Who would like to sign up for a dirty job that requires a lot of skill and training, natural know-how, lots of stress, plenty of face time with the public, very little down time, long hours and low pay?
That would be your local veterinary technician.
Hats off to these dedicated workers as we celebrate National Veterinary Technician Week, October 12–18.
A Dirty Job
I know what you’re thinking when someone says “dirty jobs.” Sewer workers. Porta Potty cleaners. Plumbers. Gastroenterologists. These professions top the list. Hmm, I’m sensing a theme here: poop.
Whether in the bowels of a city, the bowels of our bathrooms or our own bowels, most people associate “dirty jobs” with some form of excrement. Let’s add our beloved pets to the list. All pets poop, and someone has to deal with our little buddies’ bodily fluids. That someone is often the beloved veterinary technician.
Vet techs have to clean up all kinds of poo and vomit as part of their glamorous job. Add to the gross-out list: abscesses that smell like poo, flea-infested pets where the fleas jump in your own hair from the tub, and maggots. A quick poll of my own technicians was unanimous: Maggots topped their list of biggest gross-outs. (I fondly recall an anal gland abscess bursting in my face. That’s a heavy runner-up to maggots.)
A Stressful Job
If you’re a good vet tech, you obviously love animals. But techs have to spend a lot of time not just with their animal patients.
They must also keep the clients, the veterinarians they work for and their co-workers happy.
This is a tall order.
The Problem Client
A small percentage of clients are mean or uncooperative with vet techs, and this is enough to ruin anyone’s day. These same people are probably nasty to all service personnel: waiters in restaurants, the lady at the dry cleaners, their own pharmacy assistant or the receptionist at their own doctor’s office.
If you’re usually a pain in the neck, be nice at your vet’s office. It may feel better than you think.
When a tech is trying to help someone who brings in a pet, giving valid, educated advice, many clients still say, “I want to talk to the doctor.” Our techs work hard. They are knowledgeable and thoughtful. When you are reasonable and respectful to them, they will treat you the same.
Let’s say a client calls up and asks to speak to the veterinarian. It is the vet tech’s job and responsibility to find out what the call is about and pull the pet’s record if necessary.
Sometimes clients refuse to talk with vet techs, even when it is not a highly personal or upsetting matter. This is rude and disrespectful to technicians. If you keep your question a secret, it will be harder to get an answer from the veterinarian.
The Wishy-Washy Veterinarian
Not only do techs have to deal with difficult clients; they have to deal with veterinarians too! Veterinarians, like everyone else, come with a rainbow of personalities. Take the famous veterinarian “on the fence” dilemma:
- “Wait, take the X-rays first.”
- “No, hold on. Maybe get the blood results first.”
- “Oops, I didn’t tell the client I also wanted a heartworm test.”
- “Oh, I forgot to tell you I wanted a chest film too.”
- “And you lifted the 100-pound dog off the table already? Sorry.”
In a busy hospital, vet techs are asked to accommodate all kinds of creatures great and small, human and non-human, vicious and sweet. They are special people.
The Problem Coworker
Remember that icky excrement I was talking about? Imagine Blubby is dropped off in the morning and unleashes a load in his kennel immediately upon arrival. Maybe Mrs. Ina Hurry was too busy to walk him. And he is admitted for what ailment? Bloody diarrhea.
Some of your coworkers always seem to be conveniently missing whenever there’s a truly dirty job to address. It’s not even 8 o’clock in the morning yet, and Mrs. Ina Hurry was too frazzled to give you a proper history when she dropped Blubby off.
Then she forgot to put her cell phone down on the admit sheet, so the veterinarian is blaming you for not being able to get in touch with her. And now Ms. Gel Manicure, your coworker, is nowhere to be found to help with the bloody Blubby poo poo cleanup.
Repeat quietly this mantra:
- I love my job.
- I love my job.
Top Vet Tech Stresses — And Rewards
Dealing with difficult people and unpleasant tasks is part of many people’s workday. With a vet tech, however, add real, palpable stress to that job equation.
In the course of an average day, I may call upon a tech to:
- Monitor risky anesthesia
- Perform a dentistry
- Aid in a difficult surgery
- Help with a fractious animal
- Assist in a euthanasia
- Set an IV catheter in a tiny kitten
- Take blood from a ferret
- Clip a macaw’s wing
- Call back an extremely difficult client
- Put up with my stress
Of course, vet techs have many reasons to love their jobs too:
- Helping to heal wonderful patients
- Being thanked by grateful and appreciative clients
- Cuddling puppies and kittens and baby bunnies
- Feeling accomplished about their special skills
- Having a job with never a dull moment
Thanks for everything you do, vet techs, on and off the field. This includes watering the plants, shoveling the steps, putting up with Mrs. Lots-o-kids’ 5 children in the waiting room, training the interns and carrying out the 40-pound food bags for guys who look like they could move small buildings with a single hand. For all you do, you are appreciated!
If there’s a blow-out in the kennel this week, I promise to clean it up.
This pet health content was written by a veterinarian.