or, worse, abusive. The new manager cares more about budget than employee morale. Veterinary technicians are not held to the same standards as human nurses are. Right or wrong, these things sometimes happen. And you have to be willing to deal with it. I’m not saying you can’t do anything about it but, you will be on a quick road to burnout and unhappiness if you cannot emotionally handle the reality that is sometimes veterinary medicine. 

So, these are things besides a love for animals that have helped me persevere. A love for animals is generally a prerequisite for this field, no doubt. Furthermore, it is often the thing I come back to when (yes when, not if) I question my decision on becoming a vet tech. However, you need much more if you are going to make a career out of it. What are some other things that help you get through the tough days in the hospital, lab, or wherever you work in veterinary medicine?