Tips for Techs: Work in a busy ER? Here’s how to get out on time

FirstlineFirstline January/February 2021
Volume 17
Issue 1

See how this technician found ways to work more efficiently and finish her shift on time (or close to it), without compromising any other team members.

Elnur /

There’s no place like home, there’s no place like home, there’s no place like home. Unfortunately, clicking my heels together doesn’t teleport me to my couch after my veterinary practice shifts end.

Case in point: I had been listening to Delilah, a post-op GDV Basset hound, sing me the song of her people for the past eight hours. After a day of her twisting her IV line and me listening to her pump alarms going off, I was more than ready to leave. When I got word that Delilah needed a fresh blood transfusion, the vision of me driving home in silence felt like a distant dream. I finally went home that day after 21 hours on the clock, but not for long. My next shift started just five hours later and, again, I stayed hours after my shift.

That weekend was a wake-up call for me. I realized that the only person who was going to get me out of work on time was me.

Working in a veterinary practice is not a party from which you can make an Irish exit. When you have an overwhelming number of inpatients and a full waiting room, it’s hard to feel like you can just walk out the door when your shift is over. But here are four tips that may get you just a little closer to the door when it’s time to go.

1. Communicate with your DVM about treatment times

I used to run around the clinic like a madwoman, with treatments due every hour and new patients continually being admitted. I needed to get organized, so I pulled out my treatment sheets to plan a comeback. That’s when I noticed Dr. Sue was using her highlighter as a weapon.

Dr. Sue was loud, proud and hilarious to work with. However, she rarely thought about when she assigned treatments. The technicians were getting upset because it seemed like Dr. Sue didn’t care about how much work she was putting on them. It was a difficult conversation to start, but after talking it through Dr. Sue was open to working together. We developed a system that helped keep our treatments on time and efficient, and a way to let Dr. Sue know when she was slipping back into her old habits.

2. Round over your cases ASAP

5, 4, 3, 2, 1…. Help is finally here! Counting down the minutes until backup arrived was once a normal part of my day. Some days the new shift would jump right in, and the change was smooth. Other days we had three procedures waiting and triages coming in nonstop, delaying the new shift from taking over. This was one of the factors that kept me late frequently.

When I started working as a relief technician, the logistics of shift change became clearer to me. My goal was to leave on time, so I took a different approach when the new team came in. Instead of continuing to keep all my cases until the new team member was ready to take over, I would ask to round them and then help with the extra workload. This small switch created a ripple effect. Now, instead of getting stuck with loads of patients to round over, I support my teammates until my time is up.

3. Ask your boss for an assistant

I don’t always have an assistant, but I am much calmer when I do. Not only do technicians have nursing responsibilities, but we are also dog walkers, kennel technicians and client service representatives. Having so many duties makes it difficult to be as efficient as possible.

The technician shortage was taking its toll, creating severe burnout among staff at my practice. We knew we needed help, but finding another technician seemed impossible. Then one of my team members said she had a cousin who wanted to work in the veterinary field. At first, he came in and shadowed but was quickly hired as an assistant. He made sure patient bedding stayed clean, walked dogs and checked in on clients—all of which decreased technician workload. Hiring an assistant saved our staff from quitting due to high workload and saved the practice money.

4. Schedule a fun event

My days seem to be a little better and go faster when I am looking forward to something at the end of the day. When I was determined to leave my shifts on time, one of the most helpful things I did was to schedule something fun after my shift.

I knew I had to plan something that excited me and that I had to pay for. I did not have money to throw around, and if I paid for something I was darn well going to go. I found a dance class that I had always wanted to take and I prepaid for it. This created the mindset that I was in control of my time, and that staying late was a choice.

Make a plan

I knew there was no way that I could go directly from never leaving on time to always leaving on time, so I made a plan and took baby steps. See if these tips might work for you:

Set a goal. How many days a week do you want to leave on time? And what does ‘leaving on time’ mean to you—leaving actually on time, or leaving 15 to 20 minutes after your shift ends? I started with a goal of leaving on time after two of my four shifts each week.

Identify what you don’t want to have happen by leaving on time. I still wanted to be a team player and didn’t want to leave things half done. I made sure I helped others on the floor, prepared food and medications for the next shift, and rounded on my tasks before leaving.

Solve your workday puzzle. If you have 10 things to do today and only eight hours to get them done, how will you do it? Who will you need help from? What will you do if you get off task? I asked myself these questions at the start of every shift. Preparing myself helped me troubleshoot the unexpected parts of my day and made my shifts much smoother.

The bottom line

Everyone knows that staying late is part of the job sometimes, but that doesn’t mean you aren’t in control of your time. If you want balance in your life, or feel close to burning out, it’s up to you to get organized and create the change that you need.

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