Vet techs: A fulfilling career may be waiting outside the clinic

San Diego

How one veterinary technician carved a path to a rewarding career and why he is holding the door open for others behind him.

“There’s nothing I want more for us in this profession than for us to survive…succeed, and thrive,” said Stephen Cital, RLAT, SRA, RVT, VCC, CVPP, VTS-LAM (Res. Anesthesia). Throughout his keynote address on the final day of the Fetch dvm360® conference in San Diego, California, Cital sought to inspire veterinary technicians to live with the intentionality to shatter glass ceilings, sustain wellbeing, and push back against burnout.

Cital addressed the commonly known fact that the average lifespan for the career of a veterinary technician is 5 to 7 years. He talked about the level of trauma and burnout that must be present for one to go to school and into debt, only to leave their profession after such a short time. He pointed to the inability of veterinary technicians to progress in their careers and earn more money as one of the primary causes.

How can one smash through this glass ceiling that greatly contributes to burnout? Cital said he believes veterinary technicians need to be a little more openminded about their career options. He spoke about how many see working in a veterinary hospital as their only path but stressed the importance of learning what else is available for a person who has a passion for animals and finds themselves stuck in a rut.

“People that follow their passion in their career only, burnout quicker and die sooner,” said Cital. “What makes them survive in a career with their passion is finding that intersection of what they are also good at.”

Cital said there are other industries or other parts of the veterinary industry that might sit at that intersection of skill and passion. He talked about his path, which started out with wanting to be a paramedic before realizing how little money they made. Even though helping others was a passion, that low salary would have eventually led to burnout, he said. Next, he trained as a nurse, but a dislike of the more-unsanitary side of human health care drove him away to be a veterinary technician at a specialty practice. Finally, he was enticed to take a position as an animal researcher at the University of California, Davis. Although he initially thought he would hate it, “This is where my passion and what I was good at intersected,” he said.

Cital has since used his opportunities in research to get into zoo medicine and beyond, attaining a fulfilling career that pays the bills and without the burnout. Cital urged the audience to take his path as motivation to constantly reevaluate their passions and their career ambitions, salary included, to reach their ultimate target.

“[Having a passion for animals] doesn’t necessarily mean you have to be on the floor giving an injection, monitoring anesthesia, or holding [a pet] for an ultrasound,” he said. “Some of the most amazing technicians work in industry, and they are making way more money than I am.”

He added that it bothers him that these technicians are “hidden,” making it difficult for other technicians to understand there are other paths available to them.

Cital closed out his talk by giving actionable wisdom to help veterinary technicians attain the success that he has experienced. His advice is as follows:

Be intentional in networking

Cital stressed the importance of networking. He talked about the value not only for career opportunities (as he called out some in the audience who have helped his career) but also for the emotional bond and support networking can provide.

“By networking, we have built a family all over the country,” said Cital. “We have saved each other’s lives when we were feeling that burnout so much to the point that we think we couldn’t go on anymore.”

Find a comfort zone and stay in it

“We need to understand that once we break through some glass ceilings, there is still the atmosphere,” said Cital. “Once you go outside the atmosphere, there is no more air.”

He advised the audience not to always be striving to move all the time, but rather to find where they are happy in this industry and keep doing whatever is necessary to sustain that happiness.

Reject the “I’m not in it for the money” mindset

Cital said veterinary technicians should not be shy about pursuing high pay.

“This whole idea of ‘we don’t do this for the money’ is not cute anymore,” said Cital.

He pointed out that the director of marketing for the FDA is a veterinary technician, making a much larger salary than they would in the clinic. He said everyone should be aware these opportunities exist to work in a field they are passionate about without having to settle for low income.

As Cital put it, “When you’re making $17 an hour living in the Bay Area of California, trying to start a family, that ain’t cute.”

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