By Linda Lombardi

Being a vet tech is stressful for a lot of obvious reasons, including long hours, a fast pace, difficult schedules, and having to do painful things to animals when you went into the field because you love them.

But some of the reasons it’s hard to cope with the stress may be less obvious. Attitudes you’ve internalized may give you the wrong idea about where the problem lies when you’re feeling overwhelmed.

“We feel like it’s us, and that we should be able to handle this,” says Tabitha Kucera, who’s been a registered veterinary technician for eight years and is level 3 Fear Free certified.

Every profession has a culture, and for techs a big feature of the culture is the expectation that you’re always on the go. “We’ve been conditioned to feel that we have to be doing something all the time,” Kucera says. “When techs are eating their lunch, they’re updating charts. We never stop.”

That conditioning is so successful that Kucera remembers times she was frustrated at being expected to actually take a lunch break. And while no one enjoys being overworked, it makes sense that people who are attracted to the field–or at least, who last in it–tend to like being on the go. This can make it difficult to see when it has gone too far and hard to admit that the first thing you need to do take is take care of your body.

It can be infuriating to be on the verge of burnout–or already well into it–and be told you need to eat right and get enough sleep and do yoga. (Especially the yoga!) So let’s be real: it’s not the whole solution. But it’s the foundation you need in order to be in shape to do anything else about it. You know that your patients need to eat right and rest to heal, and your own body is no different.

“Don’t fight self-care! I fought it for a long time,” Kucera says. Take that lunch break– and try to get out at least once in a while so you don’t get sucked into multitasking. “I started saying, ‘I’m going to leave the practice even if I just have lunch in my car,’ ” she recalls. Take your vacation, too, and don’t feel guilty about it. (Of course, if your boss makes taking these steps difficult, you have another problem, but we’ll get to that later.)

Another part of the culture of the veterinary profession is that people who dream of working with animals aren’t necessarily awesome at communicating with members of their own species. Kucera also thinks there’s a larger than average proportion of introverts. “When we’re introverted, we’re less inclined to stand up for ourselves,” she says.

You can’t make your colleagues’ communication skills better, but you can work on your own. Learning to ask for what you need and set boundaries can cut down how often you’re put in situations that are particularly stressful for you. Kucera recalls the time that a new tech was faced with an extremely fearful cat. “I saw him, I saw the cat, and I said, ‘Hey, are you comfortable holding that cat?’ ” she says. “He said no, but he was afraid to tell the vet.”

Kucera isn’t saying that speaking up is easy. “Now I say if I’m uncomfortable, but it took me a long time to get to this point,” she says. But it’s better than the alternative of being pushed past your limits.

She is also a proponent of what learning Fear Free skills can do not just for the animals, but for you. “Fear Free helps me better understand my patients, and they’re happier to see me. It’s a very empowering thing to know you’re doing everything you can to decrease their stress.”

And while it might seem counterintuitive to give yourself more work to do, learning new things can change how you feel. “A lot of techs don’t go to continuing education because they’re so burnt out by their jobs,” she says, but you may learn something that re-inspires you. One of her friends went to a hospice-care lecture at a conference and realized that was something she’d love to do. “She started looking for certifications she could pursue and figuring out what she could do at her hospital.”

But what if your particular work culture makes it hard to take these steps? Sometimes you don’t need coping strategies, you need to address the root cause, and that may mean making a bigger change. Not every practice is the same–and your clinic isn’t the only one that’s shorthanded. “You’re not trapped!” she says. “Literally every clinic is looking for techs, especially experienced ones.”

And remember that you have skills that can be useful elsewhere–and that it’s okay to do something else. Kucera says it was hard to make the decision to take a break from working at a practice, but she loves the work she’s doing now using her animal behavior skills working with private clients and consulting with practices about implementing Fear Free.

Whatever steps you choose to take, remember you’re not trying to add to the pressure. “Pick one or two things to start,” she says. “Don’t expect too much of yourself at once and make coping with stress another thing to stress out about.”

This article was reviewed/edited by board-certified veterinary behaviorist Dr. Kenneth Martin and/or veterinary technician specialist in behavior Debbie Martin, LVT.

Add comment

  Country flag

  • Comment
  • Preview

About this Blog

Red is your guide to everything AAHA. Whether you’re looking for association news, updates on our educational offerings, the latest books from AAHA Press, deals from our Preferred Providers, or fun reads from various AAHA staff and AAHA-member veterinary professionals, this is where you’ll find it.

Questions or comments?
Email us at [email protected] or call AAHA’s Member Experience Team at 800-883-6301.

AAHA-Accredited Veterinary Hospital Locator

Read the latest edition of:

Poll Question
Veterinary professionals: Are you allowed to bring your pet(s) to work with you?

The Standard of Veterinary Excellence ®
American Animal Hospital Association | Copyright ©2019 | Privacy Statement | Contact Us
The Standard of Veterinary Excellence ®
American Animal Hospital Association | Copyright © 2014
Privacy Statement | Contact Us