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Veterinary Technician? Burn-Out? Considering a career CHANGE? Perhaps it is time to REINVENT yourself.

Updated on April 4, 2014

You do not have to place catheters or explain post-surgical care to clients to make an impact in an animal's life.

So, you have been working in a clinical setting since you graduated and every day seems like you are having a deja vu moment. 'Didn't we do this yesterday?!' Wellness exams, fecal floats, cat neuters and dog spays. The highlight of your day is when the doctor decides to spay a 200 pound overweight 11 year old Saint Bernard and you are the anesthetist. Sure the case is intense and keeps you on your toes, but it's a sure thing that your back is going to ache tomorrow!. Though you love your patients and clients (most of them), you are beginning to wonder if there are other career options within the profession. I am here to tell you, YES, THERE ARE.

Twelve years ago, I graduated a technician program and began working in a prestigious veterinary college. Each day was truly an adventure: preparing horses for emergency colic surgery, placing multi-lumen jugular catheters in Yorkies suffering from portosystemic liver shunts, performing lumbosacral epidurals in overweight Labradors and providing guidance to the next generation of veterinarians. I left work knowing I contributed to someone's education and maybe even had a positive influence on their opinion about the value of licensed veterinary technicians. One of the many rewards of being a technician in post-secondary academia is working alongside some of the best veterinarians, technicians, assistants and support staff in the industry. You learn EVERY day in a supportive environment with coworkers who respect you, utilize all your nursing skills, and encourage you to be a better nurse; what could be better? This was my experience in clinical veterinary education and I wish every graduate technician had the opportunity to flourish in this type of environment. In most cases, the benefit package outweighs the salary, but there are opportunities for advancement, especially if you have/earn an advanced degree or earn a specialty.

Due to my spouse's job relocation, I found myself leaving a workplace I adored and job-hunting on the other side of the country. Finding the "right fit" was paramount, so I began offering my services for relief work. Staff members go on vacations, get sick or quit short-notice, so managers seek short and long term replacements. By working relief jobs, you will meet a diverse array of people and pick up nursing tips, techniques, and communication skills along the way. This type of employment not only gets your foot in the door to many hospitals, but you can decide your salary. Progressive practice owners and managers seek out, and compensate, experienced professionals to enhance their patient care and client perception. So, relief work can turn into the opportunity for permanent employment if you share their philosophy and have "the goods" to offer them.

Another job relocation later, again I found myself job-hunting. Interviews at private practices proved fruitless and being unemployed was not an option for my family. Though a human healthcare position seemed unfathomable, it was still within the medical/science field. Human medicine is not that different from veterinary medicine and some employers hire graduates with any type of science-based associate or bachelor degree. For example, you have been performing venipuncture on a vast array of animals. Tiny "hair" veins, "hose" veins, "hidden" veins, scarred veins and "virgin" veins are your forte. How about phlebotomy on people as an option? It isn't as creepy as it seems, though the first couple "sticks" are strange without a restrainer. I discovered most states do not require an applicant to possess human phlebotomy experience. Pathologists are interested in folks with anatomy knowledge to help them process blood, urine, and other diagnostic specimens. A human finger versus a canine toe in a formalin jar may test your gag reflex, but you may be surprised what you can do when you need income. You will be surprised how applicable your veterinary nursing skills and education are to this type of employment.

As graduate veterinary technicians, we have the option to teach in technician and assistant programs. Not only are there classroom courses, there are also distance-learning courses that need credentialed technicians to provide instruction to students. You are provided with a set curriculum and syllabus as guidance, but you have the freedom to structure and plan your class(es). Unless this is a full-time position, the salary may not reflect the amount of time and energy you put into preparing lectures, assignments, quizzes, exams, activities, organizing guest speakers and mentoring students. But, if you are working a full-time job elsewhere and need extra income and a challenge, choose this path. Teaching assistant and technician courses is a nice refresher and knowing you are helping to shape future technicians and assistants can be additional "compensation".

If you thrive on client interaction/communication, possess the ability to "sell" pre-anesthetic blood work to every client you meet, and are organized/detail-oriented, a position in the sales or research industry may be an option. Not only are pharmaceutical companies looking for qualified veterinary technicians, animal food companies employ technicians to be representatives, but also as to be on their research animal care team. Research does not just mean autoclaving rat cages, but you may be providing prophylactic dentistry or physical/mental enrichment to the company's dogs and cats or collecting data from food trials. These jobs may require relocation, so make sure you are committed to a change in scenery so to speak.

Perhaps you are loyal to your hospital, enjoy the daily grind, but need a challenge to stimulate your mind. How about writing a blog or journal articles? I'm not talking about writing work-cited-research-scientific-case-study stuff. Write for your peers and others wanting to understand our profession. Share your experiences, tips, and accomplishments. We work in an intense, highly emotional career field. Sometimes it is validating to know someone else feels the same way you feel after a multiple-euthanasia day. We all know that venting to non-veterinary friends can be just as frustrating as that incompetent coworker who refuses to take your advice. Maybe you can share advice about how to discuss care plans (estimates) with angry clients that can encourage a colleague to improve their communication skills. Writing provides an outlet for your creativity and helps connect you with peers. It is also a gratifying way to "vent" with people who understand your job. We all need perspective sometimes and it is our ethical obligation to support and encourage our fellow technicians so the profession can receive the recognition and respect we deserve.

When you wake up each morning dreading your job, you need a change. Maybe this means you need to find another hospital that will be more mutually beneficial. Sometimes unforeseen events require you to relocate, forcing you to explore alternate avenues. Either way, you need to "reboot" your resume (ask a former instructor to review it) and reevaluate what you want and need from your career. I never realized how small the veterinary world is until I moved across country. There will always be someone somewhere who knows the same people you know. If you are moving, ask your coworkers if they know any veterinary hospitals in your new town. This is called 'networking'. Register your information on a professional employment/networking site to reach a wider audience. Opportunities that have never crossed your mind will present themselves and, there you go, a new path to travel.

So, before you get so frustrated with your job that you are contemplating a career outside of veterinary medicine, it may be time to reinvent yourself and explore alternatives. You do not have to place catheters or explain post-surgical care to clients to have an impact in an animal's life. Sharing your knowledge with students, advice with peers, and skills for people outside of the veterinary profession can also improve our patients' quality of life. Choose, or create, a job that not only provides you with a way to pay your bills, but one that refreshes your passion and pride in being a veterinary technician.


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