To suffer a sea change


When the winds of change blow through your practiceor your lifeembrace the chance to explore new advances in medicine, new opportunities for your career and new possibilities for your life.

Photo:“Nothing of him that doth fade,

But doth suffer a sea-change,

into something rich and strange …”

-The Tempest, William Shakespeare

Our patients' health changes from minute to minute. Our clinic schedule changes from hour to hour. You'd think we'd be good at adapting to change-but are we? When a new doctor joins the team, or even when a relief doctor fills in for the day, it can throw us into a tailspin while we try to adjust to new ways of doing things. The same is true for a new technician joining the team. Maybe they prefer doing a lateral saphenous blood draw on large dogs instead of a cephalic draw and you're not as familiar with the restraint needed for that. Change can be intimidating, even in a field as dynamic as ours.

A new tech blows into town  

When new technicians join the team, it can feel like they're challenging the way you're doing things. For instance, maybe your team routinely does over-the-table jugular blood draws on cats, but this new tech prefers doing lateral jugular draws.

Instead of putting up a mental roadblock, ask her why she prefers this method and try it for yourself. She might have just handed you the solution for an easy blood draw on a tough feline patient. New team members can bring ideas that you may never have thought of before. A new hire might show you how to strain fecals through layers of gauze instead of a metal sieve-and wouldn't it be nice to not have to wash a stool-covered strainer anymore?

A new doctor drops anchor 

Just like technicians, every doctor has their own way of doing things. One doctor might want you to take an extremely thorough history while another doesn't even want you to take vitals, let alone interview the client. It might feel as though that doctor doesn't trust your skills, but it could just be that he enjoys doing that portion himself.

Take that opportunity to complete tasks that you've been trying to get to-you know you have plenty. You might even ask the doctor if you can listen in on one of his appointments-maybe he has some interviewing techniques you can implement with other clients.

Handling the winds of role change  

When team members change roles it can also throw a team out of whack. One technician being promoted to a manager role can breed jealousy and contempt if others feel they themselves were better suited for the position. In these cases, presenting a united front is key. Every doctor in the practice needs to be on board with granting this new manager the authority to make decisions and then support them if she needs to enforce disciplinary rules.

In turn, the new manager must take on the responsibility of learning how to be fair and unbiased in her new role, not allowing personal relationships to interfere. Making the transition from technician to manager can be an especially tough one, but a good support system and clearly defined roles are necessary for success.

Changing your own tune  

Sometimes we find ourselves needing to make a big change in our life. But even when your change is well thought out, you'll likely still experience anxiety. I used to work with a tech who had been in the field for a few years. She'd gone back to school for a degree in education while still working in our clinic. The unpredictable hours eventually got to be too much for her with her heavy class schedule, so she left her job and took a new one as a barista.

A few weeks later she told me she was strongly considering asking for her old job back. She said, “It's really hard going from knowing pretty much everything about my job to knowing nothing about it.” She took the barista position thinking it would be an easy way to make money, but found that the different recipes and formulas were challenging enough that it might be easier to fall back on the job she knew, even though it would wreak havoc on her school schedule.

A switch in the field  

Some technicians leave the field of veterinary medicine to pursue a career in the human health field. They feel that the pay, benefits and hours are better, and they'll be more respected in human health. It seems like it would be an easy switch: veins are veins, right? And with human patients you don't have to wrestle them or worry about finding a vein through a thicket of hair.

But in human medicine there's also a more defined hierarchy. Human nurses are typically responsible for those who work under them, such as licensed practical nurses and nursing assistants. So by moving into human nursing you are also taking on a management position. Not everyone wants that responsibility.

Protocol permutation  

Changes in clinic protocol usually also lead to tension. The management team might decide to buy reusable fabric gowns for surgery instead of the disposable paper gowns. This means more work for the technicians, who will have to soak bloody gowns and do extra laundry.

Or maybe the medical director decides to make the switch to doing centrifugal fecals instead of buying Fecalyzers. You have to learn a whole new technique that takes longer and has more steps.

But maybe all of these small changes that seem like such a disruption are going to save your hospital enough money that you can get a raise or larger CE allowance, or even enough that the hospital can afford to buy a digital dental radiograph machine instead of using those annoying little dipping cups to develop dental films. And that'll zap one huge hassle from your to-do list. 

While change can be scary, it doesn't have to intimidate us to the point of inaction. The medical field is all about inventing new technologies, creating new medications and developing new techniques. You can choose to see all of this newness as stressful and intimidating or exciting and innovative. The trick is to find the positive side of every change and learn how to welcome it instead of shying away.

As medical professionals, we should never get so set in our ways that we're blind to new ideas. As a quote from The Curious Case of Benjamin Button goes, “You can change or stay the same; there are no rules to this thing. We can make the best or the worst of it. I hope you make the best of it.”

Julie Carlson, CVT, is a freelance author and certified veterinary technician in Phoenix. She is the cofounder of Vets for Vets' Pets, a nonprofit organization providing supplies and medical care to the pets of homeless and at-risk veterans.

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