Having an RN at the end of my name gave me everything I wanted. I completed nursing school at 26 years of age after completing a master’s degree in Trumpet Performance at USC. I had two babies 11 months apart while getting my RN and finally achieving my dream of becoming a nurse! I was so proud of that accomplishment and what the pin on my uniform stood for. I was ready to change the world and be there to help heal all who needed me.
Looking back, when I made the decision to pick a major in college I seriously considered veterinary medicine, but was encouraged to pursue music for the accomplishments I had playing the trumpet. I knew in the back of my mind that medicine would play a role in my life somewhere down the road.
Now, when I introduce myself as an RN who left human nursing for veterinary medicine, non-nursing people are intrigued as to why someone would give up a nursing career. Nurses are intrigued as to how I did it and what its like being in veterinary medicine. They don’t question why I left; many already know.
The bottom line I left was for self-preservation. As a brand new, bright and shiny RN I was idealistic and green and had not a clue as to some of the darker secrets of nursing. I started my nursing career on the floor as a medical/surgical nurse and eventually ended up in my dream job working Labor, Delivery, Recovery and Postpartum. When it was good, there was nothing in the world better than being a part of that brand new family with their new baby. I always said if you could bottle that feeling and sell it you’d be a millionaire. But when it was bad, it was the worst. Bad outcomes in OB were awful and litigious.
Nursing, by nature of the job, comes with huge responsibility and stress. I worked nights and my schedule was very demanding and then some. I worked doubles, was called in on days off, and felt chronically fatigued and overworked. There was the stress and fear of making a medical mistake and getting sued. We were chronically understaffed and I would find myself responsible for too many patients, to the point that I didn’t feel I was able to give quality or safe care. I wanted to make that human connection with my patients but found I never had time to spend with them. Many shifts I worked were without eating, sitting, or even taking a bathroom break. The standing joke when hired was “Did they issue you your Foley catheter along with your uniform?” Little did I know that there was some truth in the joke.
The other secret that no one talked about much was the saying “Nurses eat their young.” I hate to say it but it was true. The technical term for this behavior is horizontal violence. It’s the nurse who picks a fight with another nurse in front of a patient. It’s the nurse who insists on calling repeatedly to ask why you haven’t done something — given a drug or started a transfusion — a task that, for a number of valid reasons, you haven’t been able to complete. It’s the nurse who brags about giving a hard time to the interns and new nurses and makes it clear how enjoyable it is to pick on them. The silent treatment, sabotaging of another’s work and backstabbing. This was unprofessional behavior for sure and intended to make life miserable for another. I felt overwhelmed, overworked, frustrated and emotionally drained. I took a long hard look at my life and my family’s life and decided that I needed to leave the bedside to regain my quality of life. A decision I am so thankful I made.
I had two very young children who needed me and I felt like I was missing their lives because I was so stressed out and burnt out even when I was at home. Not once have I ever regretted my decision to leave bedside nursing. But I must say being an RN is part of who you are, forever.
Fast forward through life to a time when I returned to my desire of wanting to explore veterinary medicine. I missed nursing. I missed engaging in meaningful interactions with patients and being of service to others. So I decided to become a certified veterinary technician; a job that encompasses what human nurses do plus so much more. I went back to school, graduated from an AVMA accredited school and passed the nationals boards. CVTs are responsible for venipuncture, placing IV catheters, arterial catheters, central lines, urinary catheters, nasogastric tubes, doing blood transfusions, ventilator operation and monitoring of patients, making drug calculations and administration, providing advanced nursing care for critical patients, radiology and anesthesia for surgery patients, giving client education, laboratory procedures like blood typing and cross-matching, urinalysis, hand differentials. The list could go on and on. The patients we care for are of many different species, very small to very large, pediatric to senior. We are knowledgeable of physiology and disease processes and how to restrain and handle frightened animals that can’t speak and have claws and teeth.
We still deal with being short staffed at times and there are still bullies out there and yes, there are times that you feel overworked. But the satisfaction derived from doing this work makes it all worth it. It is never dull and we are always presented with a variety of cases that makes our profession so challenging and exciting. The veterinary profession is full of people who have a fascination with the art and science of medicine and a value system that doesn’t put income above other goals in life. And it allows you to be part of a profession that has a deep and lasting love of animals and the desire to help them. Veterinary medicine is as much about people as it is animals in that there is a person attached to most animals we see and in order to help the animal. You have to help that person understand what’s wrong and how you can help. It is this exchange that allows me to learn so much about people, and humanity, and to be thankful for my opportunity to help.