When vet techs attack

When vet techs attack

Dealing with a pack mentality is not what I signed up for when I entered the veterinary technology profession.
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Feb 08, 2018

Photo: Shutterstock.comWhen I added a new puppy into the home of two already established dogs, I hoped she would fit right in. She was laid-back and merely followed the older dogs around. She never challenged them and often attempted to play with both, even though they never gave her the time of day. One left the room when she entered. And the lead dog growled at her as she passed. The lonely puppy just wanted to play and make friends.

For me, starting a new clinic as a veterinary technician was much like being a new puppy in an established pack. In my case, just like the new puppy, I didn’t want to fight or take down any lead dogs. I just wanted to do my job and get along with my coworkers. I valued their knowledge, and I didn’t want to challenge their position in the pack. And yet acceptance into the pack was nearly impossible.

Sometimes I wish the people in the veterinary field didn't act so much like the species we treat.

Trial by fire

My short training period consisted of an older tech telling me how she couldn’t wait to get out of this field—and out of our clinic especially. She put down my past places of employment and told me that with my years of experience, I’d be miserable here.

I was clearly on my own, in every way. In a clinic of more than 100 employees, my team frequently found hiding places when I needed help. I’d start my shift and people would scatter as if I had a contagious disease. Not knowing what was expected of me, I’d clean or stock to stay busy.

When doctors needed help, I jumped in. And when we noticed the lack of help around, they couldn't understand where the rest of the team had gone. Whenever I had to take radiographs, the doctors helped or they found kennel staff members to assist, which almost always became a crash course in reminding the kennel team how our machines work.  

Fortunately, I’ve had many years of experience in an emergency clinic. When an aggressive dog needed a muzzle and blood draw, I knew how to use my body as a shield, holding the vein with one hand, drawing blood with the other. I found myself constantly trying to stay positive and praised myself for being so clever. But clever could only get me so far in my day-to-day routine.

At some point management learned I was on the receiving end of the cold shoulder, and they still did nothing. I would frequently walk in to find the whole team sitting and eating. They would immediately start barking orders at me.

Once I was told to do a cesarean section on a 180-pound Saint Bernard. I read the chart, got the needed anesthetic injections and prepped the surgical suite. All the while, no one moved. After getting the dog out of the run, I looked around to see if someone would help me place a catheter, but they’d all vanished.

I later found out that this dog was very aggressive and lunged at people, but everyone failed to let me know, and nothing was noted on the chart. As a kennel assistant walked by, I asked her to find one of the techs to help me move this large dog into surgery. A few minutes later they sent me a tech with mobility issues.

After intubation, we had to move the dog onto the gurney and into the surgery suite. As we lifted, she fell. I tried in vain to throw myself under her body to soften the blow. The staff must have been watching the whole thing, because at that exact moment, one of the techs came running to get the rest of the dog on the gurney. She helped me wheel her into surgery and prep, wrapped in an awkward silence.

As the doctor was finishing the surgery, he asked for various injections. He explained that once the puppies were out, we give an injection of oxytocin, carprofen, penicillin G and buprenorphine. We were supposed to always have them drawn up ahead of time, ready to administer at a moment’s notice. This was the first time I’d ever heard of this protocol. Thankfully, he was understanding, and he told me where I could find the dosages.

Looking back, I’d never done surgery in this practice before. I’d never worked with their machines or been educated on their protocols. Think about how dangerous it is to send someone not properly trained into surgery alone. They put the patient—and the practice—at risk.

The hazing continues

As the weeks went on, this behavior from the technician pack continued. Assistants finally became courageous enough to talk to me and offer help. Technicians, on the other hand, told me to go walk dogs. I did, only to later find out we had kennel staff to walk dogs. When surgeries were done, it was my job to clean up after the techs.

If I practiced a method I’d learned at another practice, I was sternly told, "You need to do it our way." But no one would show me their way. When I asked questions they’d either walk away or pretend they didn't hear me and start talking to someone else.

I left my job in tears every day. All I wanted was to be a part of a profession that I love, in a job that I love. I wanted to quit, but I felt that was what they wanted. They don't even talk to me, I’d think, so why would they want me gone?

They constantly complained that we needed more technicians, but if that was how new hires were treated, why would anyone want to work here? When the manager asked how I liked the practice, I was honest. "I don't think I'm wanted here," I told her. She didn’t seem shocked. I told her how I was treated. She said, "It's just a little new person hazing." How was endangering the staff and patients acceptable because I was new?

When I asked to go on rounds, I was told to just read the charts. They took down caution stickers when I arrived to see if I could "properly identify an aggressive dog.” If I didn't get bitten and used a muzzle, I “passed” and the sticker would go back up.

No longer a lone wolf

It’s been nine months since I started. A handful of new people have joined the practice after me. Knowing what it’s like to be new here, I’ve stayed by their side to teach and protect them. Even so, they’ve had a taste of some of the same antics I’ve experienced.

The small group of us go out of our way to help everyone. I don’t recommend this place to others, because the negative, mean-spirited attitude is still active. The few of us are able to survive it because of our ability to be positive and work as a team with each other and our doctors. We have much fewer technicians on our shift, but we work harder and get along.

It's a shame that management allows this atmosphere to exist. They clearly see the difference between the shifts. Even the toxic, dark air dissipates when the vet tech pack walks out the door, and a calm, clear air emerges.

I love my career, and I know staying positive will kill off the rotten attitudes. And I’m grateful for the new technicians who share a positive attitude. Maybe I’m just a new puppy who won’t fit in with the big dogs, but I’ve found a pack of my own, and we’re fighting back against the pack mentality.

Naomi Strollo, RVT, is Fear Free certified and has been working in the veterinary field for over 24 years. She currently practices emergency medicine, freelance writing, and has a special interest in training, which enables her Akita, pitt bull and Shiba Inu to all reside happily together.

Horrible

It is so sad that we have to be this way in this field. It seems to be in every clinic. It can be the same , but different in each clinic. In my clinic, there are a small handful of toxic team members. A doctor, a manager and team member who plays various roles in the clinic. And this member happens to be very close to the manager ,and some days, them just being in the building changes the whole atmosphere. The team member acts like a manger and is permitted to do so. She reprimands coworkers and the manager allows it, and even finished it. The rest of us seem to respect each other enough that if we have an issue , we discuss it maturely, not by attacking verbally. And the doctor is not bad all the time but he insults staff in front of everyone. Insults other doctors in the clinic. Talks down to support staff . it is a very hard environment to work in. This field of work is emotionally draining as it is. We should all support each other. Not bully and throw our weight around. In the end , we are all here to help animals. Not make our fellow human beings feel horrible about themselves.

Horrible

It is so sad that we have to be this way in this field. It seems to be in every clinic. It can be the same , but different in each clinic. In my clinic, there are a small handful of toxic team members. A doctor, a manager and team member who plays various roles in the clinic. And this member happens to be very close to the manager ,and some days, them just being in the building changes the whole atmosphere. The team member acts like a manger and is permitted to do so. She reprimands coworkers and the manager allows it, and even finished it. The rest of us seem to respect each other enough that if we have an issue , we discuss it maturely, not by attacking verbally. And the doctor is not bad all the time but he insults staff in front of everyone. Insults other doctors in the clinic. Talks down to support staff . it is a very hard environment to work in. This field of work is emotionally draining as it is. We should all support each other. Not bully and throw our weight around. In the end , we are all here to help animals. Not make our fellow human beings feel horrible about themselves.

When techs attack.

Having been at 3 different clinics, I can relate to the negative treatment and "shunning" of the technician staff, and veterinarians also. It seems, in my experience, new technicians are not trained adequately and the rest of the staff waits for the new person to "fail". I agree that these "pack mentalities" put new hires, doctors, and most importantly, client's patients at risk. As one person suggested to leave and "find a better fit", that is not always possible. Exactly how many "times" do you have to move before you find that perfect "fit", or you become un-hirable because of too many moves? Perhaps a new mentality has to invade the veterinary profession, one of successful integration of newly hired technicians being taught the clinic's protocols by a technician "mentor", or group of mentors? Newly hired techs need to be completely oriented to the new clinic, and shadowed before being allowed to "go it alone". Every clinic is different. New hires should be given every chance to succeed. That way, all techs, Veterinarians, and the clinic succeeds, providing excellent care for our clients and their pets.

when vet techs attack

first, i always question a story where only one side is presented and that side is entirely blameless.

second, if as bad as presented, i am at a loss as to why tolerated. what is keeping the author there? if the place is toxic, there is a vet hospital on most every corner. go find a place you are appreciated. i find it tiresome reading (or hearing) about how bad a place was and how mean everyone was. a more useful story would be about how to have the courage to give 2 weeks notice and then taking control of your life by getting a better job elsewhere.

Awful

I am appalled at this behavior. There is no excuse for it. As you pointed out, it put the patient and you at risk. Whoever is supposed to be in charge, and obviously isn't, (And the comment of "It's just new hire hazing" made me gasp) should be fired for incompetence. Even if the owners don't care about the staff, which is itself abhorrent, they should care about the risk to their bottom line which will be affected when their workers comp goes up because someone gets bitten. There is no place in this industry (or anywhere else for that matter) for bullies. And that's what they are. This cannot be compared fairly to 'pack mentality" because frankly wolf packs behave better than this. I give you kudos for sticking it out. You have shown yourself to be a true professional and something the people you work with obviously have no clue about. Shame on them!

When vet techs attack

This is a result of poor management and no teamwork. Many practices have lost excellent, productive veterinary technicians due to organizational behavior that is promoted rather than demoted.

I read this with great

I read this with great sadness for your experience and embarrassment for our industry in the scenario you report. Regrettably, your story exemplifies lack of leadership (notice I didn't use the word 'management') and the results of such. (smh)