October 2021

In this VETgirl online veterinary continuing education blog, Amy Johnson, RLATG, LVT, CVJ, Content Manager at VETgirl, discusses the top 10 essential veterinary technician survival tools that you need!

The Top 10 Essential Veterinary Technician Survival Tools

By Amy Johnson, RLATG, LVT, CVJ, Content Manager at VETgirl

Whether you are about to begin celebrations for National Veterinary Technician Week or recognize it as a month-long celebration and are in full swing, it’s crucial to talk about how to keep our amazing veterinary technicians in this field. Most of us have heard the statistic that the average lifespan of a veterinary technician is 5-7 years.

Before we begin, let me introduce myself. My name is Amy Johnson, RLATG, LVT, CVJ and I am the new Content Manager at VETgirl. I pride myself in being a veterinary technician and strongly believe in our profession.

I’ve been a vet tech for going on 22 years. While I’m not currently in clinical practice, I can’t believe how fast the time has flown by. How have I done it? I equate it to hiking, one of my passions. Anytime you go out for a hike, you need to have “Ten Essentials” in your backpack. You need these tools every time you go out – on good days, you won’t need many of your essentials, but when things go awry, you will be happy you have them all. These hiking tools mean your survival.

So what “essentials” do you need as a veterinary technician?

We can apply this concept to what every veterinary technician needs to put in their “survival pack” as they head out every day. On a good day, you may not have to rely on many of your essentials. However, other days you will need them all.
Here, the top 10 essentials for every veterinary technician to survive their career:

1. Passion
We all love animals, but there is nothing worse than getting up with a knot in your stomach daily because you have to go into a job you don’t like. There are so many ways to work as a technician in veterinary medicine that if you don’t like what you are doing, find something that you love. Go into management, specialize, find a job outside the practice. Although this list is in no specific order, THIS is why I have been in the industry for 22 years. Find your passion and pursue it!

2. Positive Attitude
Your mindset is everything. If you go into the day with a bad attitude, you can rest assured that things won’t go well. But if you focus on the positive as much as you can, not only will your day go better, but likely those around you will feed off of that positivity.

3. Knowledge of self-care
When you hear the words “self-care,” you’re probably thinking that you don’t have money or time off to go to the spa or take a vacation. Yes, those may be versions of self-care, but it’s more than significant events. Self-care doesn’t have to be expensive or time-consuming. It can be as simple as finding 20 minutes to read, listening to your favorite music, cuddling a puppy, walking your dog, or just getting outside for a breath of fresh air. Self-care is any gesture that makes you feel better. A bonus in the self-care arena is having an accountability partner who will check in with you and make sure you have made time for your self-care during a hectic day.

4. A hobby
As I have mentioned, I am a hiker. Being out in nature for me is calming and truly is where I regain my sanity. It is vital that everyone has a hobby, and one outside veterinary medicine is highly recommended. You want something you enjoy that allows you to refocus. What do you love to do that enables your brain to recover from your day/week/month? Living in veterinary medicine 24/7 is not healthy. Find something that allows you to step out of that role.

5. A support system
A support system is a necessity, and a diverse one is best. You want people who work in veterinary medicine that will understand when you want to vent, but you also need those outside of the veterinary world that will tell you to stop talking about work and help you refocus. Surround yourself with people who will listen, aid in problem-solving, and respond with much needed honesty. Consider joining a meet-up goup, a hiking or running group, or joining a random kickball team!

6. A happy/safe place
Where is your escape? Again, for me, it is on a mountainside, but for you, it may be a room in your house, a park, or the cat room at work. You need a place to go and feel safe to let it all out and gain peace again.

7. Ability to ask for help
Whether needing help placing a catheter in a patient or needing a professional to talk to, we all need the courage to speak up and ask for help. We are a group of professionals that usually struggle with needing help. There is nothing weak about asking for assistance.

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8. An ability to manage stress
It is important to recognize what causes stress for you. What are your triggers, how do you mitigate those triggers, and then manage the stress you have not been able to alleviate? We all need a HEALTHY way of dealing with stress. Journing, subscribing to a meditation app like Calm or Headspace, hiking/running, or joining a kickboxing gym are all great ways of mitigating stress!

9. Professionalism
I believe survival in this profession relies on a professional code of conduct. I am not talking dress code or appearance, but acting professional in all situations, even when it is hard to keep your cool.

10. Continual growth
This refers to personal and professional development. Make sure to learn from every situation, especially the difficult ones. Mistakes and failures are learning opportunities if we allow them to be. We also need to jump on every chance we have to learn and grow in our profession. Medicine is ever-changing, and being on top of our game, we need to keep up. Take advantage of every learning opportunity, whether a CE lecture, talking with a veterinarian about a new procedure/product, or reading journal articles.

With the right tools in your pack and knowledge of how to use them, you can survive your career, just like you could survive a night in the woods. Know that you are vital to the profession of veterinary medicine, and we couldn’t do this job without you!

  1. Passion:
    I agree with this step and having passion, but the statement of finding a job outside the practice is a little confusing. I believe you mean outside clinical practice? If so, I do agree, and that’s why I have been able to survive 54 years in veterinary medicine. Just clinical practice wasn’t working for me, but the veterinary field hasn’t made it easy for technicians to pursue what they want; rather, we are directed and pointed toward areas we don’t always want to pursue. If we don’t, we’re snubbed especially by professionals in the veterinary field like veterinarians.

    Positive Attitude:
    Positivity is always good advice but seldom can it be obtained with all the negativity passed down to the technician by the higher and more powerful owners of veterinary clinics/hospitals. It shouldn’t always be the technician who comes in to work with shining positivity; the owner of the business, I think, has a responsibility to boost everyone up with constant positive thinking. I believe for your own sake, though, you should be positive for your clients and their pets. It isn’t hard to be positive around animals as I see it. They are always welcoming and happy, it seems, no matter how they present. I’ve seen dogs wagging their tails when they can’t even breathe.

    Knowledge of self-care:
    I agree self-care can be as simple as cuddling a puppy, but there’s nothing wrong with wanting a good vacation or a really good spa to go to. Why can’t technicians do these things? The answer is because they don’t make enough money to even raise a family on, let alone go on vacation to a place they want to go to. I hope that technicians have accountability partners who they talk with every day called live-in partners or best friends who listen. We all need friends who listen to us, or what’s the point?

    A hobby:
    I agree with this 100%. Maybe this is what’s wrong with our military. In the military, you eat, sleep, think, breathe, and dream military service. The only break you get is at the end of each year, you get 30 days off but there’s no money for a vacation so you still sit at the post or base watching soldiers march by.

    A support system
    The first thing I thought of when I read this was a therapist. If you go your whole life, I doubt you will find enough people to surround yourself with who will listen and support you and your problems. If you are lucky, you will find one or maybe two who will just listen and let you vent. If venting is what you need, then, you don’t want someone to tell you to refocus or else the purpose is defeated. A professional counselor is someone who will be there to listen and let you talk it out, whether venting or letting you find your own way to where the answers are. I’ve found counselors, who are outside of the veterinary profession, are always very interested in what people have to say who work with animals. Professional counseling have sliding-scale fees so you can afford their prices. I wouldn’t have been able to afford them if not for that.

    A happy/safe place:
    Technicians, as anyone else, need a safe place to let it out. I think this was addressed in three other places here: knowledge of self-care, a support system, and hobby.

    Ability to ask for help:
    Again, I agree and this was also discussed in other places here.

    An ability to manage stress:
    Stress management is something everyone needs to know how to approach. Professional counseling is one way to deal with all of it. If you don’t like speaking to those who know you, this might be just for you. Joining groups for stress management is a good way to get in touch with your inner self and communicate to others how stress affects you if professional counseling isn’t your thing. This subject could have been talked about in two or three other headings.

    Professionalism:
    Being professional is a sign of maturity so a licensed/registered veterinary technician or nurse, which is in itself a profession, should at least be mature enough to behave in a professional manner. It’s not just surviving in this profession with a code of conduct; it’s whether “the profession” will survive without us acting like professionals. We want more responsibility but it won’t happen without us acting like professionals.

    Continual growth:
    I don’t believe any of us would be here if we didn’t believe and strive to become better at what we do every single day. What I want to happen is for the veterinary profession in general to step up and recognize who technicians/nurses are as professionals. No one learns without making mistakes; actually, that’s how everyone learns, literally. Technicians/nurses all know how important knowledge is and why education is so very important. If the educational cost was commensurate with the pay most technicians receive, we wouldn’t have to weigh education over feeding our families.

    Now, what we need is for the profession itself to comprehend how hard we have worked but how little we have reaped because the profession in general is not realizing our achievements. For every technician/nurse who has educated themselves to the top of their field and hasn’t been recognized for their achievements in pay or status in the profession is a failure of the profession, not the technician/nurse.

  2. There is also the issue of how difficult it is to gain a specialty certification. So many technicians are working in the trenches of the neighborhood vet clinic, wanting to become an expert in something or specialize, only to find out that they would have to leave their job in order to be able to do that. For some of us in rural practice, getting some of those extra letters after our names would mean moving. It is hard to stay enthusiastic about your job when all you can get is online CE and no realistic hope of a specialty. I think this is a major hurtle to a lot of technicians working outside bigger cities and outside of corporate practices. It’s very discouraging.

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