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October 01, 2021

Veterinary technician, other staff members talk about pandemic experiences

Veterinary professionals share challenges related to work-life balance, client issues
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Months into the pandemic, Ashli Selke, a credentialed veterinary technician, was overwhelmed.

“I was crying on the way to work,” she said. Selke is president-elect of the National Association of Veterinary Technicians in America. She works for Purdue University in its veterinary nursing program as a clinical laboratory coordinator. However, in 2020, she worked as a surgical supervisor at a 24/7 emergency and specialty veterinary clinic.

Practices may have quickly adapted with new COVID-19 safety protocols to ensure the continued provision of quality patient care. But these same changes also limited team efficiency and productivity and continue into the present.

Ashli Selke
Ashli Selke, a credentialed veterinary technician, is president-elect of the National Association of Veterinary Technicians in America. She spoke during the AVMA House of Delegates’ Veterinary Information Forum on July 29. Selke said appropriate utilization of veterinary technicians can overcome inefficiencies plaguing many veterinary practices. (Photo by R. Scott Nolen)

Many practices also have struggled with temporary or permanent losses of staff members, meaning these businesses have had to operate with a suboptimal number of employees.

Veterinary technicians already had one of the highest annual turnover rates of all health care positions at just over 25%. The current conditions appear to have further contributed to reduced job satisfaction or even burnout for some.

Meghan Bingham, a practice manager at West Alabama Animal Clinic in Houston, said the staff is tired and stressed.

“We are trying our very best to maintain our level of care, customer service, and communication, but it’s been a struggle,” Bingham said. “Customers have cried and yelled and cursed.”

Selke also experienced upset clients and bad reviews. She was working longer hours and suffering from compassion fatigue, and the hospital was understaffed.

“I was getting really upset client calls who couldn’t handle the wait,” Selke said. “People were mean. It was hard on me. With the pandemic, there was shortened staff and triple the caseload. I was working close to 60 hours weekly just to try and keep up. It started to weigh on me.”

Selke eventually checked herself into an in-patient mental health facility for a week and started taking antidepressants.

She decided to step down from her position but stayed on an additional six months until a suitable candidate could be found and trained. She worked to set new obtainable goals and boundaries so her successor would not go through the same situation.

Gerard Gervasi, hospital administrator at Collierville Animal Clinic in Collierville, Tennessee, said the veterinary industry has been impacted by COVID-19 in unimaginable ways, and people are experiencing more than just burnout.

“Unfortunately, the pandemic has left our veterinary and lay staff emotionally depleted and has in some instances left us in a work-life crisis,” Gervasi said. “Once we find the end of the tunnel, the industry leaders will need to address the staff concerns and find meaningful ways to bring the balance back into their lives.”

Selke said that at her previous job, “No one was getting raises or any support for the continuous onslaught of new duties or the overwhelming patient-technician-veterinarian ratio.”

“I hope the profession advances from this and comes out stronger and we as veterinary technicians can state our boundaries without fear of reprimand as well as our value to the profession, and that is conveyed through our compensation with livable wages and benefits.”