A Day in the Life of a Veterinary Technician

At Four Lakes Veterinary Clinic, we’re off and running the minute we open with clients waiting outside to drop off their pets, a cacophony of ringing phones echoing from every corner, and, without fail, the first dog of the day singing us the song of its people the moment we close the cage door.

Explaining the scope and extent of my job is difficult. Sometimes it helps to liken it to a human’s trip to the emergency room. You’re greeted by a receptionist, who connects you to a triage nurse. Then a different nurse escorts you to a bed or room to take vitals. Next, a phlebotomist draws your blood and a radiology technician takes x-rays. A physical therapist will place any bandages and a respiratory therapist will give you any needed breathing treatment. If surgery is in order, a nurse anesthetist will give you good medications to relax and remain pain-free before, during, and after surgery, while a scrub/OR nurse helps during the procedure.

In a human hospital, there’s a maintenance crew to clean and do laundry, someone to change the surgery light bulbs, and another person to sterilize instruments. There are technicians to run blood work and take other samples, and maybe even a completely different person to clean and maintain the lab equipment. Hospitals also have PR teams to promote the hospital, social workers to help patients and their families, and a board of directors to determine and uphold the hospital’s mission and operations.

When Four Lakes Veterinary Clinic first opened, I was all these people. I did and still do much of these things every day, although now there’s a support staff so I don’t have to, say, answer the phone very often anymore. All that said, I can’t say that I’m your average vet tech because not every vet tech is responsible for changing light bulbs or maintaining the centrifuge and autoclave, ordering supplies, and keeping the inventory in the clinic. But I like the variety and that every day brings new challenges and things to fix, which could be a pet or a shelf.

An average Monday.

7:00 a.m. Make coffee, clock in, and start responding to 5,000 emails.
7:30 a.m. We open. Answer the first phone call with approximately 400,683 more to come.
7:45 a.m. Wish that I had time to run to Monona Bakery for a cheese Danish.
8:00 a.m. Review medical records. Discuss patient history and clinical signs with clients and veterinarians. Grab a dog from a car and help with its exam, vaccines, and treatments.
8:30 a.m. Draw blood from a cat who isn’t happy to be here.
8:45 a.m. Respond to emails.
9:00 a.m. Refill the carbon dioxide absorbent and leak-check the anesthesia machines while answering questions from colleagues about everything from vaccine protocols to where we keep the WD-40.
9:15 a.m. Premedicate, place an IV catheter, induce and monitor anesthesia, take dental x-rays, and clean the teeth of a 12-year-old Chihuahua who has never had a cleaning before. She’ll need at least half of her 42 teeth extracted, but it will exponentially increase her quality of life. Trim her toenails (for free) while she’s under anesthesia.
9:45 a.m. Dispose of the three-pound lipoma (fatty tumor) removed from a dog that I left to gross out the receptionists.
10:15 a.m. Offer cute cats treats and catnip.
11:00 a.m. Make jokes about my glamorous job and all the bodily fluids we come in contact with on a daily basis.
11:15 a.m. Turn the coffee maker back on (I forgot all about it).
11:20 a.m. Obtain a sterile urine sample from a tiny kitten via cystocentesis (a needle directly into the bladder).
11:25 a.m. Respond to emails.
11:30 a.m. Express anal glands, which shoot six feet across the room onto the wall, on a huge rottweiler.

Eat lunch anytime between 11:30 a.m. and 4:00 p.m.

11:45 a.m. Explain to yet another owner that we don’t know why male dogs have nipples.
12:00 p.m. Talk with a sales rep or three.
12:30 p.m. Take a blood pressure reading and check the eye pressures on an elderly cat.
1:00 p.m. Poke a frightened cat in the butt with a sedative so that they’re no longer scared and don’t remember anything, and to allow us to get a full physical exam done.
1:30 p.m. Check the tear production on an older shih tzu.
2:00 p.m. Help a client assess the quality of life of their 14-year-old rat terrier with congestive heart failure.
2:30 p.m. Make a joke about the kitten who climbed up my back and then was diagnosed with the highly contagious fungus called ringworm.
3:00 p.m. Hold a black lab for an abdominal or cardiac ultrasound.
3:30 p.m. Run a 25-pound bag of food out to a car in the pouring rain/99-degree heat/blizzard.
3:45 p.m. Run my inventory reorder report and probably get a chance to look at it next Thursday.
4:00 p.m. Troubleshoot our practice management software. Text the IT guy who, without fail, responds, “Did you turn the computer off and back on again?”
4:15 p.m. Turn the computer off and back on again, which fixes the problem.
4:30 p.m. Finish my emotional medical records for appointments I helped with last Monday. These records indicate how a pet did at the clinic, what treats they like best, and what made the visit easier/harder on them so that we can make it as smooth as possible the next time.
5:00 p.m. Collect garbage and recycling for the dumpsters.
5:30 p.m. Count the cash and reconcile end-of-day receipts.
5:45 p.m. One last check of emails.
6:00 p.m. Turn off lights, set the alarm system, and head to Dexter’s Pub for dinner with friends.

What most people don’t know about their average vet clinic: there’s not a puppy or kitten, no smiling pit bull or head-butting cat, no white-faced older black lab or wise elder feline who escapes the loving pets, baby talk, and cuddles of our staff. We love your pets and earned a Fear Free certification to make their visits less stressful and, hopefully, fun.

It’s the best, sometimes grossest, often saddest, but ultimately most interesting job in the world, and I’m so lucky to call it mine!

Allison Stephen is a certified veterinary technician/nurse at Four Lakes Veterinary Clinic.