By Amy Newfield, CVT, VTS (ECC)
Surviving in a profession is good, but the real test is how do you thrive in a single procession for a lifetime. No one can make you enjoy this profession or become successful other than yourself. You may find some mentors along the way, but ultimately the success of you in this profession lies within you.
What is YOUR Passion?
Passion is the thing that makes you smile, that aspect of your job you really enjoy and the thing you want to keep doing. The amount of different areas that a veterinary technician can work in is vast. If you are bored or feeling burnt out at your job, ask yourself “what do I enjoy about this job?” Chances are you don’t dislike all of it. There are likely some parts of it you really do enjoy. Maybe you gravitate towards radiology or anesthesia or really love running laboratory work. Find your passion and then obtain your passion.
Taking Ownership of Your Passion
You will need to step out of your comfort zone to obtain your passion. The only person preventing you from getting to do the thing you really love the majority of the time is you. You can choose to work with specific species; cats only, dogs only, exotics, zoo, large animal, equine only, lab animal. You can choose to work in a specialty. You can choose to work for a small company, large company, teaching hospital, the government, a nonprofit or a school. The best part of being a veterinary technician is if you find another passion later in your career you can go and work in your passion.
Those that thrive in this profession continuously educate themselves. Learning not only increases your knowledge but elevates the entire practice and the care to the pets you work with. Increasingly your knowledge definitely leads to more opportunities as well as increases in salary. Putting your continuing education on your resume shows potential employers that you are committed to your field and that you are current in medicine. If you have been working in the profession and it’s been more than two years since you did any continuing education, then you are already setting yourself up to fail. Medicine is a constantly evolving and updating field. In order to survive in this profession, you must evolve with it. Failure to do so will cause you to fail for your patients and yourself. You likely went in to this profession because you loved pets and medicine. If you are finding yourself stagnant in your job, it’s likely because you stopped learning.
Get Out of the Toxic Work Environment
Sometimes despite knowing your passion is simply not enough if you work in a toxic work environment. It’s possible you are not even aware that you are in a bad working environment or it’s possible you are the cause of it.
No one likes gossip. Gossip occurs when an individual speaks about another individual when they are not present. There is “positive” gossip and “negative” gossip, but both forms can be harmful and not welcomed by most people. While technicians say they don’t like gossip in a work environment the reality is that most people will listen to, enjoy and even feed in to the gossip being given to them. A work environment where gossip overruns the practice is a toxic work environment. It breeds distrust, disrespect and dislike amongst coworkers. You will never survive in a toxic environment. If people around you are telling you negative thoughts throughout the day, will never excel. You will be filled with negativity, thoughts of why the practice is bad to work at and you will experience demotivation. Conversely, if you are the one providing the gossip then you are the one who is demotivating the rest of the staff.
If your work environment is toxic you have three options: Recognize and Ignore It, Express your Concerns to the Manager or Leave and Find a Healthier Environment. There are some people who recognize it’s a toxic environment and have the ability to ignore the gossip and negative issues, put blinders on and still thrive. You should always tell your manager or owner if you find yourself in a toxic environment. Be sure when you express your concern you don’t play the blame game. Sit down and express your concern about this individual dragging down the team as a whole. Express your concern about the overall team’s health. Lastly you can leave. Unfortunately, there are some working environments that are simply toxic. It’s not that they can’t be fixed, but it’s that they cannot be fixed by you. This type of work environment requires aggressive help from management or the owner. If you have expressed your concern and nothing has changed sometimes it is best to move on.
You must have a healthy work-life balance. Yes, there will be days you get stuck late at work. Yes, there will be days you get called in. If you work on salary you may find times you work 50-60 hours a week. Go home, unwind and stop going online or on your smartphone to check on work. If you are in a management position be sure to set boundaries for your employees and the company. It should be normal to assume that not everyone is available 24/7. If your job asks you to be on call be sure to be compensated for it. Most states require hourly employees to be paid for on call if it is a requirement of the job. If you are salaried and it is a requirement be sure to set boundaries and make sure the request is reasonable. Above all else you must find time to go home, get away from work and live life…and hug your own pets!
Recognition of Stress Technicians work in stressful work environment. It is a labor intensive and an emotionally charged profession. Technicians are constantly helping others. They help clients, pets and their coworkers. Unfortunately, they often drop the ball when it comes to helping themselves. You cannot survive in this profession if you do not help yourself.
Burnout and compassion fatigue are two different things which may be causing you not to survive in this profession. Burnout is a cumulative process in which the individual slowly lacks empathy for a particular situation and is due to an increase in stress or workload. The individual often has feelings of anger and does not care about their work as much as they use to. They watch the clock and know exactly how many minutes are left in each shift. If they see a mess, they walk over it rather than stopping to clean it up because they simply have stopped caring due to burnout. Compassion fatigue is an emotional strain from the consequences of traumatic events such as a stressful case or event. An individual experiencing compassion fatigue may have nightmares about a particular event, be more emotional or think about a particular event if something triggers it. Perhaps they poured their heart and soul out over a tragic case of a young dog that was hit by a car. After a week of trying to save the dog it died. That technician can still show empathy to other patients, but may be more emotionally invested, cry if they see the same breed of dog or not want to work with a hit by car for some time. The two syndromes can be experienced together.
Recognition is the first step. Realizing that you need a vacation or a break from work for a few days is important. Talking to your manager, coworkers or a professional will help as well. If you have been in this business long enough you have a good chance of experiencing one or both of these things. Everyone has different coping mechanisms and it’s important to find yours.
Besides burnout and compassion fatigue the simple nature of the job can play as toll on an individual. Taking care of yourself while on the job is equally important to taking care of yourself after. Even if you work long shifts and the clinic is very busy you must stop to do the following: eat, stay hydrated, go to the bathroom and laugh. Failure to do these things will result in exhaustion and misery. It does not take long to do any of those things and taking a few minutes to do one of them will make you happier in your job. A happy technician equals better care to clients, pets and coworkers. Equally important is living a good lifestyle when you get home. Getting a good night’s sleep, eating well and working to stay healthy will keep you performing better at your job.