The life of a vet tech is a roller coaster ride like no other. It has its ups and downs, and you might lose your lunch, but it is ultimately a very satisfying ride.

If you’ve ever debated pursuing a career as a veterinary technician, or simply want to understand what it’s like to work at an animal hospital, Dr. Erica Irish is happy to tell you all about it. Pocket Prep collaborated with her to get an insider’s take on some of the good, the bad, and the ugly that comes with the job.

Erica graduated from the University of Florida College of Veterinary Medicine in 2013 and has been practicing in the field as veterinarian after six years spent as a tech. She is a member of the UF CVM Alumni Council and serves on the UF CVM Alumni Executive Board. She is married with a son and is also parent to six cats and four dogs.

Here is Erica’s story of her journey as a veterinary technician.

Gaining Experience as a Vet Tech Assistant

Before becoming a veterinary technician, I worked for a year as a kennel assistant in a small animal hospital. I had dreams of becoming a veterinarian one day, and I knew that experience as a vet tech would help me, so I expressed interested in tech work right away. I figured that I would learn from others and quickly adapt. Nobody told me how wrong I was!

On my first day, I didn’t even know how to place the probe cover on a rectal thermometer. There was so much to learn about vaccine schedules, medications, cleaning protocols, software usage, and lab work. I needed to know how to ask the right kinds of medical history questions, and I always seemed to forget some small but important detail. For the first few months, I was outside of my comfort zone. There were times when I had to ask myself if I was cut out for this kind of work.

Taking On New Challenges

In time, I became more proficient. There were many exciting “firsts” like my first intravenous catheter and my first surgery day. Scarier “firsts” were the kinds of emergencies where everyone in the hospital stopped what they were doing to help a critical patient. There were some days when we are so busy that we would work straight through our lunch break. With each passing day, I learned something new and became a little more confident in my abilities.

Nobody prepared me for the physical and mental exhaustion that I felt after some of my shifts. On the busiest of days, my tired feet would carry me back to my apartment where I would pass out on the couch in my dirty scrubs. My stomach would rumble because I had forgotten to eat while I was working. There were some days where I came home and cried, usually because of sad scenarios like owners with no money for their obstructed cat or someone saying goodbye to their best friend of fourteen years.

The Blood, Sweat and Tears Are Worth It to Become a Vet Tech

Despite the bad days, there have been so many more rewarding days, and nobody prepared me for how full my heart could feel. My favorite days were the ones when the doctor would buy us all pizza for lunch because nobody was able to clock out on time, or when a client would bring us baked treats in gratitude for saving their dog on emergency.

There were moments that could make you feel like a superhero, like when you were the only tech to get that much-needed blood sample, or when you came in on an afternoon shift and jumped into a full appointment schedule when the team needed you most. It felt amazing when all the puppies from an emergency c-section surgery (and their mother) survived, or when a parvovirus patient was doing well enough to be discharged from the hospital.

After six years of being a vet tech, I graduated to become a veterinarian. The tech experience was crucial to my success as a doctor because some of these skills simply aren’t taught in vet school. I look at technicians as my esteemed colleagues because I know how hard they work, and I couldn’t do what I do without their help. Veterinary technicians make a world of difference to pets, owners, and co-workers. They are literally saving lives every day.

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At Pocket Prep, we offer exam preparation for the AAVSB Veterinary Technician National Examination (VTNE). The app features 650 practice questions spanning nine subject areas including pharmacology, surgical nursing, dentistry, lab procedures, animal care, diagnostic imaging, pain management, anesthesia, and emergency care. Over 55,000 people have prepared for the VTNE using Pocket Prep. To learn more, visit our VTNE exam page. All apps are free to download and feature introductory content at no cost.