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Five years ago I made the decision to become a licensed veterinary technician.
It was a decision that ended up taking years to finally make. I worked at a few private and corporately owned general practices as a veterinary assistant for 4 years while completing my bachelors degree in zoology and taking all of the prerequisite courses for the veterinary school in my state. My original plan was to attend NCSU College of Veterinary Medicine. However, when it came time to apply for veterinary school something inside me just didn’t feel right. Don’t get me wrong, I had a passion for veterinary medicine. I had some decent work experience under my belt, and my GPA and GRE scores weren’t terrible. From kennels to receptionist to veterinary assistant, I had worked every position and had worked with many veterinarians with different styles and backgrounds. I felt I had a good handle on what veterinary medicine entailed, good and bad, and I still loved it. But, was veterinary school right for me? Was it cold feet or the fact that I was most likely going to have to apply a couple of times over the next few years until I was accepted to the one vet school I could reasonably afford? Or was it simply that I loved technician work, had no real desire to perform surgery or diagnose, and was only put off from being a technician solely due to the low pay? I decided to take a year off from school in order to sort out some of this turmoil.

During that year, I found myself moving into a lead surgery technician position at a small general practice that was just starting out. I read everything I could on anesthesia from pharmacology to different types of breathing circuits. I then applied and was offered an amazing opportunity to work in another state at the VCA Animal Specialty Center of South Carolina. Once there, I finally felt like I was where I belonged. I saw veterinary technicians in a new light. The veterinary surgeons used their technicians to the fullest extent. The technicians were trained in advanced anesthesia so that the surgeons could concentrate on one thing and one thing only: advanced surgery. And from there, I learned that life sometimes has a way of working itself out because I discovered my niche within veterinary medicine: anesthesia and surgical assisting. I also discovered that if I was to continue on this path as a technician and make a career out of it, I was going to have to become licensed. And so, 5 years ago, I finally made the decision to become a licensed veterinary technician.

It was then that I ran into another dilemma. The closest community college that offered a veterinary technician program was an hour away and had lost its AVMA accreditation. Furthermore, that bachelor’s degree was still nowhere near paid off. So, I turned to researching online schools. Penn Foster stood out for two reasons. One, was that it is considerably less expensive than other “brick and mortar” schools who would charge out of state tuition even for their distance education programs. Two, was that it is a “study at your own pace” format instead of traditional semesters. I was won over by this format because it encouraged the student to take ownership of their own education. There were still deadlines in which you had to complete semesters, but it allowed you to focus on one class at a time. The program as a whole, I found, requires a great deal of initiative by the student to learn the material and stay on track.

Penn Foster’s practicums ended up being the biggest challenge, both in the difficulty of the skills and in having to set them up myself. However, finding my own practicum supervisors empowered me to break out of my shell and market myself as an educated veterinary technician (great practice for applying for jobs!) and, in the process, I forged many professional connections that I would never have made had I trained at the local community college. Practicum 1 wasn’t easy by any means, but Practicum 2? This was a point I actually considered throwing in the towel. At first, I couldn’t find a veterinarian who treated cattle; it seemed every large animal DVM I spoke to in my area wanted to get away from treating cattle and just stick to horses. I knew no one that kept pet rats and the local exotic veterinary hospitals admitted to seeing them very rarely, if at all. No one was willing to let me anesthetize their pet bird. It seemed as if I had come so far through 4 semesters of book work and one grueling practicum already, only to come to a screeching halt at the last practicum.

Well, after everything I had already accomplished in the program, I couldn’t quit now. So, I started looking outside of my local radius. Eventually, I was forced to look 3 hours away from where I lived. This ended up being a blessing in disguise, although I didn’t see it that way until now. I ended up landing a practicum opportunity at Clemson University’s research laboratory and their large animal farms. I observed lab animals technicians treat rats that were participating in breast cancer research like those little rodents were their own pets. I watched them spend time loving on cats that allowed human pediatric nurses to practice placing IV catheters and intubating. I participated in porcine anesthesia during “pig labs”, where local human surgical residents and their instructors practiced life saving surgical techniques. As I watched the respect and gratitude these human medical doctors showed towards the pigs and the technicians that so lovingly cared for them, I thought about all the people diagnosed with cancer and the premature infants that would someday benefit from the skills that these animals were allowing human medical practitioners to learn. I saw how important these lab animal technicians were and saw first hand how this field that I had grown to love so much, directly impacted society in a very special way. I will never forget that experience and the new respect and perspective it gave me for veterinary medicine. And I will never forget that it was by being a Penn Foster veterinary technician student that made this experience possible.

And now? Now, I practice veterinary technology as an official licensed veterinary technician. I monitor anesthesia and scrub in for board certified veterinary neurologists, surgeons, and ophthalmologists. On some days I wield a slit lamp and tonopen. On other days I induce anesthesia on patients undergoing a brain MRI or care for a hospitalized epileptic. And still other days, I prepare instruments as a scrub in assistant during total hip replacements and laparoscopic spays. I have found my niche, developed my passion. And I am proud to have done so as a Penn Foster veterinary technician.

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Impressed? You should be. It’s the first time I ever touched a cow!

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Rodent injection skills: No rats were injured in the making of this practicum photo.

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This little guy let me practice jugular venipuncture during my second practicum.

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