sink or swim

I left my job as an Emergency Veterinary Technician last June at the 24 hour ER/Specialty veterinary hospital that I worked at for almost 4 years. While it was absolutely the right decision as far as my own personal and financial well being, it still kills me inside to have left. I was built to be in an ER, I was made to care for critical animals.

This past weekend I picked up a few shifts and it was a joy and a curse. A joy, because I was back. I was in my territory, I was in my element. I can place and IV in a seizing dog in less than 1 minute, I can intubate and start ventilation on a coding cat in 20 seconds. My record for stabilizing a GDV including 2 IV catheters, IV fluids, pain medication, a lateral x-ray, and prepping for a stomach trocharization is 9 minutes. Oh, how I live for this job. It consumed me and made me feel whole and worthwhile again. A curse, because I just walked back into the same problems that pushed me away.


Me being super psyched about working an overnight shift.

I hate to say that money drove me into research but it did. Money and quality of life. I now have a job that I rarely ever leave late, and I can usually plan for it ahead of time. I never have to work insane weekends or 14 hour shifts. I don’t have to stress about being the only technician in the ICU on an insane Sunday with 20+ hospitalized patients and a revolving door of incoming sick animals. People think that human hospitals have a high nurse to patient ratio? Try vet med.  I left because I know how amazing I am at my job and I was unable to perform it to the best of my ability. I was being torn into pieces trying to care for everything at the same time and knowing I was failing.

Not to say I didn’t have help – I certainly did. I had several fantastic assistants and doctors that would do as much as they could. But the doctors have their own responsibilities and the assistants can only do so much. I had my right hand – the other Jen RVT. We were the dream team, Jen squared. But more often than not, we were split up to cover the empty tech shift gaps. But together we conquered that ICU every day. We were so great that often they didn’t even schedule us an assistant- apparently 2 techs was the equivalent of 4 people.

The stress and under-staffing finally took other Jen away too, just a few months after my departure. It’s extremely disheartening and disappointing. Here we were, two extremely competent, experienced technicians who were thrown into the ocean of ER right out of school to either sink or swim- and swim we did. But at a certain point neither of us could take it. We both wanted a life outside of work, Jen wanted to be a Mom with normal working hours, and who can blame us? Who wants to work at such a low-paying, high stress job and then barely have time to come home and breathe to turn around and do it again tomorrow? We often were scheduled 10 or 12 hour shifts, so only working about 3 or 4 days a week. I always needed at least a day to recover. The long shifts mean I can’t run many errands after work, so all my off days are spent grocery shopping, doing laundry, caring for Pony, trying to make up for lost days with my own critters. Maybe getting to actually see my husband for more than an hour. A full weekend off was a rare treat and I wanted to do everything – oh but I better be in bed on Sunday night early so I can wake up at 5:00am on Monday to start over again.

I tried to make it work. I truly did. But there is such a vast misunderstanding between the upstairs management and the downstairs workers. Isn’t that how it always is? Oh we care, we want to help you, but first lets have a meeting that lasts all day and talk about it. Literally, I sat in a meeting for 5 hours once and it accomplished absolutely nothing except for pulling two of us off the ICU floor and drowning the assistant in things they couldn’t do. And then when I gave my notice – nothing. I had one manager who called me to talk about and said there was nothing she could change about the job right now, but if I could just wait, just hold out a little longer, change was coming. Well I’m glad I didn’t wait- because the change still hasn’t come.

So now I work in research, which is fulfilling in a different way. I might not be working to save this individual animal, but my work can potentially save the lives of hundreds or thousands animals and humans in the future. I get to take actual lunch breaks. I am part of a great team that shares the work load. And stress? Forget about it. I have so much support. I can work late and comp time at the end of the week – what a luxury that it. I’m actually getting to take a real vacation this week too. My last vacation I took at my previous job was a stay-cation and I was called twice to come in for just a couple of hours.

There needs to be a change in this industry. We are losing hundreds of truly talented technicians every day due to poor management, lack of acknowledgement, and practically poverty level salaries. I loved my job – but I couldn’t take it anymore. Burn out is real but the industry itself is contributing to it – not the actual work. We love the adrenaline, we love the rush. But we also love to have a work/home life balance. We love being able to pay our bills and still have some money left over to eat. But shouldn’t it still show my immense dedication and love of the job that I continue pick up shifts? That I enjoy the job so much that I just want to taste it for a few hours every week? After already putting in my 40 hours for my regular job last week I still picked up 16 additional hours and skipped my weekend to just help out? This dedication isn’t realized and it is definitely not appreciated by those who should be noticing it.


Dedication runs deep: this little nugget with grossly infected KCS in her left eye and two busted MPLs eventually came home to me to be my little puppy-mill-basket-case-hot-mess-turned-best-dog-ever. A few months later, minus one eye and a whole lot happier.


And that came home with me too. FIV positive, busted ear, broken toe, and then became the world’s greatest cat-dog.

Would I go back if I was asked? Only under the absolutely, 100% right circumstances. That I am not the only technician on the floor at any given time, that there is at least one assistant during the week, and two or more on the weekends. They decide to pay me what I’m actually worth. I have fewer weekends. I am fine with doing weekends, but it’s not fair to work almost all of them. Hiring more qualified technicians – I can’t train another tech that comes in and is unable to poke a vein on a stable patient on the first try. This is ER – this is for the pros. I’ll train you to handle critical and unstable patients with crappy blood pressure and non-existent vessels, but you better be able to at least give an IV injection to that happy, stable beagle who was unfortunately stung by a bee.

Until there is a change I will have to suffice on fussing over my own critters and the occasional pick up shift. Until then, I will have to just watch from the sidelines.


via Daily Prompt: Territory


One thought on “sink or swim

  1. I read the whole thing. Oh man.
    I have no solutions of course. I think you’ve definitely done the right thing. Life is worth living, right!!?
    But how sad there’s no other way, when you obviously have a huge talent.


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