Wellness for Today’s Veterinary Technicians

Technicians are irreplaceable within a veterinary practice, but what can we do to support the wellness of technicians?

Challenges Abound, but Wellness Remains a Priority

by Sally Jo Vanostrand, MSW

Veterinary technicians are the backbone of most veterinary practices. With growing attention to the general wellness of professionals within the veterinary field, technicians remain a group that requires evolving wellness techniques and advocacy. Technicians have daily expectations of adaptability, resourcefulness, skill, and versatility. Stress, anxiety, compassion fatigue, and burnout are familiar hurdles within the technician field. Technicians are irreplaceable within a veterinary practice, but what can we do to support the wellness of technicians?

Reflecting on a technician’s day would reveal a fast-paced environment with a large patient load. In my experience, most technicians have passion and fulfillment for their work. However, resources for these technicians to properly work through the mental and physical toll their profession takes on them seem to be lacking.

I like to think of technicians’ wellness as the glue that maintains the homeostasis of a veterinary practice. Technicians handle everything from anesthesia to client education, nail trims, dispensing medications, and countless other responsibilities. Assessing and enhancing the outlets and resources for technicians to be as fulfilled as possible in their position is necessary to enable them to function in a way that benefits themselves and the practice.

Mental Health Challenges

Suicide is a delicate topic and difficult to address without proper training. There is widespread data that proves that suicide is an increased risk for personnel within veterinary practices. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported in 2019 that there is an increased likelihood of suicide among technicians when compared with the general population. This daunting statistic makes the importance of technician wellness more crucial than ever. A preliminary suggestion in addressing this concern is to train staff members to recognize and help a colleague that is expressing suicidal ideation. Having staff educated on the warning signs and how to find an at-risk individual proper help is a resource every veterinary practice should provide. Suicide prevention training is available through Question, Persuade, Refer (QPR) Gatekeeper certification.

Conflict is common in several workplaces, and veterinary practices are not exempt from this discomfort. Having professionals available to help reduce the negative feelings associated with conflict can create a workplace that feels safe and empathetic to those employed there. Ignoring conflict can create further animosity between those directly involved and the management team that may have made a mistake in ignoring the conflict. Quickly addressing conflict shows technicians and other staff members that their concerns are significant and that actions are in motion to rectify the situation.

Mental health services should be easily accessible to technicians. Given the negative stigma and barriers to mental health services, we should consider that it is challenging to admit that one may need mental health services; it may also be difficult for a technician to access the services when needed. Providing free mental health services for the staff at veterinary hospitals is becoming increasingly common.

It is ideal for veterinary practices to either have a qualified mental health provider on staff or hire an outside mental health provider to come in a couple of times a month and see the technicians that would like to access these services. On-site employer-provided mental health services diminish the hurdles of the cost of mental health services for the technician. Employers will see the benefits for their technicians and other staff members quickly in the positive outcomes for the technician and the workplace environment.

Helping and Healing

Technicians are, by nature, helpers and feel fulfilled in helping pets and clients. This helping nature can be further nourished by providing opportunities outside of veterinary practice. Community projects allow for the chance to use helping skills in a way that is outside their daily tasks as a technician, and doing positive work for the community has its benefits. I have organized events where the staff will make and serve lunch to the local homeless community, pet food drives for a local pet food pantry, and other unique opportunities to help those in need. This type of community service allows technicians to nurture their helping nature further.

Technicians can see a patient just as often as a veterinarian and sometimes even more. Veterinary practices must have appropriate supports to allow technicians the space and time to decompress after tough cases. Prolonged exposure to a specific patient creates a bond and further promotes emotion from the technician when the case doesn’t go as planned or the pet’s quality of life is in jeopardy. Debriefing after a tough case or negative client interaction creates an open forum to discuss the complex emotions surrounding the case.

When these moments arise, debriefing with a technician should allow them an outlet to express their feelings revolving around the patient. Positive feedback is required to assure the technician that they are justified in feeling the way they do. Occasionally, a technician may need quiet time after a challenging case. When this occurs, it is vital that they have time by themselves and that someone follows up with them to ensure that the time off the floor has helped them work through this current difficulty.

A wellness room is a valuable addition to any veterinary practice. All too often, technicians can be overwhelmed by the fast-paced environment of veterinary medicine. A wellness room allows technicians and other employees to escape into a safe place if they feel overwhelmed. Thoughtful planning goes into creating a wellness room, which technicians and additional staff notice as a consideration for their overall wellbeing. I feel as though every excellent wellness room starts with a conversation with personnel about what would be beneficial to them in the wellness room.

Taking the top suggestions and adding them to the room gives it a personal feel and directly addresses the most common needs found within the veterinary practice. Valuable items to include in a wellness room are water fixtures, spa music, a massage chair, a Zen garden, and sensory items. Adding stress-reducing activities to their daily routines inside the hospital, like adult coloring books, crafting opportunities, and seasonal activities such as pumpkin painting, can also add incentive to use the wellness room.

Take Time for Education

Technicians have minimal downtime, but there are ways to discuss and educate them on mental wellness. Staff meetings, newsletters, and Facebook wellness pages are a great way to get information to them on wellness topics. Giving technicians multiple opportunities to learn coping skills, grounding techniques, self-awareness, and so on increases the likelihood of using and retaining the information provided. Acknowledging the technicians who are trying these techniques through recognition will encourage them to continue practicing these skills and boost their colleagues to do the same. Guest speakers are also a great idea, especially if you can find a provider specializing in a specific skill that would benefit the staff.

Stress within the veterinary field is inevitable, so careful consideration should be given to retaining the technicians within our practices. Demand for technicians has increased with the need for veterinary care through the pandemic. Concerns such as pay, benefits, and workload may explain why a technician may leave one practice for another, but it doesn’t necessarily speak for those that leave veterinary medicine altogether.

Mental health services could also make one practice stand out compared with other practices that may not have the same perk. Investing in physical and mental health supports will help diminish turnover due to the demands of our field. Addressing technicians’ wellbeing creates a safety net for those battling compassion fatigue or burnout.

Technicians do heroic work every day, and while this is rewarding, we should pay special attention to how we can support technicians in today’s veterinary world. Understanding the causes of pressure, conflict, compassion fatigue, and burnout within an individual practice opens the doors to selecting the most valuable resources to further support technicians in their careers. Starting the conversation with the technicians in your hospital about what opportunities they would appreciate ensures their overall wellbeing and is the start of a happier and more fulfilled technician team. 


Sally Jo Vanostrand, MSW, began her career in the veterinary field at Stack Veterinary Hospital in 2004. Sally graduated magna cum laude from Syracuse University, achieving her master’s degree in social work. Coupling her degree with her certification in animal hospice and palliative care, Sally offers services for people that are experiencing grief because of a pet loss or stress associated with the obstacles of an aging pet. In addition to pet loss, Sally also addresses wellness of employees within veterinary practices. Diminishing barriers to wellbeing within veterinary practices, advocating for wellness of veterinary professionals, and providing direct care to employees in need is a passion that she works diligently toward.


Photo credits: Slavica/E+ via Getty Images, simonkr/E+ via Getty Images, SeventyFour/iStock via Getty Images, Ridofranz/iStock via Getty Images, Andrey Zhuravlev/iStock via Getty Images



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