My Job Description in 2018 was Much the Same as 1995

6 Apr

I wrote the majority of this post in 2014, after getting out of my assisting job (for what I thought would be) the final time.  The point:  It’s a dead-end job.  Sure people love it and do it because it’s their calling and for the fun of it.  But also, a dead-end job (I think) leads to inevitable burn out and dissatisfaction.  I stand by it, and had some fun, learned some skills, met some good people and animals both.  But in general, I’m relieved to be out of it.  All of that very hard work, for little pay, and low appreciation.

I have been thinking about my 19 year (meaning volunteer + employment) stretch in veterinary medicine. I’m sentimental and relieved, happy and sad to be leaving the field. One of the problems in the animal industry is that without more education there’s not much upward mobility.

I started volunteering for Dr. Hulme the summer of 1995, when I was 11. I worked under the supervision of Claire, who gave me my first scrub top, a purple reversible number that I still have. I cleaned kennels, filed charts and x-rays, cleaned tables after they worked on animals, restocked drawers and filled supplies, counted pills, restrained animals, set out and cleaned up supplies, groomed and did many nail trims, wrapped and autoclaved surgery packs, organized drawers, walked dogs, helped make confirmation calls, and cleaned the building. This was also my first introduction to veterinarian behavior. I was frightened of the volatile doctor, and he kicked a hole in the surgery room wall out of anger.  Still, I loved the job and was determined to be a vet one day.

By 2000, Dr. Hulme sold his practice to a different vet and my responsibilities increased to include developing x-rays, painting, changing the x-ray dip tank out monthly, deep-cleaning inside and outside the premises, lab work on IDEXX equipment, organizing the whole place, filling prescriptions, cleaning instruments, giving SQ fluids, and scouring the surgery room. At the time, the vet was a new former resident in town, 5 years out of school, and full of potential. It was like a breath of fresh air.  I worked closely with Kim, though everybody was friendly, informative, and took an interest in my life inside and outside of work.  I wanted to spend all my free time at the hospital, and I became a fixture there.

After a year of volunteer work, I was officially paid to do much the same work in June 2000. When I became legit-employed my duties included taking vitals prior to exams and monitoring anesthetic.  I was occasionally allowed to try my hand at drawing blood, but was only 17 at the time so the vet worried about liability and her clients (she needant have, b/c that’s commonplace throughout the field, but whatever).  I also got to do fun chores like traveling to the next town for Starbucks, picking up lunch, washing personal vehicles, and going outside to clean/organize the hospital’s storage unit.  I loved my job, and the people I worked with!

When I found a veterinary job in Missouri in 2004, there were more dogs to walk.  It was a larger enterprise, more clients, pets, coworkers, and vets.  More to do on a daily basis.  Boarding was a central aspect to my job.  I walked, cleaned kennels, bathed dogs, carried out a board-full of treatments, and wrote up files for most of the hours in the days, with heartworm batch tests in between (in addition to the aforementioned duties of my home-town), covered reception overload by answering phones (bane of my assisting existence from this time forward), checking appointments in and out, and helping customers, and I very rarely collected blood.  The vets did their own vitals, prepped for their own procedures, and even cleaned up after themselves!  Noah’s Ark became my home, and the Chapmans who owned it, my family.  I not only spent most my time there, including every other weekend, and all holidays, but they once paid to have my car fixed, and the frequently bought staff lunch and treats.  This is also the only time I was paid what I am worth (given the midwest’s low cost of living).  I made more then employees at the other vet hospitals in town (as heard from pre-vet school-mates, and Lori and her friends who worked at a vet hospital).  and I also got scrubs 2-3 times yearly and large bonuses at least twice a year.  I could tolerate (but still hated!) the shenanigans of my coworkers, the politics within, and the massive boarding load for those incentives and that camaraderie.  I may have never left if I wasn’t accepted to vet school at Saint George.

In 2007, I had a brief stint back in my hometown (Cabin-Mansion) and worked solely reception for the first time.  I prepped charts, faxed and did office work, worked with the schedule, and counted money at the end of the night.  The vet was going through her mid-life crises, Kim through alcoholism, and their marriage was all but disintegrated so they were not pleasant to work with anymore.  The staff had changed and grown too, and the techs were gossipy, but my fellow receptionist was sweet and big-hearted.  Work itself was manageable (and might have even been enjoyable), but our personal lives became intertwined and sloppy, making the experience more bad than good.  I wanted out of there, out of their lives, and away from that situation forever.  What a disappointment.  I thought after 7 years, you would know people, but it’s either not the case, or I had overlooked some major personality flaws the first time around.

I took a job at an emergency hospital in 2009–and felt thoroughly out of my league.  With little to no supervision or guidance, I had to collect blood, place IV catheters (for the first time in 9 years of veterinary work), run all kids of lab work including blood-gases and manual CBCs (which I had not done prior to that point), and carry out diagnostics such as hyperbaric chamber and blood pressures that I had never done before.  With zero training.  And on a time-table.  My co-workers collected urine by cystocentesis and intubated, but I was scared and uncertain so I never jumped in on those–even though I easily could have.  I didn’t feel like it was ethical for me to practice skills I had never formally been taught or shown.  I was afraid I would do more harm than good, so I usually jumped into the restrain role.  I also had to do a daily inventory of supplies and prep items so they were ready to grab quickly.  My co-workers were friendly but dysfunctional and the turn-over was rapid.  I saw little of the vets, but when I did see them they were gruff and I never got to know them.  I truly was just a body there, and I was constantly worried about liability and quality of care the entire time I worked there.  It was not a good situation.

My vet school loan fell through at the literal last minute (a week is last minute when you’re going to a foreign country) so I was not going to vet school.  But I had quit, and moved, and packed, and prepared for vet school so I had to regroup on short notice.  Put my finger on a map and just jump.  I was watching Fraiser a lot, so I decided to give the Pacific Northwest a try.  In Seattle, I worked as a receptionist for the second time.  Then, transitioned back to assistant once the real receptionist was recovered from surgery.  I think all the tech/assistant duties were the same, except I always got stuck with changing processor chem before we got digital x-ray.  I also got to do dentals by myself for the first time.  The real difference was more tech support since we were in a big city, clients who expected a lot more (and were a lot more fussy), and technology was better (digital x-ray, brand new IDEXX equipment) and the mentality was more serious and pretentious.  I heard “gold standard” more then ever before.  The vets were superficially friendly, but I hardly had a rapport with them.  My coworkers were chilly right from my first introduction during my working interview, and never warmed up (who knows why-Seattle freeze?).  I never felt part of the team, and never felt camaraderie from the rest of the staff, and soon felt overworked, underappreciated, fatigued, and burnt out.  I thought it was just big city stuff, and wanted to move somewhere a little smaller and more down-to-Earth.

In 2010, I was relieved to find Cat’s Meow.  It was perfect!  Cute name, remodeled building, small staff, less clientele.  It was all the same tasks, except no more blood draws or placing catheters, because of my inconsistency in both, and my superior restraint skills.  I had a stint managing inventory.  I feel like by this time I was super-proficient at radiology (because that’s one thing vets can’t really put their own stamp on, it’s consistent everywhere).  I also restrained for the I131 buddies, which is like all other restraint, but your docimeter gets read more frequently.  I consistently roomed patients by taking histories and collecting vitals. And I think I was the best at restraint, and best at “reading the room” a.k.a. ascertaining a client’s and pet’s demeanor quickly, and adjusting my routine to accommodate that.  In other words, my soft skills had come to fruition, which are really just me trying to do my job-job more efficiently by preventing problems before they occurred.  Except at that job, I also never felt part of the team.  When I first got there everyone was substantially older, so I figured that was it.  But as an equal number of younger people started getting hired and seemed more a part of the group then me, I realized I just wasn’t part of their club.  That made me resent my job and hate the constant bitchy-drama. I wanted out of a life-or-death job, that was so demanding, yet so underpaid.  I was going to try to get an adult job.

But it’s not easy getting a job when your resume is full of only one type of work, but that’s not the type of work you want…  So I segued into the human side and did accessioning (entry level laboratory science stuff).  But it can only start after all the doctor’s offices and hospitals and everyone closes for the day, and after the couriers get the samples to the lab.  So my shift was evening to midnight, or one, or once even three AM!  And I am a morning person.  After my ‘retirement’ I had to get out of my specimen processing (on the human side) job.  I could not handle swing shift.  My body would pop up in the early morning hours no matter how late I got home from work.  And I could never nap.  So I just kept getting more and more sleep-deprived.  I think I aged a decade in those 2 years!  And my coworkers were crap.  Lazy and bitchy, so I had to go back to veterinary hospitals just to get out.  Back to square zero.  Again.

I worked at the most high-end hospital in a ritzy suburb of Salt Lake City.  Owned my daddy’s little princess who had about a (literal) 2 million dollar hospital, but was already getting burned out by the profession only a couple years out of vet school.  She was not open on weekends and didn’t board or hospitalize.  So for the first time ever, I didn’t work weekends or holidays either.  She wanted to play after work, so she left at 4 and we were nearly always finished with tech appointments, treatments, and cleaning by 5 PM.  Unheard of.  It felt weird, but also still demanding too much, still stressful.  The vet didn’t really want to do all that much so her ‘head tech’ pretty much carried the place.  On top of all the afore-mentioned duties, I got more practice with digital radiology and dentals (including extractions) and dental x-rays.  I practiced my blood draws, but was never even offered to place an IV there.  And I watched some emergency cases (suffer) while the vet went out of town.  Which I think is deplorable, and not good for the pet, owner, or an ethical position to put me in.  My major duty was selling things.  Which I didn’t see as problematic, because animals should be getting heartworm prevention, etc…  But there was a definite emphasis on sales at that job.  Which was different.

The point is, my job duties didn’t change very much after all the time.  And you have got to not just get along with every vet, but your coworkers to really enjoy going to work day after day.  At this kind of job you have to think of them or friends and family or the long hours, low pay, nonexistent upward mobility, physical work, angry clients, etc, etc…  just isn’t worth it.  My favorite jobs were the ones where the people made it awesome.  But assisting just could never satisfy me long term, because I need goals and something to aspire to throughout my career.  So that’s that.

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