Vet Teams IRL: Jessica Knauber, CVT
In the Vet Teams IRL series, we meet veterinary technicians, customer service representatives, managers, kennel staff, veterinary assistants, and vet tech students working on the frontlines of vet med.
It’s a windy day in Colorado Springs, Colorado. So windy, in fact, that alerts are being issued to stay inside and avoid travel. Semi-trucks are flipping over on the highway and schools are dismissing early.
Amidst this chaos, I meet Jessica Knauber, a veterinary technician and supervisor at Powers Emergency and Specialty Veterinary Hospital. She’s hired me to come out and do an in-clinic anesthesia training.
During the day, I meet with her team. We discuss anesthesia monitoring and do hands-on practice by running some cases. I even stay three hours past my time to help with a dalmatian that was injured when the fence surrounding his yard literally blew away from the wind gusts.
Throughout the day Jessica takes a keen interest in her staff and supports their willingness to learn something new. I wanted to take a moment to get to know Jessica better and ask what drives her.
Tasha McNerney: Jessica, you seem to absolutely love emergency medicine. It’s not for everyone, so what led you to emergency care?
Jessica Knauber: My journey started early. Three months before I turned 15, I was hired by a general practice with a huge boarding facility to work in the kennel. It was here that I learned what a veterinary technician was and what they did—and I was blown away.
That was when my focus shifted from DVM to VT. At the age of 18, I was hired by another GP and began training as a veterinary assistant. This was such an exciting time in my life, and I knew I was on the right path. After a few more years in GP, I started a second job working in a local ER clinic. I was bitten by the ER bug and never looked back from there. So, all of that to say, I have been working as a VA/VT for 20 years.
TMc: What types of cases or procedures are your favorites?
JK: I know this sounds weird to many in the field, but I hate anesthesia procedures. I saw this meme one time and described it perfectly. It went something like: Anesthesia is 95% boredom and 5% complete panic. I understand all the concepts, but my anxiety just simply can’t handle it.
I love intensive care cases. Give me the “tree of life” with a million CRIs—those are my happy places. Although often these cases don’t have positive outcomes, the ones that do keep me going. Knowing that you made a difference in not only the life of this critical animal, but the lives of the humans who love them . . . that is everything!
TMc: You work at a clinic that fully utilizes their tech team, why do you think this is important for career satisfaction?
JK: As a newer technician, I was working for a practice that restricted a lot of technician skills to DVMs only (bandaging, central lines, simple stapling, NG tube placements, etc.). Nothing was more frustrating than reading an article written by a technician or going to a CE discussing a new treatment technique or method that had been discovered and practiced by technicians, but knowing there was no support that would allow me or my co-workers to try it.
I feel a lot of technicians have similar drivers and personality traits: We want nothing more than to help our patients; we want to be challenged and we want to help the progress of veterinary medicine. These paths look different among different people, however, for the most part, the goals are the same. There are few things that will contribute more to dissatisfaction in one’s work than feeling like you are not supported in the growth of your skills.
TMc: Do you have a particular patient or case that you still remember or that has stuck with you over the years?
JK: I do, very much so. She was the first patient that I ever had that was a true critical care case. Her name was Calypso. She was a 5-year-old spayed female Boston Terrier mix. She presented to us overnight, unresponsive and with a recent Addison’s Disease diagnosis. She was in a severe Addisonian crisis.
I was working with a DVM who was relatively newer to ER; however, she was a rock star and was absolutely driven to do everything she could for Calypso. She was my first tree of life, my first exposure to all the CRIs, and my first exposure to a true touch-and-go case. Sadly, she never left our hospital. We were able to correct everything on paper, but she never came back to us. Shortly after I left my overnight shift that night, I received a text message that she arrested and they couldn’t get her back.
I was destroyed. I remember being grateful but guilty that I wasn’t there when the owners came to say goodbye to her body. I wanted to hug them, but also never wanted to see them again. It was rough.
Two weeks later, the DVM and I received a package in the mail. It was from Calypso’s owners. It was a beautiful letter thanking us for all we did and beyond. I will never forget this line: “We realized that this happens to all of you countless times (losing patients) and how hard it has to be. You never get to know your patients before they are sick. So, we want to tell you about Calypso and her story.”
They went on to detail how they got her, what she was like as a puppy, her quirks, likes, dislikes . . . and included albums of pictures. I still have all of it and I will always treasure it. For the first time in my career, I felt seen by our clients and realized that if one person thinks that way, there are likely others who do too. And that is huge.
TMc: You are a big believer in continuing education. Why do you think CE is important for tech and career development?
JK: Career development and optimal patient care are cyclical. I want my technicians to be able to learn to do everything they are legally allowed to do. I want them to grow and feel challenged because with that challenge comes achievement, and with achievement comes confidence and fulfillment. These feelings foster engagement which ultimately lead to optimal patient care.
There is nothing I love more than to see the lightbulb go off in someone’s head (you can see it in their whole face) when they have learned something new, and it clicks with them.
TMc: You also work in management. What advice do you have for techs that have been put into management roles but don’t have a ton of experience?
JK: Let’s face it, most technicians who go into management have limited, if any, experience. I feel especially in smaller practices, the ascension of the very experienced solid VT into a leadership/management role is quite a common story. If they are lucky, they get training.
First, know your “why.” If you have been approached to take on a new role, ask yourself: “Why am I accepting this advancement? “and “Why do I want to be a leader?” Remember, you will be leading people, not managing them. We are far from the days of managers. Today’s workforce wants a leader who will be there with them, have their backs, and encourage accountability. They do not want to be managed.
My first upward movement into leadership was to manage the technician training program. First, as I mentioned before, I love to teach and see that “ah-ha!” moment in people. Second, and honestly the biggest reason was that I saw an opportunity to be part of a positive change in veterinary medicine. I wanted to foster growth and found myself in a wonderful position to start changing the narrative.
Think of it like a plant you are trying to grow: You take your seed or cutting and you give it the best possible environment. You make sure all its needs are met and you keep a close eye on it to make sure it is thriving. You don’t take a plant you are trying to grow and subject it to the harshest conditions . . . Why should people be any different?
Tasha McNerney BS, CVT, CVPP, VTS (Anesthesia and Analgesia) is a certified veterinary technician from Glenside, Pennsylvania. She is also a certified veterinary pain practitioner and works closely with the IVAPM to educate the public about animal pain awareness. McNerney has authored numerous articles on anesthesia and analgesia topics for veterinary professionals and pet owners.
Photos courtesy of Jessica Knauber.
Disclaimer: The views expressed, and topics discussed, in any NEWStat column or article are intended to inform, educate, or entertain, and do not represent an official position by the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) or its Board of Directors.