Titles schmitles

This is a vent and one of my biggest pet peeves.  Kind of ironic too since this pertains to me also,  I’ll explain.

(let me get comfy in my rocker before I begin)  BACK IN THE YEAR 1988 when I started my first job at a veterinary hospital,   I had zero experience.   None.   I just saw the advertisement in the classified ads and figured I’d give it a shot.   The business was only a few blocks away from my home so I figured it would work out a lot better rather than getting another job at the mall a few miles away.  I had just come off a holiday hiring at See’s Candy and was so stuffed full of free chocolate that the mere thought of working around food again made me ill.     I remember walking into that interview dressed sloppily in some jeans, a top,  black boots and in a thick black corduroy (yes, you read that right)  trench coat.  I was young and had no interviewing experience, and maybe it was because I didn’t think I had a snowball’s chance in hell of getting the job.  Whatever the reason,   I sat there and acted like I knew what I was talking about and did a terrible interview,  but to my surprise the doctor must have seen something in me because he hired me anyway.


I was a bright, new,  shiny ‘kennel attendant’.   Talk about a dramatic change of pace,  I went from working fast food/retail to being in a medical environment.

The pecking order at my first job was very VERY different than what things are like today.     There were the:

Veterinary Technicians:    They had the title, the schooling, the experience and the LICENSE that backed up that title!   Considered  ‘second in command’ to the doctor, they had the biggest responsibility in the veterinary hospital.   The doctor relied on the technician to ensure that everything was running smoothly at all times.   Patients were admitted,  cared for, medicated, catheterized, fluids checked, etc etc etc   They prepared the patients for surgery so all the doctor had to do was gown up, scrub in and walk into the surgery room to do the procedure.  They pulled up all the drugs the doctor requested,  had a close eye on every patient in the hospital at all times and reported back to the doctor with progress reports, questions, input,  whatever.   The first technician I ever worked with was named Tess and she knew her job almost flawlessly.    She would move non stop all day in her routine helping our doctor with appointments and procedures,  often even being one step or so in front of the doctor when it came to getting the things he needed for his patients.  (“Oh, Dr Smith usually needs this medication and this medication for an ear infection”    or   “Dr Smith likes to do the spay surgeries first so they have the longest time in the day to recover so I’ll get them prepped first” )  I have to admit, I was in awe watching how they worked together.  I would pause a little bit between cage cleanings and watch them, realizing finally that I knew what I wanted to do for the rest of my working career.

Veterinary Assistants:  The ‘second pair of hands’ of the vet hospital.   Their main job was to help the technicians achieve their missions throughout the day which was   mostly restraining/holding animals, holding off veins, helping with xrays, and cleaning up after surgeries and any other prep mess that is left behind.   They didn’t get to DO any of the cool stuff but they were exposed to it by being able to assist the tech.    Usually veterinary assistants were up and coming technicians trying to get hands on experience so they could move on and go to school.   Sometimes if a student was doing an on job training they would get to closely follow, assist and often perform certain technician duties but only if directly supervised.

Kennel attendants:  those that did the cleaning around the hospital.   Cleaning cleaning cleaning.   Vacuuming, sweeping, mopping,  and cleaning out kennels and cages.  Occasionally walking dogs into the gated yard.    Sometimes they even did bathing of the animals too!  Back in the day before there was decent topical flea and tick prevention there was horrible chemicals you’d pour on your pet called ‘dip’.   It stank and was ridiculously expensive but people got them for their pets because they hated fleas more than anything.   My first summer at that place I must have easily mixed up 100 gallons of that disgusting toxic swill.   That was pretty much it though when it came to contact with the animals.   If we weren’t moving them and cleaning up after them,  we were bathing and dipping the fleas off of them.   It wasn’t glamorous work but it needed to be done.    You rarely saw the kennel attendants anywhere around the treatment area or surgery room.   Every vet hospital needed a maintenance crew and I was proud to be a part of the totem pole, even at the starting level.

I worked as a kennel attendant for a little over a year until I was called into the doctor’s office and asked if I wanted to learn how to be a veterinary assistant.     I was over the moon!!!      It was a promotion into doing something that I wanted to do and up until then I hadn’t had any training at all.   When Tess started training me to assist her I started to learn her routine and it made everything run like a well oiled machine.    Everyone knew their job, nobody overstepped anybody else and we all worked together from morning until close.

Now on to my ‘pet peeve’  after all of that back story 🙂

Nowadays it seems like the technician title has been ‘cheapened’ to the extent where everyone who works at a vet hospital considers themselves one.    It’s no longer a title that you earn by going to school,  getting experience and obtaining a license.  You’re just a technician by working there.    It’s a given title,  and it annoys me to NO end!    I mean,  the definition of technician is:

noun:   technician; plural noun: technicians
  1. a person employed to look after technical equipment or do practical work in a laboratory.
    1. an expert in the practical application of a science.
    2. a person skilled in the technique of an art or craft.

    Key words.. SKILLED in the technique of an art or craft.   Or in other words,  not just anybody can come off the street and get a job as a technician.   A little over 10 years ago I tried for my license when we lived in Washington state.   I never went to school for it,  but there was a way back then where, if you had enough years and enough letters of recommendation under your belt, then you could grandfather into the program to take the test for the license.  I think it was 10 years or more you could qualify,  and I had way more than that… so I gave it a shot.

    You couldn’t miss more than 3 questions and I missed 4..  FOUR!   Missed it by just one. 😦  It was so close the lady who gives the tests put a little yellow sticky note on my results when I received them in the mail.   It read “So close! I hope you try again next year!”    I never got the chance,  a few months later we were headed to Germany for our first tour.  After that it really wasn’t a priority any longer.     Really sucks and I’ll always regret that but I can’t do anything about it.    That means  that in reality  I can’t even call myself a “technician” even though I have had enough hands on experience to do everything a licensed tech can do.  I’m a veterinary assistant with a shit ton of hands on experience..  which is still impressive.     I’ve lost count of the people I’ve met that claim to be a tech but when it comes down to actually doing the duties of one,  they don’t know even the basics.  I’ve overheard these ‘techs’ giving medical advice to pet owners that makes me cringe.  (“It’s ok to buy a large dog dose of frontline and divvy it up into smaller doses for all of your dachshunds!”  That cut on your dog’s paw will be fine!  give aspirin for pain if you think he needs it!”   “You don’t need heartworm medication for your dogs if they don’t go outside!” )  Of course the pet owners only see that they are speaking to a technician so they MUST know what they are talking about, right?  Ugh!  A few times I’ve intervened and saved the owner from making a dire mistake.     Why did the title of Veterinary Assistant become so lackluster that nobody wants to be one?   Why isn’t it still appropriate to work towards a title that is considered being skilled in a profession?   One of the best parts of a career is that you can learn new things every day… why act so soon like you’re such a know it all?    Once while working in Heidelberg I had taken my dog in to the vet clinic there because she had injured her back and needed radiographs.    I knew how to work their xray machine and I got permission to go in and use the machine and take my own xrays.   The ‘technician’ working there at the time came into the radiology room and introduced herself.    She was real nice, but didn’t have a lick of experience.   She said “Oh, SPC Lukasko,  the guy that knows how to work the machine isn’t here today!”    As if only one person in that place should know how to take an xray?   I invited her in to help me and started to show her how to measure depth and length in order to set the machine to correctly take a picture.    She left the room for a second and came back with a textbook about radiology and started flipping pages trying to find how to measure my dog.  That day I showed her that there is a big difference between reading things out of a book and trying things HANDS ON.  She had been too afraid to,  and when I showed her you could tell that she thought it was one of the coolest things she’d learned in a long time working there…    hopefully that brought her one step closer to working towards having that title that she held there.   A short time later her and her husband PCSd and I think they moved to North Carolina.. she had gotten a job at an animal shelter as a technician.   Hopefully she continued working towards it.

    Seriously,   every time I run into a ‘tech’ where I work I get less and less impressed.  It really cheapens what those of us that take our jobs seriously do,  and don’t get me wrong… there are many MANY genuinely awesome people out there that make the veterinary profession proud every day with their skills and dedication.   I just don’t like that we are lumped in with those that don’t deserve that recognition.

    Rant over…

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