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Tips to redesign your veterinary career
How I started work as an assistant manager at a record store and transformed my life into the career I love in veterinary medicine.
It's 2001, and I really need a new job.
I can't be an assistant manager of a record store forever! CDs are going to be obsolete soon!
I had a thought when I accompanied my mother to our dog's veterinary appointment. It all dawned on me while waiting in the lobby.
This veterinary practice has to be a fun and interesting place to work, and I would get to play with puppies and kittens all day long! What could be better than that?
I filled out an application that day. After several long days of not hearing anything, I called the hiring manager, who helped me set up an interview. Not long afterwards I accepted a position as a part-time client service representative and it was the best decision I have made so far. My career had begun.
My manager knew I wanted to be a technician, and when a position as a veterinary assistant opened up, it was offered to me. I began my back office career working in the kennels. It was the greatest job, and I wish I could go back there sometimes. I could scoop poop and hose runs for hours.
I made some close relationships with clients and their pets who would stay with us for holidays or weekends. It felt good knowing that I was part of the reason they felt comfortable leaving their pets at our hospital, especially if a client requested to see me or made sure I was working while their pet was boarding. Over time, I memorized different pets' idiosyncrasies. What they say is true: You know you're a veterinary technician when you recognize pets before their owners-not to mention feeding regimens, poop schedules and medications.
I knew my next step was to become a certified veterinary technician. I took the Veterinary Technician National Exam at the same time as a coworker. We were relieved when it was over and we began the waiting game for our scores. It was a known fact that if you got the big envelope, you passed. If you got the small envelope … well, after all that stress and preparation, let's just say you didn't want the small one. In the summer of 2005, I got the big envelope.
I learned the ins and outs of my hospital like the back of my hand, and when I was offered different responsibilities, I accepted them with confidence, including when my boss wanted to create a technician supervisor position for weekend and evening shifts. I mainly worked these shifts because I was finishing college. They saw me as a good fit, and I gladly accepted the new position. This meant I was able to have input when creating new policies, procedures and training for new technicians.
I graduated with a bachelor's degree in biology from Monmouth University in 2008. I made the difficult decision to leave the hospital and work for a pharmaceutical company. That lasted all of about eight months before I was approached to be part of the technician management team at the hospital I had just left. This hospital had done a great deal of growing over the years, adding many new clients and beautifully renovating the facility. I gladly accepted the position and was excited to come back to all of the clients and patients I had left behind. I didn't realize how much I had loved all of them until I didn't have them in my life any longer.
In my technician management role I worked with a manager and a great team, each member dedicated to a specific department in the hospital-surgery, boarding, exotics, client service and exam rooms. I helped develop new and streamlined procedures and helped the practice go paperless. I never thought I would be involved in this much of the business, but I liked it. Making good business decisions made us more profitable, and in turn, allowed us to reinvest in the hospital and practice the best medicine for our patients. So I decided I needed to gain more business knowledge; I needed to go back to school.
In 2010, just after I had started graduate school for an MBA, the practice manager left her position. All of the managers took over a portion of her daily duties, including scheduling, hiring, disciplining, meeting with representatives, marketing and reminder calls. I took every opportunity and created opportunities. When I saw a problem, I came up with the solution. I made sure I'd be the natural choice for the next practice manager. In 2011, a few months before graduating with an MBA, I was offered the position, and I accepted. I made changes that made sense and sought acceptance from the team. At times work was difficult, but I was proud of my achievements.
A few months later, I accepted a new position at another hospital that offered more potential for career growth. It was one of the most difficult, yet one of the most rewarding, decisions I've had to make. I've turned my part-time job into a career I love. I manage a business and help make sure the doctors at my hospital offer the best care and medicine to every patient at every visit. My next goal is to become a Certified Veterinary Practice Manager.
Growing in the veterinary profession requires us to work to set ourselves apart in the profession, whether our goal is to be the best client service representative in the world or to be the technician with the best bedside manner and clinical skills or to help run the business side of veterinary medicine. So take the time to set goals for your future and cultivate more opportunities.
Erika Ervin, MBA, CVT, is the hospital manager at VCA Twin Rivers Animal Hospital in East Windsor, N.J.