Why I Quit Being a Vet Tech
Unfortunately, my story about why I quit being a vet tech is not unique. To help veterinary practice owners and managers get a glimpse into the minds and hearts of their veterinary technicians—and learn why they are leaving clinical practice—I want to share my experiences and why I (mostly) quit being a vet tech. Perhaps with a better understanding of the problem and learning ways to help, managers can re-engage with their vet techs and stop them from leaving.
A Downward Spiral at My Veterinary Clinic
I found my niche at a small, one-doctor practice in rural Indiana where I was able to utilize my skills to the utmost. With time, my mentor stepped aside as the sole registered veterinary technician to relinquish that role to me so she could focus on managing the practice, and I became the head—and only—technician with a formal education.
Time passed, and it seemed the entire practice fell into a rut. We were seeing undersocialized dogs, fearful cats, and helping pet parents without the financial means to pay for the recommended care. Additionally, outside commitments and high staff turnover overwhelmed our appointment schedule, leaving the die-hards to shoulder the ever-increasing workload. Although I was the only technician in that role, everyone was called a "technician." I felt a bit disgruntled that our veterinary assistants received the same distinction as me. I worked hard for my education, and I felt like it wasn't being properly recognized—in terms of the public's eyes or my salary.
Why I quit being a vet tech largely revolved around communication. Despite repeated discussions about what the practice could do to improve the quality of care and pet owner education, we always went back to the same old routine. No one was excited to implement innovative ways to improve, and that wore my spirit down. I missed that drive to learn something new every day and implement it. But, as a small practice with few credentialed employees, we rarely did things out of the norm, and I felt stuck, with no opportunities for learning, growth, or advancement.
For example, I asked to be removed from vaccine appointments so I could operate as a surgical tech, which was my true passion. The answer I received was no.
Finally, when I bought my first home—solely due to the income from a part-time job I had been working on the side—my commute went from five minutes to nearly an hour. The additional drive-time led to frustration and resentment, not to mention valuable time during my day to focus on myself.
Fortunately, my part-time job offered me a full-time position. Although it was difficult, I broke up with my practice of 10 years to work from home. But I felt appreciated once again, and I knew there was plenty of room for growth and advancement, something I'd desperately been seeking.
The Keys to Vet Tech Retention
Practices can learn to identify some signs that their vet techs are burnt out or on the verge of leaving the practice. To make a difference in your valued team members' professional and personal lives, here are a few tips:
Pay your vet techs what they're worth. We all know no one is truly paid what they're worth in veterinary medicine, but give it a shot. Include in your vet tech compensation a well-rounded benefits package to ensure they can not only live on their salary, but also build a life for themselves.
Listen to your team. And I mean truly listen. Does someone despise dental cleanings, but they'll tackle anesthesia on splenectomies all day long? Schedule appropriately to allow your vet techs to play to their strengths and passions. You'll notice improved morale and job satisfaction if you let your vet techs do what they do best.
Recognize distinctions among team members. Credentialed veterinary technicians work hard for their job title and deserve to be recognized for it. While your on-the-job-trained tech of 20 years certainly has great experience, they do not have the same distinction as someone who underwent formal schooling and testing to become credentialed. Additionally, they may be unable to perform as many tasks as your credentialed techs, depending on your state's laws.
Provide flexible scheduling. We're living in extremely stressful times, and an appropriate work-life balance is essential for mental and physical health. Structure your practice so team members can be part-time if they wish or so they can take a vacation without disrupting the flow. A little time off and flexible hours will greatly reduce burnout.
Encourage growth and ideas. If your vet techs have great ideas, take them into account. Your vet techs want to continue to grow and learn, so encourage them wherever possible. Offer a hefty continuing education allowance, schedule lunch-and-learn events, and give them space to revise outdated protocols.
Although there are many ways to make them happy, you won't know unless you talk with—and listen to—your veterinary technicians. Schedule one-on-one check-in meetings every quarter to chat about the state of the practice, your techs' happiness, and ways you can improve their workplace environment and satisfaction. You'll find you won't need to keep replacing your vet techs if you listen to them in the first place.