This two part blog post is meant to help anyone thinking about becoming a vet tech, or applying to go to a four year university training program and then become a vet tech, think about what a vet tech’s family, friends, and romantic partners need to know about vet tech work so that they can participate in creating a personal support network.
Consciously planning what, and how, to talk about a vet tech job’s general work conditions, describing and explaining the kinds of stress that are experienced during each shift, and cumulatively over time, is vital to help manage the impact of stress. If family, friends, and partners don’t know what you go through at work every day, it is harder for them to be patient, compassionate, and support you.
In an upcoming blog post, I’ll write more about the importance of explicitly communicating what you need and want, and do NOT need and want, from family, friends, and partners when you are stressed out.
The following ten items are not in a hierarchy.
1. Euthanasia and Death
Vet techs assist veterinary doctors doing euthanasia. For people who see animals as being like fur-babies aka children, seeing and assisting euthanasias can, and often is, an emotionally traumatic experience which a vet tech can undergo several times a week, and in worse case scenarios multiple times in a single shift. There are very few jobs where people have to be in close proximity to the process of dying, death, and grief regularly. Vet techs not only witness death, they have to actively engage with preparing the tools and medicines involved, carry the animal to be weighed and then prepped for the procedure, and afterwards the vet tech takes care of the body too.
Animals die at clinics and hospitals from a wide variety of causes. Post-surgery complications, fatal diseases that cannot be treated, animals struck by cars or that have eaten something toxic or poisonous . . . vet techs have an enormous range of experiences with animals in varying states of illness and dying during which they have to witness the suffering and deterioration of the animal. Vet techs, after an animal dies, also have to take care of the body and sometimes communicate with the grieving clients too.
2. Vet Techs Do Multiple Jobs Under One Title
Too many people in the general public think that vet techs ‘play with puppies and kittens all day.’ The reality is that a vet tech does multiple jobs under one title: Custodian (cleaner), Phlebotomist (aka take blood for testing), Lab Tech, X-ray Tech, Nurse, Pharmacy Tech, Dog Groomer, Anesthetist, Dental Assistant, Assist Euthanasias, Customer Service, and more.
Vet techs that have graduated from a four year university training program and taken a certification exam have training and education for how to do all of these jobs bound up into one.
Vet techs that have no university training, however, have to learn the basic skills and medical knowledge on the job from supervising doctors and senior vet techs. This adds an element of stress on top of all the other sources a vet tech experiences during a shift.
3. Vet Techs Work Long Hours – A lot of people can claim that they work long hours. There is, however, a big difference in the working conditions they have to endure. This distinction is important to keep in mind. How many people can claim they saw a fur-baby die, had to help clients deal with intense grief, got sprayed with anal gland fluid, and then had a cat go full demon and scratch or bite them all in one long shift? Not many, that’s for sure.
4. Multi-Sensory Causes of Stress
There are many sources of stress that impact a vet tech during a shift.
Audio – When animals visit a clinic or hospital they meow, bark, hiss, growl, howl, chirp, etc. Dogs that may be boarding in kennels often bark non-stop at high volume. Cats may meow loudly, hiss, and if they are scared or injured can scream with a volume that assaults your ears. Puppies post-surgery like to howl as a chorus. Animals in pain from injuries or suffering from diseases also make many different sounds.
Visual – Animals come in with a wide range of injuries: dog vs porcupine, dog vs dog, dog attacks cat, dog or cat vs car, etc. All of the injuries have different visual impacts on a vet tech and depending on many factors this visual stress can have little to no effect–or it can be traumatic.
Animals suffering from diseases present a huge range of visuals that can include: urine, feces, blood, pus, explosive diarrhea, bloody urine and stool, wound excretions, etc.
Parvo puppies, for example, can really hit hard emotionally.
Seeing clients exhibit fear, anxiety, sadness, hopelessness, anger, and grief . . . can be very hard too.
Tactile – Animals communicate through their bodies in a lot of different ways: trembling, shaking, panting, wrapping paws around you, and more. Vet techs interact with animals closely and the close contact transfers whatever the animal is feeling to the tech. Scratches, bites, and bruises from being bumped while restraining animals happen too.
Olfactory (smell) – Urine, feces, anal gland fluid, blood, pus, explosive diarrhea, bloody urine and stool, wound excretions, etc. . . . all of these assault a vet tech’s nose to varying degrees. Some of these smells are difficult to wash off and may continue to have an effect on a tech even after they’ve showered, changed clothes, and are no longer at work.
Smells are powerful emotion and memory triggers. Family, friends, and romantic partners need to keep this in mind if their vet tech suddenly exhibits signs of stress when they are not at work.
5. Injuries: Scratches and Bites, and More – Vet techs have to deal with a variety of job-related injuries. A tech can hurt their back when lifting a heavy animal to be weighed, up and down from an exam table, or into and out of a kennel. When immobilizing an animal for a procedure, techs can get scratched or bitten.
Depending on the type of clinic or hospital a tech works in, and the quality of training and performance standards that doctors, managers, other vet techs, and support staff do in the day to day operations . . . vet techs may work in a facility where there are a low number of injuries because the work standards and safety protocols are followed and done well–but there is a flip side to that coin, and a tech may find themselves in an under-staffed, low quality of training and/or work standards clinic or hospital . . . and that’s when there is a higher prevalence of injuries.
Update: Please read the next post here, Top 10 Things Family, Friends, and Romantic Partners Need to Know About Vet Tech Work, Part 2.
If you like what you’re reading on this blog, please check out my book, So You Wanna Be a Vet Tech.
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