Disclaimer: nothing below is medical advice (for sure a good dose of sarcasm), so please always seek care from your veterinarian if your pet is sick :o)
I work as a Registered Veterinary Technician (RVT) at an emergency and specialty veterinary hospital. An RVT is basically the same as a human registered nurse (no matter how much ~human~ nurses don’t accept it, its true). We actually are allowed to do more than most human nurses (anesthesia, x-rays, lab work, dental cleaning, etc. all in one day at times!). Technically we can’t call ourselves nurses because some nurse somewhere got all upset and legally got it changed. It’s because we work with animals so we basically are peasants. So that is why we are called technicians instead of nurses.
When I tell people what I do for a living the response is usually positive followed by some sort of sorrowful comment. For example, “wow your job must be so rewarding! I could never do it though, it would be too sad! I don’t think I could handle seeing all the sick puppies and kittens!” I never know what to say to that. Thanks? You get used to the sad part? No answer seems to be a good one and I usually just feel awkward. Most of the time I end up saying something along the lines of: over time you learn to see what is best for the animal and do what is right by them. And then I hope that they are satisfied by that answer and wait for the follow up question: What is the grossest/saddest/most interesting thing you’ve seen??
My job is to end suffering and be an advocate for the animals in need and do the best that we can to make them better. If we cannot achieve that, we let them go in peace and dignity. I’ve been in this career for about a decade and I’ve seen some shit, literally. I’ve suffered compassion fatigue (which is very common in my field), injuries, happiness, extreme sadness, and many many deaths. There are so many more adjectives and verbs to describe this field that I can’t possibly go on. But I will.
A day in the life for me can range from boring to insane at the drop of a hat. In the morning all of the doctors and technicians come together to discuss all of the patients in the hospital. We call it rounding, as they probably do at human hospitals. We gather around and talk about the ailments of each individual creature, how it came to us, the owners, and how dire their situation is, or is not. We mostly spend that time chatting aka gossiping about things that are not super relevant to the situation, but it’s all in good fun. But also very serious, we don’t mess around when it comes to the actual care of our patients. But sometimes we need to poke fun at nonsense or we will all die of sadness. Seriously, in the veterinary world it is shockingly common for workers to suffer some sort of mental illness or breakdown.
After rounds I spend time calling people before appointments start. The time frame can depend on how sick their pet is or how sensitive aka crazy the person happens to be. Most animal people are insane, myself included. There are several levels of crazy though. From the ones who treat their pet as their child (never let their pet touch the floor, pierce their ears, dig through their poop to make sure it’s normal, taste their food…the list never ends) to the ones who treat them as their employee (show pets, police dogs, reproductive animals). The amount of concern most people have for how often their pet has a poop is alarming. I mean it is important, but calm down people. Unless they are straining or part of their colon is sticking out, give it some time for God’s sake!
Then the big part of the day is appointments. This is when we get to meet the new and returning little fuzzies! It’s always great to see your favorite patient come back and see them get better. Unfortunately they don’t always get better each time, sometimes the opposite, but we try to stay positive for the owner and hope for the best. Mostly it seems like part of my job is to be a teacher and therapist for the owner. We teach about their pet’s problems, talk them through new medications, and go through all the stages of grief about the health of their furry family member. This factor was not something that I was necessarily prepared for going into this field. I am an introvert, as with many of my co-workers. Most of us end up here because we connect more to animals than people. Little did we all know that more than half of the job is to take care of people in addition to animals. So because of this, over the years I have developed my social skills and ability to chat with people for a lot longer than I’d ever thought I had in me. Take that high school bullies! Now you have to come to me to cry about your Chihuahua’s diarrhea! JK, I wasn’t bullied in high school (and if I was I was too oblivious to notice). On a serious note, I am glad that I have been able to develop my social skills in this manner. I think that it has helped me to connect to people on levels that I probably wouldn’t have ever developed if I had stayed at my desk job.
Moving on to the more fun aspect of my job…the skill based parts! The part that people probably get the most squeamish about is the more invasive needle and bloody part of the job. We do a lot for animals. More than you can imagine. Giving vaccines or “shots” is probably the most basic and boring thing we do. My favorite skills are placing IV catheters, drawing blood, cleaning and pulling out teeth, and assisting the doctors in procedures where I get to help hold things (like surgical instruments or body parts!). I don’t think a day goes by that I don’t get some sort of bodily fluid on me. And I mean all of the options for fluids: poop, blood, urine, vomit, anal glands, pus…the list can surprisingly keep going. Most days it is just blood and urine (and that’s a good day!). Now don’t get me wrong, I am not immune to the gross stuff. I do not want poop or anal glands on me! It’s disgusting and anal glands in particular don’t just wash off. Sometimes it requires an exorcism to get that stank off. Anyway, I digress. I would like to go on record and say that I do have good tech skills. And I’d be real ashamed if I didn’t by now. But that is not the case. Which is why I do like to draw blood and place catheters. It is so satisfying and somehow confidence building. Like hitting a home run. You feel a sense of satisfaction after a successful blood draw. I’ve done it a million times by now and still get a little high from each successful poke. The key to a good blood draw is confidence and willingness to accept defeat if that vein should betray you. The best technicians out there know when to give up and pass the torch if the blood gods are not with them that day. Nothing is more awkward and frustrating when someone is too proud to let someone else try to take the reins when it does not work out for them. I personally respect other technicians who know their limits and know when to ask for help. Although I do think that this pointer does pertain to all jobs in every field. It is ok to ask for help or ask someone else to step in if a job isn’t going well for you. These are the weird lessons that you can learn from this field as well. Team building and figuring out how to get all the tasks done without having something bite your face off. And I do mean that literally and figuratively.
Being an RVT has changed and molded my life into something that I never would have dreamed. I am independent, a home and car owner, a cat mother, a world traveler, a friend, a chef, a book nerd, a writer, a food connoisseur, a listener, a fighter, and I’m sure this list can go on. All of these personality traits have been developed as I have been in this career. I don’t know who I would be if I had chosen a different path. I am glad that my job has been weird and insane and truly rewarding. To those thinking about going into the field, prepare yourself for a bumpy ride. You will see some things you’d never imagine, but it will be worth it in the end. And to those currently here, my companions and family, yes you do have blood on your face and I didn’t tell you.
My creatures throughout the years.