I just finished my first year of undergrad, and while I've shadowed at a vet clinic before, I'm about to start a job as a veterinary assistant. While I'm super excited, I'm also extremely nervous. Any advice for starting a first job at a vet clinic?
Ooh fun question! Congrats on finishing your first year and getting your first job as a vet assistant!
I volunteered/shadowed on and off from when I was 12-18, then got my first job as a part-time assistant at a general practice when I was 18-22, and now I’ve been working full-time as an assistant at an emergency hospital for the past year.
So much comes to mind, so this may be pretty long.
-Be willing to learn! Accept that there is a lot you don’t know, and always be willing to listen and learn from more experienced people.
-Don’t be afraid to ask the doctors questions about cases. Most are more than willing to answer and explain. (Everyone there who is more experienced has been where you are now one day in their life - when you become an experienced person, remember what it was like to be a nervous, new assistant.)
-Don’t be afraid to ask the other assistants/techs for help. If you don’t know how to do something, it’s a million times better to ask than to guess and do something incorrectly. (Same goes for clarifying what you’re ALLOWED to do.)
-On the same note, if you don’t know how to do something, but want to learn, say so, or the experienced assistant/tech may just do it FOR you.
-Restraint. Start with the nice ones! If you’re not comfortable restraining an aggressive animal - SAY SO. Don’t be afraid to use muzzles, e-collars, comforters for big dogs or cat-muzzles, e-collars, towels for cats - they don’t hurt the animal and they help keep everyone safe. Despite what the owner believes, the dog CAN breathe through the muzzle (be careful with muzzles and vomiting patients though). Sometimes you can even distract patients with food (make sure they’re not on a special diet or NPO or anything). You can also pet their heads (if they’re not aggressive, just squirmy) or tap their heads gently with a pen (if they are aggressive) to distract them. If an animal is really stressing themselves out or has a high possibility of hurting you or someone else - tell the doctor. Medical restraint (drugs) is great! There are so many different ways to restrain animals of different sizes and temperaments for different procedures, that I don’t even know where to start. You’ll learn over time! Always be cautious. Even the nicest animals will bite when scared or in pain. Watch out for teeth and claws, but also those sneaky back feet and headbutts.
-Bring a notebook! Write down any questions you have (if it’s too busy to ask them) - you can look them up yourself, or ask them later. Write down things you learn, write down instructions on how to do something new, etc. (I actually looked back at my notebook from a year ago and had some fun reading my old questions).
-Bring snacks/drinks. My GP (general practice) shifts were 12 hours, my ECC (emergency and critical care) shifts are 11 hours. It’s a long day!
-Wear good shoes. When I started working, I wore converse sneakers and my god did my ankles hurt. It’s constant standing and walking - buy good walking sneakers!
-Everyone has their own way of doing things. If it’s something menial, take everyone’s methods into account and form your own way. If it’s something important, find a high ranking person (doctor, practice owner, head technician) and get it clarified which way YOU should do it.
-Try to keep busy! If you don’t know what to do, ask anyone if there’s anything you can do to help them. If not, you can always sweep/mop/clean. Your coworkers and employers will definitely take note of it.
-Check on patients. Maybe this comes from my emergency experience, but you can never check on patients too often! From something small like pee sitting in the cage, to a change in breathing patterns, you don’t want anything to go unnoticed for too long. If anything looks abnormal to you - ask for a second opinion.
-(May be targeted more toward Emergency.) Learn normal vitals. These are your first indicators of something going seriously wrong. Learn what a normal heart rate is for a small/medium/large dog and for a cat (and how it sounds!), learn a normal respiration rate, and normal gum color. Not as urgent - but temperature too. A change in vitals may be a normal occurrence of a disease process or side effect of medication, but always bring it up to the doctor just in case. Hopefully you’ve been around mostly healthy animals before shadowing, so learn what “breathing weird” looks like, and whether it’s increased effort (dyspnea) or increased rate (tachypnea)… or both. You hear about pale gums and cyanotic (blue/purple) gums a lot, but if you ever get to see them, take note of what they actually look like on a living patient. Mentation is important too - is that crazy energetic puppy suddenly only glancing over at you when you open the cage door? That cat who wanted to kill you an hour ago not even hissing when you disconnect his fluids?
-(May be targeted toward emergency). Triage. In the emergency room, we triage everything. In GP, we did not. Sometimes it’s obvious, like a patient hit by a car needs to be rushed straight back, and a puppy hopping around for a vaccine appointment does not. But if you get a chance to look around the waiting room, take a look at the patients. Take note of any abnormal breathing, mucous membrane color, a patient lying on its side (laterally recumbent) and not really reacting to its environment. Sometimes owners don’t realize how serious of an emergency they have. It’s important to pick out the important pieces of information from what owners tell you. You’ll learn how to ask the right questions.
-Double check your math. If your doctor gives you medication doses in milligrams, you’ll have to convert them to milliliters. Even if you’re just filling oral meds in the pharmacy, you may need to figure out how many tablets equates to the right number of milligrams. Double check your math. Triple check your math. Ask someone else to check it. Check it until you’re confident. (Soon you’ll get an idea of “that seems like a really high dose”, is it written correctly?)
-Be clear. Working around other people who know a lot about animals and medicine gives us a skewed perspective. Don’t assume every owner knows something that’s “common sense” to you. Be very clear with explanations or medication instructions.
-Label everything! If you have a pill just sitting somewhere, that’s extremely dangerous. Always write the type of medication, the dose, and the patient name. If an owner drops off treats for their pet in the hospital - label it! If you have a pet temporarily in a cage, write his name (you definitely don’t want patients getting mixed up and getting the wrong treatments). Label everything!
-Always keep a record, write things down. When the doctor asks you 8 hours later what diet you fed a specific patient this morning when there’s 20 other in-patients, you’ll be glad you did!
-Be nice to clients. People are frustrating, some people are very rude, but get used to your “customer service” persona!
-If you don’t have qualifications, be careful answering client questions. Depending on the rules of your practice, you may not be allowed to answer certain questions unless you’re a doctor. Unless the doctor explicitly tells you that you can tell an owner something, always tell the client that you will have the doctor come right in to talk with them. Unless it’s a straightforward question like, “Has he vomited today?”. (I’m talking about questions like: “When are we gonna decrease his medication?” “When can he come home from the hospital?” “Do you think he’s gonna live?” “Have his kidneys gotten worse?”)
-Learn how the front desk works! Just because you’re working as an assistant in the back doesn’t mean you should be confined back there. In my first job, the front desk was completely separate from the back treatment area, and none of the assistants knew how to work the front desk. Sometimes it’s busy or you need to cover someone for lunch, and you should learn how to check someone out, book an appointment, answer a phone call. It’s very helpful to understanding how the practice works as a whole.
-Clean up after yourself. If you make a mess, don’t leave it for someone else to clean up - this is a good way to annoy coworkers, haha. Of course, this isn’t always doable. Sometimes it gets busy, and everything turns into a mess at once.
-Respect the dead. Everyone in the medical field gets calloused to death/euthanasia because we have to. As sad as it is, sometimes euthanasia really is the best option for a suffering animal. We see death so often that letting every death tear us apart emotionally would be unsustainable. (Ever see that Scrubs episode where they talk about a patient dying, and how his whole family is taking the day off, but all the doctors have to move right on to the next patient a minute later? They say how they make jokes because it’s the only way to cope.) All that aside, have some respect for the patients. It’s okay to be emotionally calloused, but don’t be disrespectful. Don’t throw patients into body bags. Remember that this was someone’s best friend for a number of years. Treat them how you would want your deceased pet to be treated.
-That’s a good overall rule. Treat your patients how you would want your own pet to be treated in a hospital.
-Shadowing is a lot different than working. I’ve heard stories of people who graduate veterinary school, and all their experience is shadowing. They’ve never worked as an assistant or a technician, and when they handle their first patient, it’s clear they’ve never restrained a fractious cat. When shadowing, you just kind of stand there and watch. Your whole purpose for being there is to watch and learn - so you get to see all the “cool” cases and procedures and ask questions whenever. When you’re working, you may miss a “cool case” because you’re busy restraining the dog with an ear infection. But you learn what it’s REALLY like to work in an animal hospital on a daily basis - your future career! And it taught me a huge amount. A recent veterinary graduate told me that having all this experience working will help me immensely in veterinary school. Instead of just learning the concept of a disease in school, you’ll be able to relate it to that patient who HAD the disease and what the symptoms actually looked like.
This is Melody. She’s a Dilute Calico and one of the prettiest cats ive ever seen…she’s a brat though but she’s stolen my heart. my phone did no justice on her fur color unfortunately. ill try to get a better picture soon. I hope someone can give her a good home
There are four types of feeding tubes used in veterinary practice, these are:
These tubes runs from the nasal passage down through the larynx, oesophagus and final enter the stomach.They are often used in young anorexic patients who need nutritional support for a short period of time, are well tolerated and simple to place, with only local anaesthetic drops needed to ensure the process is comfortable for the patient. Prior to placing the tube the length needed should be measured, working from the opening of the nares to the last rib; where the stomach is situated. A 5FG tube is the recommended size to use in adult dogs and cats weighing under 8kg. To ensure the tube is in the correct position and not sitting in the trachea, a small amount of sterile saline can be placed down the tube, if the patient coughs repositioning is recommend.Radiographs can also be taken of the neck and thorax to confirm a tube position. The main disadvantages of using the tubes is that the lumen of the tube is small meaning only liquid diets can be administered and large quantities are time consuming to administered. They can also be easily removed by the patient.
A Oesophageal tube delivers food direct to the stomach bypassing the mouth and pharynx; making it an excellent choice for patients suffering from severe ulceration of the mouth. The tube used is wider than a nasogastric tube allowing thicker, more calorific food to be administered in large quantities over a shorter space of time. Patients must be anaesthetised prior to tube placement, placed in right lateral recumbency and the site between the lateral cervical area from the mandible to thoracic inlet surgically prepared. Tube size used depends on the size of patient however anything from 12Fr to 16Fr is usually sufficient. Once the tube is in place a Stoma is formed and will develop a gunky discharge which needs to be cleaned daily to prevent infection and cellulitis. These tubes are contraindicated in patients suffering from recurring emesis as they may vomit up the tube however are advantageous in most cases as medication can be given down them easily and cats can be discharged with the tube still in place.
These tubes are best used in patients thats require weeks to months of assisted feeding and deliver food directly to the stomach, bypassing the mouth, pharynx and oesophagus. In most cases they require an anaesthetic and invasive surgery to place however skilled veterinary surgeons with knowledge on endoscopy can place the tubes this way if specialised equipment is available. Again these tubes are often well tolerated and easily managed at home meaning cats can be discharged with them in place. In addition they are also have a wider lumen so vicious food can be administered. Unlike the other tubes these come with more serious disadvantages, such as peritonitis if the tube become dislodged and organ damage during placement.
These tubes are more specialised and are not commonly used in general practice. When using these food is delivered as a constant rate infusion straight into the jejunum (the middle section of the small intestine) avoiding the stomach, duodenum and pancreas. This makes it indicated for use in cases of Gastric, Pancreas and Biliary tract disease. Anaesthesia is needed and surgical placement is required, disadvantages include risk of peritonitis and that it can only be used in a hospital setting.
I know you get these sort of things all the time. And I know the chances you stumble upon mine are pretty slim, even with you following me. But I just want to tell you the impact you have had on my life.. because you have played a very significant role in who I am today and for that I will be forever grateful. My story begins when I was about seven years old and I was being repeatedly sexually abused by someone who lived on my street and was close to my entire family. My family ended up moving and that was when it finally ended. I never told a soul, because I never thought anyone would care about me or they wouldn’t take me seriously. From there on out I shut myself out from the world. I didn’t want friends and I hated school. I spent a good portion of my time hiding up in my bedroom where I would read books to escape reality. I was young, but I remember the feeling of sinking into a dark dark place. As the Internet took off and MySpace was the way to find new things…I started to really discover a love for music, particularly country music. I became immediately obsessed with the stories I was hearing through music. A few years later in mid 2006 I stumbled upon your song Tim Mcgraw and even though I had never been in a relationship, I just fell in love with every aspect of the song both vocally and lyrically. I looked into you and ended up finding out you had an album coming out soon. I immediately wrote it down on a piece of paper so I wouldn’t forget the day. I begged my older sister to take me to pick up the album when it came out, and when I got home I locked myself in my bedroom and listened to it on repeat for hours and hours. I couldn’t believe what this music was doing for me. I was a thirteen year old and felt so unwanted, so undeserving and fearful of the world, so afraid and most of all…so alone. But when I head the words to your songs..a few in particular… THE OUTSIDE/A PLACE IN THIS WORLD/TIED TOGETHER WITH A SMILE… I realized that someone else out there felt that way too and that I wasn’t the only one in this sort of painful state. I clung to that record like a security blanket. It was the first time in my life I didn’t feel as lost, misunderstood and alone. I remember listening to the radio say that you’d be opening for the Rascal Flatts concert that my parents and were going to with some friends and I begged and begged and begged for them to take me with them and they finally agreed. It was my first concert, and my first time seeing you live…. you played a pretty short opening gig but I will never forget it. After I learned you were making another album, Fearless, and it would be coming out soon I once again counted down the moments until I could hear your new music. And I once again fell in love with the album. Then it happened…. I met a boy. He was handsom, older than me, had a car and tattoos and was the first person to ever make me feel beautiful. Long story short, we fell in love. We dated for five years, living together for three of years. During this time you released Speak Now and it was bubbly and fun, sort of like life had been dating this guy. It seemed that your albums were following my lifestyle. But things took a turn for the worse when he and I moved in together. He started to get mentally abusive and would tell me I wasn’t pretty, that no one would ever want me but him, that I wouldn’t go anywhere in life and that I would never mean anything to YOU, which I think kind of hurt the most. This progressed and the abusive started to turn physical. I stayed with him for three years while this went on and on and continued to get worse. Red came out about this time and it was a sad album, which I held onto for dear life during the hardest time I had ever gone through. Things got out of control when he started to cheat on me on top of all the abuse and I felt out of control. He had me convinced no one would ever care for me or want me…and if he was cheating on me clearly he didn’t either. So I saw only one option…suicide. It felt like the only want I could possible escape this hell I was in. What happened next is too personal to give details out for the entire Internet to see, but I ended up in the hospital and then ended up having to stay in a psychiatric ward. That was the scariest experience of my life and the worst part is…you can’t get out until the doctors all agree you’re no longer a danger to yourself. While I was there I decided I would move to a different state to get as far away from the situation as possible, otherwise I could never get over it. So my mother, who I didn’t know well at all…agreed to let me move to Ohio to stay with her. So when I got out, I picked up and moved. Since then nothing in my life has been the same….I’m finally confident, I’ve found out so much I never knew about myself, I’m no longer afraid of the world, and I’ve learned to be happy with who I am. I’m going to school to be a vet tech…and working with animals has always been my dream. I have a boyfriend who loves me and has not tried to change me…my mother is my best friend and everything seems to be falling into its place. 1989 came out a few months after I moved here, and it once again has followed me through my life…. I am happy, confident, wild, I’m a dreamer, I can shake it off and I don’t let anyone tell me who I can and cannot be. And most importantly Taylor, I am clean.
And Taylor, I would not have gotten through any of that to become who I am today without your music as my rock. When I had no one, I had you. When I was alone, I had you. When I was happy, I had you.
Thank you for every single thing you’ve done for me… no words will ever be able to express my love and gratitude towards you.