"And, when you want something, the entire Universe conspires in helping you to achieve it." -The Alchemist, by Paulo Coehlo



How I Became a Vet Tech

I have always drawn. Almost before I could speak, I was drawing. All I drew was animals. It was assumed that coming from a very artsy family, I would grow up to be a famous artist some day. We were in the loop in the Puertorrican art world. My mom switched careers and became a children's art teacher, and her and my two aunts are, to this day, a force to be reckoned with-they are well-known on the island as excellent educators, especially when it comes to art. Every time they open up a new class or give a workshop, it is filled within days. They are known as the Torrech sisters. This was my key into the art world.

"Spiral" 2003 (Seashell series)

"Bredismo" 2005 (triptich of a friend)

Tamarindo & me 2006

"Bo" 2012 (portrait of Mark's horse)
Also being an animal lover, in college I surprised everyone by choosing to start a biology major-I wanted to go on to get a Master's and Doctorate's in Animal Behavior. Unlike every other animal lover on the planet, I had never had aspirations to be a vet. However, I truly suck at math, and most science major classes are math-based. After barely passing Pre-Calc (I was a straight-A student with a 3.92 GPA! That C was a huge blow!) and taking all of the classes I was really interested in (Bio, Genetics, Zoology, etc.), I decided to switch to Fine Art, with a focus on Drawing (again going against the flow-everyone always chooses Painting). I started volunteering in the Exhibits Design department of the Museo de Historia, Antropologia y Arte de Puerto Rico (The Museum of History, Anthropology and Art of PR) and in playing with Photoshop and InDesign while creating brochures, flyers and catalogs for the exhibits, I fell in love with graphic design. This was what I would do with my art degree. Or so I thought.

I had just started a Master's in Graphic Design. The Museum had created a position for me as Exhibit Designer's assistant and hired me full-time as soon as I graduated from university; I'd already been working there for 5 years, when in 2004 my life literally did a 180: that was the year I moved from Puerto Rico to Tampa, FL to live with Charles.

We lived in Tampa for 2 years. I could not find a job in the art industry to save my life, but thanks to my 17+ years of equine experience, I was able to get a job at a local tack shop, Whip N Spur, where I became assistant manager. I worked there the entire time we lived in Tampa; it has been one of my favorite jobs ever.
With Mary Ann, the tack shop owner and my boss, with her Guinness and her cigarette at the  yearly Tampa steeplechase. My favorite Irishwoman. :) I loved her!

Charles started nursing school, and I really liked what he was doing. I wanted to do the same, but with animals. I debated becoming a human nurse for awhile, but I just did NOT want to work with people. This is when I first learned about vet techs. I contemplated going back to school for it, but the pay was low and at the time it didn't seem worth it. At this point, we knew we'd be relocating to South FL so Charles could go to Nova Southeastern to finish his degree, and I figured it would be very easy to get a much better paying graphic design job there.

Wrong. I had several interviews, but I couldn't even get a part-time job in graphic design-they either wanted a lot more experience or felt I was overqualified! You have NO idea how frustrating this was, when back in PR, my last name would have motivated employers in the art world to take a second look. The doors that opened so easily back on the island remained closed outside of it. We had to pay the exorbitant South FL bills, so I took a job through a temp agency as an administrative assistant at a place that was 45 minutes from our apartment. I HATED that job. I have never been as unhappy as when I had that job. I was violently miserable. I cried every day I got into the car for that 45 minute drive. And I did it for 6 months! This is when I again started contemplating being a vet tech. I'd make the same amount of money as I currently was, except I would be doing something I loved. I applied to tech school at Miami Dade College and was accepted. I immediately searched for a veterinary job, and found one 10 minutes from home at one of the big specialty hospitals in South FL at the time. They hired me on the spot as a tech assistant.

I had always been ridiculously squeamish about blood. I was secretly afraid I'd be super squeamish working emergency and wouldn't be able to do the job, though I told no one, not even Charles. I was DETERMINED; I wanted to do this. When I arrived for that first interview, the supervisor was helping another tech place an IV catheter on a patient, so I ended up watching while I waited. Of course there was blood involved. I forgot to breathe, and broke into a cold sweat and my ears started to ring, and this is how I entered the interview-about to faint! I got over it (thank you yoga breathing exercises!), and it never, ever happened again. (Placing IV catheters is now one of my favorite things, and I'm damn good at it, too.) I loved that job, but the problem was that at this hospital in particular they had strict rules about assistants vs techs-they didn't allow cross-training. I would only be able to work as a tech once I was certified. I refused to graduate never having done real tech stuff (drawing blood, placing IVs, obtaining urine via cystocentesis, giving IV and IM meds, etc), so a year later I took a job in general practice (like your normal vet: vaccines and that kind of stuff). It was nice to see healthy patients, but I soon became very, very bored. Being a closet adrenaline junkie, I missed the rush of the emergency room. One of my favorite shifts at this hospital was the Friday evening shift, as we tended to get a lot of emergencies. I would pray for emergencies to come in the door to break up the monotony of diarrhea, skin allergies, nail trims and yearly check-ups. My favorite doctor there often worked this shift with me. He always said it was my fault, as whenever any other tech worked that shift, no emergencies came in. *lol*

The vet tech program at Miami Dade College is pretty freaking awesome. It made us well-rounded techs, but it is a super intense program. Of the almost 30 students that started, only 8 of us graduated.

Vaccinating a cow in the stocks on one of our large animal field trips. That was a 16 gauge needle. Cow hide is SUPER tough. (I have more cool school pics of us doing procedures and stuff, but they're in the laptop that needs to be repaired. :(


Reptile Day, where we got some hands-on experience with a multitude of reptiles ranging from lizards to snakes to turtles. That's a crested gecko on my shoulder.
Graduation Day, with my best friend Mio. We both graduated Highest Honors, Mio in Clinical Excellence, and I was Academic Excellence. Boricua power!
(We're both Puertorrican; it was a weird coincidence!)


It wasn't over with graduation, though. All that schooling is worth nothing until you take the Veterinary Technician National Exam (VTNE) and the Florida Practical Exam (for the FL certification). Our professors helped us apply for the exams and prepared us for the material that would be covered, but after that we were on our own. The test was in June, a month after graduation, in Orlando. Mio and I stayed at the house of one of Charles's friends. This was us pulling one last all-nighter the evening before the exams.


Can you tell we'd just gotten out of the exam, and done well?? 2 years of hard, hard work and dedication, DONE!

We graduated in 2009, and everyone in my class passed the VTNE and FPE. I was officially a credentialed veterinary technician.  Fresh out of school, I applied at a specialty practice where I had done my last clinical rotations for school. I was hired, and I worked my way through the different departments: the lab, daytime ICU, nighttime ER and ICU, and then oncology & internal medicine. I was there for 2 years, but while this hospital was fully equipped, prices were so high that we rarely got to do very advanced stuff (central lines, sampling lines, care of neuro cases, etc. Even big trauma cases were often euthanized so we never got to treat them). I wanted more: more challenging cases, more advanced care. I took a job as part of the original crew at a brand-new 24 hour emergency practice, as one of the greenest techs there (I had 4 years experience vs the average 10 years of experience everyone else had) thanks to the awesome recommendation of my fave doctor from when I had worked with in general practice.

At this hospital, I had the opportunity of working side-by-side with THE creator of the Veterinary Emergency and Critical Care Society. It was the first veterinary specialty to come into existence, and the one field I'd eventually like to specialize in as a tech. I was working with the God of ER, yet he was one of the most humble doctors I have yet to work with, coming in on his days off to check on us wearing Hawaiian shirts and Crocs, with his hair tousled, resembling Einstein. The man was 72 years old and still going strong. I  miss Dr. Z.

Man, did I learn. In a 3 month period I went from being extremely insecure of my abilities to rocking that ER floor. I had to, as I was often working alone with just one doctor in the very beginning, triaging emergencies AND taking care of hospitalized patients. I was someone here. I also found my voice here-I was not afraid to voice my opinions about things, especially when it came to patient care, and to my surprise, my ideas were taken into consideration and often implemented. As we got busier, a few more techs were hired. We had a terrific tech team, where we rapidly bonded to one another, as it was a very small, very short-staffed but very busy hospital, and we depended very much on one another. We worked HARD, with rather limited equipment, but my favorite part of working here was that your team mates became an extension of you-when you needed a hand, your fellow tech was there; when you couldn't get to something, they were there. I saw some true miracles at this place, and it just strengthened my love for all things emergency and critical care.

Me with one of our more critical patients. He was receiving oxygen via a nasal cannula.
Photo from LVS website, where I used to work.


Cageside rounds
From LVS Facebook website.


With one of my coworkers. This photo was taken after rounds one morning; I don't remember what we were talking about that we were caught laughing. We had the most inappropriate sense of humor... :)
I have a lot more work photos, but we are not allowed to publish pet photos on social media sites without client permission. The only reason why I put the first photo above is because it is on the hospital's public website.
However, I hated South FL. I made some wonderful friends there, but the people in general are some of the angriest, most short-tempered in the country. Sometimes it was very hard working with clients, and at 2 separate animal hospitals, we had threats from pet owners where we had to call the cops.

During the summer of 2012, Charles applied for a job at a new hospital in Orlando and made it to the second interview. We made plans to move. I picked up a second job at a small overnights-and-weekends-only veterinary ER to save up money. We had our neighborhood picked out and everything. I gave notice at the hospital I was working at full time...and then the job offer tanked. The small ER took me on full time in the meantime, and Charles applied for several travel nursing agencies.

The first week of October 2012, we received the call from one of the agencies: there was a job for Charles at Georgetown University Hospital in Washington, D.C. Since the chances were high that we would be living in the VA area, I applied for the Virginia vet tech license, which was an unexpectedly easy process. In Virginia you have to be licensed to be able to work as a tech. On October 28, 2012, we drove the 1100 miles north from South FL to D.C. I took a 3 week break, then started applying for vet tech jobs in the area. I was very excited about one practice in particular in the Maryland area: I was very impressed with the quality of medicine and coworker dynamics when I went in for my working interview. Within 48 hours of the interview, I had received a job offer and I accepted. This is the first hospital I have worked at where the ER and ICU are 2 separate areas. This is absolutely WONDERFUL for patient care: you have dedicated techs round the clock for the really super critical patients, and a separate team to triage and work up the emergencies that come in through the door. The emergencies get the attention they require, as do the hospitalized patients.

One of the big differences between veterinary medicine in South FL and in the D.C. metro area is client finances: in South FL, which was hit particularly hard by the recession, a LOT more pets were euthanized due to financial limitations. The clients that could afford to treat were often still limited in their resources, so doctors often had to get creative in trying to do what was best for the patients while saving the client as much money as possible. It was a big stress for the medical staff: we didn't want neither the pets nor the clients to suffer. The D.C. area, however, was barely affected by the recession, and thus a lot more people are able and willing to treat their very sick pets. This makes a HUGE difference in the stress levels of the doctors and staff, because they are allowed to do their jobs to the best of their capabilities. It has been interesting to see these differences and to be able to do my job as I was trained in school.

It is an intense profession that is hard emotionally and physically, and we often suffer from periods of burnout. I still love my job, though. There is nothing like knowing that your actions on a given day helped save a cat or a dog. Animals are amazing. They have an enormous heart and the ability to not dwell on the things that make them feel bad; they will keep trying as long as they see a reason to survive. You see it every day when you are working in a veterinary ER/ICU. There is a lot to learn from these patients. The people that think this isn't a "real" job don't have a clue what it's like. It's as real a job as being an RN. Actually, a veterinary technician working in a specialty hospital setting does the same jobs as a registered nurse, a phlebotomist, an ultrasound technician, a radiology technician, a surgical assistant, a medical lab technician, a clinical medical assistant, an anesthesiologist, a grief counselor, a surgical technologist, and dental assistant. That's 11 different careers in human medicine for which you'd require separate degrees, certifications and licenses. I can clean your dog's teeth while monitoring his anesthesia at the same time; I can place feeding tubes; I can place central lines (long jugular catheters that reach the heart; you need a special certification to do that in human medicine);  I can entubate a cat or a dog for an anesthetic procedure (this one always shocks Charles-RNs aren't allowed to entubate patients); I can find almost every organ on your pet with ultrasound, including his bladder so I can obtain a sterile urine sample with a syringe and needle; I can read said urine sample under a microscope and tell you if there are any abnormalities; I can draw blood from your pet, prepare a blood smear, and tell you if the blood looks normal or not and I can recognize abnormalities in the red cells, platelets, and white cells that can help your vet figure out whether there is something wrong with your pet's liver, immune system, or if he has cancer (I kick ass in the lab. Just saying. I've trained veterinarian interns on how to read blood smears and performing urinalysis.) I can set up and take down an OR, and am expected to know the names of most surgical instruments; I can look at your pet when he comes in through ER and tell you if he appears stable or not; I know the side effects of most of the drugs we prescribe in the hospital. All of these are par for the course for a veterinary technician. Most experienced techs can do all this, whether they've gone to school or not. All of this is expected of any credentialed tech.

Next time you're in the vet's office with your pet, say hi to the vet techs. We are the doctor's eyes and ears. A good vet is the best he can be when he has a good tech at his side, watching over his patients.

As part of my future goals in this career, I'd like to eventually complete my Veterinary Technician Specialty as an Emergency and Critical Care Technician. That's the equivalent of being a Nurse Practitioner in ECC (Emergency and Critical Care.)





7 comments:

  1. I loved reading this, too! You totally rock! I realize now that I really should say I worked as a Veterinary Assistant, NOT a Tech, even though I was allowed to do some lab work, monitor anesthesia, do sub-q fluids and some other fairly hands-on type of stuff. Until I read your list I didn't actually know how much the techs in my vet's office were doing with my dog instead of the vet herself! It really is pretty crazy, and very cool, that you are able to do stuff like central lines that no regular RN is permitted to touch.

    Thanks for explaining all of this!

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    1. Thank you RiderWriter! I loved reading your comments! A lot of the tasks that are done by general practice vet techs end up falling in the vet assistant realm when they move into specialty practice, simply because in specialty, especially emergency and critical care, you do so, so much more! We still do the assistant-type stuff; we just do all of the other things as well. Some specialty hospitals specifically have veterinary assistants who are often trained to be techs by the techs themselves; we've had this system at pretty much every hospital I've worked at except for the very first one where I was an assistant myself (they had a really weird system, but I think it had to do with them only wanting to hire credentialed techs.) Most people don't realize how much we do. :) I get asked all the time, "But don't you want to be a vet?" The answer is no. They have to do a lot more schooling and go into so much more debt (that they often have a hard time paying off), and I feel like they have the worst end of the stick: they have to diagnose the patient and are the ones accountable if anything goes wrong or the diagnosis is incorrect, they are the ones that actually euthanize patients, they are the ones that have to face the clients in the good and the bad, and they are the ones that later get to do all of the paperwork involved with a case, especially the doctors that work in specialty practice. I like being the nurse, the one that does the treatments, that watches out for the patient, that monitors changes, that develops a relationship with *the patient* first, plus we get to do all of the other advanced stuff too. It's an immensely rewarding job!

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  2. What an incredible journey to a great job! Those reading this will be inspired to follow as most will be looking for information about becoming a vet technician. For those interested in knowing more about the vet technician career, please click here.

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  3. Nice blog and i really appreciate and in future i work as a veterinarian because i love pets and i have my own pet.Thanks for sharing such informative article.
    http://www.mypets20155.blogspot.com

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  4. I came across your blog post because i was researching graphic design and vet tech... right now I am taking an intro to vet tech class at my local community college, while working full time in the social work field- which I know just isn't for me. But I also want to do graphic design. AHhhhh- what to do! So I have decided to start out this fall full time in school, taking classes for both, doing a double major and hopefully getting a degree in both. We will see how this goes. But I really enjoyed reading this and got a lot of info out of it- seems like you have had some really great experiences! Thanks for the read :)

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  5. Saiph
    I'm emailing you in this thread because I couldn't find a direct email link. I was doing a google search for photos of Sugarloaf mountain and a photo from your blog showed up
    http://waitingforthejump.blogspot.com/2015/08/sugarloaf-mountain-with-gail.html
    I'm helping a friend of mine who recently became a home inspector with a web page titled Sugarloaf Home Inspections. If the photo is something he'd like to use I'm asking your permission to use the photo. If this works out please let me know if there'd be a charge and if you'd want a photo credit.
    On a more personal note I was sorry to read about your cat Astarte. We've had a number of feline companions over the years and it's always hard to let a family member go.
    Treasure her memories and wishing you the best,
    Jose Rosapepe
    amphibo@yahoo.com

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    1. E-mailed you! Thank you so much Jose, both for the condolences and for the interest in the photo.

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