My Best Advice for Vet Techs? DON’T GIVE UP!

Posted: Mar 11, 2014
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I'm in the treatment area of my very first veterinary job and I'm trying to place an IV catheter. Frustration is building as I poke and miss, poke and miss and then have to pass it off to a technician while I restrain. Later in the day, I ask the head (non-credentialed) technician if she ever felt the same frustration that I was feeling: the nagging worry that my hands would never be in the right place; that my fingers wouldn’t do what I want them to; that I would never successfully place an IV catheter. The tech looked at me and said, “I never felt that way. I was always just able to do it.” My heart sank. I went home that night depressed, dejected, and thinking I had made a huge mistake. Why was I going to school to learn to be a veterinary technician when I clearly wasn’t meant for it?

Luckily for me I live with a sane and rational person – my husband – who listened to me vent about my day and set me straight: everyone goes through a time when they’re just learning something and can’t get it right. And he was right. I kept at it. Even when the techs at the clinic were frustrated, I pushed for the chance to at least try to get blood, or place the catheter, or intubate that dog or cat. And the more I practiced, the better I got.

Adobe Animal Hospital intern's first IV catheter placement.

(An intern showing her first successfully placed IV catheter.)

Eventually I left that first job for a hospital that gave me the chance to learn in a very very busy environment, which gave me lots of opportunity to practice. In my first clinic, we placed two or three IV catheters a day. In the ICU in my new hospital, we might place two or three IV catheters in an HOUR, giving me lots of opportunities to try. On top of being busy, the other, more experienced techs at my new practice were encouraging, helpful, and loved to teach. It was a match made in heaven!

Adobe animal hospital staff treating a guinea pig.

(Working on a guinea pig with my team.)

I have been at that busy practice for almost eight years and have had the opportunity to do amazing things that would never have been possible if I had stayed at the first clinic or if I had given up. The other day I was looking around the ICU – at all the patients we were caring for – and I had the feeling that I was exactly where I belonged and was doing exactly what I had always been meant to do. What a tremendous feeling!  

Now I pay that experience forward by encouraging and teaching new generations of veterinary technology students as they intern at our hospital. And when a new tech asks me how I felt when I first started, I remember that first head tech, and I remember how disheartened she made me feel. My immediate response is always, “Of course I felt that way! Everyone does and if they tell you differently, they’re lying. But the key is to keep with it, keep practicing, keep learning, and keep believing you can do it.”

Adobe Animal Hospital ICU staff tapping a chylothorax.

(Tapping a chylothorax with my team.)

To paraphrase Thomas Watson, founder of IBM, if you want to succeed at anything, first you have to fail a lot. And even though failure is difficult, each one teaches you what you need to be successful. The key is to not give up!