Vet tech career burnout – it’s a scary thought. Nobody wants to spend their time and money becoming a vet tech if they’re going to get sick of it in 5 years. People want a career that won’t drive them nuts – one that will last.
If you are interested in becoming a veterinary technician, then you’ve probably already heard some horror stories. In fact, if you Google “become a vet tech”, the first result you’ll see is a huge discussion about all of the bad parts and downsides of this career! While it’s important to consider the cons of being a vet tech, these stories can be really discouraging.
But how widespread is this type of stress? Are people really leaving the field after 5 or 10 years? Are the people complaining on the internet drowning out all of the vet techs who actually love their job? Just how bad is the situation – and what can be done to keep yourself fresh, happy, and content?
Let’s take a closer look at the TRUTH behind vet tech career burnout.
Vet Tech Burnout – The Numbers
When it comes to measuring vet tech burnout, the turnover rates speak for themselves. One thesis released by the graduate faculty at California State University claims that “the profession of Veterinary Technology has an extremely high turnover rate with an estimated average practice life of five years.” Ouch.
Separate findings by the American Animal Hospital Association peg turnover rates at 30% – more than double the national average for other occupations. Double ouch.
There’s a clear trend here, and it’s probably one you’re not happy about if you’re thinking about becoming a veterinary technician. The good news is that something can be done to avoid burning out – and it starts with you.
First Things First – Your Attitude
The number one factor that will decide whether or not you get sick of being a vet tech is your ATTITUDE. If you’re the kind of person that focuses on the negative, takes everything personally, and generally acts like a helpless victim – you are not going to last long, trust me!
I’ve known a lot of vet techs in my life, and the number one difference between those who burn out and those who are satisfied is their attitude. Those who CHOOSE to think positively, and focus on solving problems instead of dwelling on how terrible and unfair everything is, are the ones who succeed not only as vet techs, but as human beings in general!
For example: The vet you works for is having a bad day, and he takes it out on you, yelling, cursing, and blaming you. What do you do? Do you hide in the back of the office, crying and wondering why everything bad happens to you? Or do you care about finding a solution: communicating with your boss and co-workers, letting them know how you feel, and sympathizing with the fact that everyone has bad days?
Obviously this is just one small example, and it may not seem very relevant to you. But trust me, a positive attitude and problem-solving mindset makes all the difference in the world when it comes to avoiding burnout as a vet tech.
You either work to maintain a positive outlook, or you just get run over by your own negativity. And I’ve got news for you – this is something you will deal with in EVERY career, so you better get used to it!
What Causes All This Stress?
If we want to avoid stress and burnout, first we need to understand is what is causing all this stress in the first place. Then, instead of complaining and acting like helpless victims, we can find ways to cope and improve the situation! Here are the common complaints that most veterinary technicians will wrestle with at some point in their careers:
Low salaries/Poor benefits/No advancement.
I have no doubt that low salaries are one of the biggest reasons that vet techs burn out so quickly. If we were making $60-$70k a year on average, you’d hear a lot less grumbling! But the fact is, pay is low, there’s no clear path for advancement, and this can make all of the other stresses of the job even worse. It’s just harder to deal with challenges when you feel like you aren’t being compensated for your hard work and effort.
Lack of recognition.
Many vet techs complain that they are never recognized or rewarded for their work, and that others (especially vets) look down on them and treat them as inferior. When there’s no recognition for a job well done, morale, inspiration, and motivation all drop like a sack of bricks – and that’s a recipe for quick burnout.
Lots of responsibility & stressful cases.
Being a vet tech comes with a high level of responsibility. Everyone makes mistakes, but when you make one, the consequences can be serious. Clients are trusting you with their pets, which are basically family members, and you need to be on top of your game at all times. The pressure to constantly be mistake-free is another factor that contributes to burnout.
Steps to Avoiding Burnout
Now that we know what causes burnout, let’s talk about some ways to avoid it. Keep in mind, not everything is always going to be easy to fix, and not everything is going to be fixed overnight. These are real world long-term strategies for adults – not fantasy-land magic bullets!
Okay, so salary and benefits aren’t 6-figures…
You feel under-compensated and as a result you just don’t feel like shouldering the burden of the job is even worth it. Instead of resigning yourself to low pay, how about finding ways to increase it? If pay is important to you, do everything you can to make yourself more valuable to employers. Pursue vet tech specialty (VTS) credentials, get continuing education (CE) credits, move to higher paying work settings, relocate to a bigger city, pursue your own vet tech related projects on the side – the list goes on.
There are ALWAYS ways to make more money – even if it’s just a little bit at first . You need to set this as your goal and continue to work at it. What you focus on will grow. As far as career advancement – make your voice heard! Every other profession has been able to establish a clear path for career advancement by advocating on behalf of their profession. So join NAVTA, join your local and state organizations, and FIGHT for a brighter future!
Need some ideas? Check this out: Ways to Raise Your Salary as a Vet Tech
You don’t feel recognized? Talk to your boss about it!
You work with these people every day, you should feel like you need to hide your feelings. If your boss doesn’t care about how he or she treats you, then find a new job! Start setting the standards high for your employers – your relationship is a two-way street.
You go to work and deliver the best performance you can, so you should expect nothing less from your bosses and co-workers. Actively work to improve your relationship and maintain healthy and open lines of communication. You should be able to tell your boss anything, and they should be able to tell you anything. It doesn’t always come automatically – so make it a priority and work at it! If there are no improvements over time, then fire your boss, and find a new job.
The natural stress of a challenging job is getting to you…
Responsibility, difficult or depressing cases, pain in the butt clients – all of these things eventually take their toll. But vet techs aren’t the only people who deal with stressful jobs! The most basic of stress-reduction techniques can help you get some breathing room, and take the edge off. I highly recommend starting a mindfulness meditation or yoga habit. These simple practices help improve your baseline concentration and clarity, and remove harmful stress habits.
Find some time every day to practice – even if it’s only 5 minutes. Within a few weeks I guarantee you will feel better and less stressed. If meditation or yoga doesn’t work for you, experiment until you find a basic stress reduction technique that does.
The lesson here: take responsibility!
If you want to be uninvolved in your career, and passively show up and work every day to just collect a paycheck, you definitely won’t last long as a veterinary technician. And to be honest, this field doesn’t need any more people that fit that description. We need passionate, engaged vet techs who are excited about growing professionally, and are willing to work at it.
And one last tip for you: when vet techs figure out how to organize, unite, and make their voices heard – then this profession is in for a serious revolution. Compared to other medical professionals, vet techs are extremely under-represented by national organizations. But it’s not the organizations’ fault – YOU need to get involved, and YOU need to fight for the future of veterinary technology.
When to Take Vet Tech Burnout Seriously
Don’t get me wrong: not all cases of burnout are equal. Sometimes, burnout is a legitimate sign that something big needs to change in your life.
If being a vet tech just seems like a poor job fit for you on some very basic level, then it could very well be time to change careers. Ultimately, nobody can make this decision for you. It’s a difficult one to make, but your long-term health and happiness is at stake.
My advice would be, identify exactly what it is about the job that is burning you out. Then, come up with a plan to try and minimize these sources of stress, and develop a positive, problem-solving attitude to help you create a better situation.
If this plan doesn’t result in less stress and less burnout, I would seriously consider finding a new career – one that does not include any of the sources of stress that you are most sensitive to. It’s common sense, but it’s the simplest things that people often need to be reminded of.
I wish you the best of luck in your career, whether you decide to be a vet tech or something else!