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A New Veterinary Technician’s Survival Guide

David Liss, BA, RVT, VTS (ECC)

Peer Reviewed

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While working to train the world’s up-and-coming veterinary technology students, I realized that it has been a long time since I was in their place. For the seasoned technicians reading this, remember when you first started, either as an RVT or as an assistant training up? Although my students will receive associate’s degrees and have their credentials, school does not equate to experience; they will be competing against seasoned technicians and assistants for jobs in this tough economy.

I interviewed Mimi Riddering, one of my students, to talk about her struggles and challenges. Mimi will remind us all of what it was like when our hands shook as we placed our first catheters, when our dosages were double-checked (and should still be!), and when we were afraid to record a fecal analysis as “negative” or “no parasites found” for fear that the patient had invisible giardiasis.

Read Mimi’s Survival Tips for Veterinary Technology Students 

What was your main challenge entering a vet tech program?
I am an older student who chose to change careers. My main challenge was figuring out how to afford the time and money to pursue a new career path, but my support system helped immensely.

What has been your biggest struggle during your vet tech program?
The program is accelerated, so it has taken a lot of commitment to keep school as my priority and to balance the needs of the rest of my world with that commitment.

What will be your main challenge exiting the vet tech program?
It is hard to define, but there will be several. Entering a career where many in the field have experience that I do not have, even though I will have a degree and a vast amount of “book knowledge,” is intimidating. Also, our economy is of great concern because I know the veterinary field has been impacted by the recession. Will my personality, degree, and enthusiasm be enough to land me a position that will pay a comfortable salary? I don’t know, but I have hope.

Do you believe you have grown professionally and/or personally in your program?
Absolutely, I have grown. It is a gift to be able to pursue something I am interested in and absorb all of the information being offered. I have been able to use what I am learning to expand my knowledge of animals and to offer that knowledge to the world. This has been pivotal in developing professionally. Personally, taking a risk and going back to school has been challenging and has forced me to evaluate what is and isn’t important. And I have discovered a sense of pride in small victories.

Taking a risk and going back to school has been challenging and has forced me to evaluate what is and isn’t important.

What is a challenge you see for graduate vet techs when searching for jobs?
I think the biggest challenge is going to be breaking into the field by finding a job and proving my value as an RVT, knowing that there are many people in the field without a degree but with much more experience than I can offer at this time.

How will you overcome this challenge?
I have already begun to network myself through volunteer opportunities and attending events where I meet people in the veterinary field. I believe my biggest assets are my outgoing personality and life experience. I am hoping to use these to win job opportunities. Once I am hired, I will be able to back up someone’s first impression of me with knowledge and commitment that establish value to my employers.

Do you think your challenges are unique?
When I first entered the program, I thought I might be unique as an older student with struggles other students might not relate to, but that has not proven to be true. My challenges of affording education, paying living expenses, and balancing the unexpected seem to be shared by my classmates even though our situations differ. I am sure that is indicative of the experiences of many other aspiring techs, especially in our economic climate.

Do you think there is a large job market for veterinary technicians now?
I certainly hope so, but it is difficult to tell without being in the job market. I think pets in our society are beginning to be seen more as family members and a growing consciousness of this perspective is developing. I am hoping this is leading to a greater need for RVTs in the workplace, which hopefully means more opportunities for those of us entering the field over the next few years.

What would you like a potential employer to consider?
If you are a hiring manager, head technician, or practice owner, please consider the benefits of choosing a new RVT graduate. Whether we obtain our license or credentialing via an alternative pathway, or have an associate’s or bachelor’s degree in veterinary technology or animal science, we are all “vet techs.” We each have individual strengths and weaknesses, but we are all part of the larger veterinary community.

For global readers, a calculator to convert laboratory values, dosages, and other measurements to SI units can be found here.

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