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Following a nontraditional career path

Publication
Article
dvm360dvm360 October 2022
Volume 53
Issue 10
Pages: 44

A veterinary technician outlines the opportunities available to these professionals, empowering them to pursue their passion

buritora / stock.adobe.com

buritora / stock.adobe.com

Like many other veterinary professionals, Amanda M. Shelby, BSc, RVT, VTS (Anesthesia & Analgesia), knew from a young age she loved animals and wanted to pursue a career in animal health care. This passion led her to becoming a veterinary technician, and as she gained experience in the field, she realized the array of career paths within this division both inside and outside the clinic.

During her presentation at the 2022 American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) Convention in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Shelby highlighted potential career opportunities. She encouraged fellow technicians who are interested in a career change to reevaluate what they are searching for and explore their options.1

“No one defines success except for you. Really think about what you want out of your career. And you need to reevaluate that from time to time and pursue your goals,” she told AVMA attendees. “We have a lot of opportunities within [our] career. I hope that I encourage you to pursue that in a direction that brings you satisfaction and ultimately, [for] a selfish reason, keeps you in this profession.”

Veterinary technician careers

Clinic setting

Most veterinary technicians will work in a clinic, although Shelby argued this doesn’t have to look the same for everyone. “We work in emergency referral institutions, we work in corporate health institutions, we work in academic institutions, we work with large animals, we work with exotic pets, we work with small companion animals, we work with food animals,” she said.

So if you are looking for a change of scenery but still enjoy the clinic setting, you can try something new in this realm. Shelby advised going to an animal hospital that offers what you would like to specialize in. For example, if you are interested in exotics, go to an exotics-only clinic. She recommended asking to shadow people in the field to see if it is something you want to pursue.

It’s also important to decide whether you want to work for a privately owned practice or a corporation by weighing what matters most to you. Shelby noted that privately owned hospitals can’t necessarily provide all the benefits corporations do, but this may not be important to someone who is on their spouse’s health care plan, for instance. She added that, in some states, veterinary technicians can even own a referral practice, which is something to think about if you are interested in the business route. “Think about [it] as you develop your career and the direction you want to go; nothing is off the table. Yes, it must be in a state that allows a nonveterinarian to own the practice, but those do exist, and you need to look into that,” she said.

Government agencies

Roles within government agencies for veterinary technicians include both permanent positions and temporary jobs with shorter contracts. Shelby shared that the Army is the only US military branch with a technician division and described a friend who is a technician. “She is active military and has been deployed to Guam recently to head the emergency room for an Army base. There are veterinarians and veterinary staff for the military families that work on the base. They work with the military dogs and other critters...so there is opportunity there,” Shelby said.

The government also has opportunities for technicians to work in disaster response positions, such as in the Federal Emergency Management Association. This can be a rewarding path to help animals in dire situations, such as those exposed to hurricanes, fires or other traumatic events. Disaster response trainings are available, both free and paid, so you can become certified to do this kind of work.

Some advantages of veterinary technician government jobs are that the benefits are usually significant and you are informed of the rate at which you can move up for a clear career path. Plus, you will typically be federally protected from losing your civilian job while you are deployed. Shelby noted that it’s important to be open to travel if you are interested in government work.

Research

For those intrigued by the scientific element of veterinary medicine, pursuing research can be a great avenue. “[You] have to think about how drugs will impact the body and how the body is going to impact your drug choices....[T]he nice thing about research is it’s cause and effect, and you really have to think critically about those causes and effects,” Shelby said.

Working in research also allows technicians to have an authorship opportunity that might not typically present itself, which can then open more doors. In the research world, there are careers where that can be your focus, but there are also jobs where you can navigate in and out of research if you prefer remaining on the clinical side. However, Shelby warns that in some research studies, the animals have terminal conditions. That is something to consider based on what you can handle emotionally.

Going forward

These are just some of the career paths Shelby mentioned during her lecture, but she recommended reflecting on your passions and interests and using your experience to sell yourself for your desired role.

“Within the technician role, you can find opportunity anywhere you really want to pursue it. Don’t be afraid to say, ‘Hey, I’m interested in that, could I assist you?’” she said. “Think creatively about what your skill set is and how you can apply it to the job that you would like to go for. And these are all opportunities that do exist for veterinary technicians. If you’re not [being creative with] job searches, you have to be creative about how you write your cover letter and position yourself in that.”

Reference

Shelby A. Clinics and beyond: where are vet techs? Presented at: American Veterinary Medical Association Convention; July 29-August 2, 2022; Philadelphia, PA.

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