Veterinary employees, scholar face COVID-19

As the US enters its third month and feels the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, veterinarians continue to adjust the way they work in times of physical distancing, an uncertain economy, growing unemployment and shortages of personal protective equipment. Many veterinarians and veterinary students have perspectives to share. JAVMA News spoke to several people in late March and early April about their personal experiences during this time. The answers have been edited slightly for the sake of clarity.

Cheyenne Clark, a customer service representative, directs calls at Petsburgh Pet Care in Lafayette, Indiana. (Photos courtesy Petsburgh Pet Care)

Veterinary student flies home

Q. Please tell me about yourself.

ON. My name is Lindsay Brunet and I am graduating from the Veterinary Faculty of St. George’s University in Grenada, West Indies in 2022. I grew up on a farm in southern Louisiana and knew I wanted to be a veterinarian since I was four.

Question: Can you tell me about your experience of leaving St. George’s amid the spread of COVID-19?

ON. The SGU headquarters sent us an email (March 11th) in which they indicated that due to COVID-19 they would switch to an online format by at least April 15th. In the same email, they strongly encouraged the student body to return to their home countries. They set up charter flights to Miami, New York, or Toronto that they paid for. I decided to leave Grenada and return to Louisiana to be with my family during this time.

Two of my exams for the semester have been postponed. I was flown to Miami on March 14th. SGU told us to arrive at the airport at least three hours earlier. I woke up on March 14th and came to the airport to catch incredible lines outside. There was a mix up with the flight manifestos, and it went insane and turned into a first-come, first-served situation.

I ended up standing in the sun in front of the airport for about six hours and then inside for another hour. I was among the last 20 people to get a ticket for the flight. As frustrating as the wait was, SGU and the airport had a 48 hour window to organize the charter flights and they did the best they could.

Kayla Winemiller, a veterinary assistant at Petsburgh Pet Care, shows a patient inside while the owner waits outside.

When I finally got to the ticket counter, my luggage was checked and paid for by SGU. All of my pets rode with me in the cabin for free with no limits which was amazing.

I missed my connection by about an hour and unfortunately my luggage didn’t make it on the plane with me and got stuck in Grenada. But SGU sent it to me via FedEx.

I had planned to study all weekend, but instead I had to pack up my whole life in one day and go home. It was crazy.

Trainer juggles

Q. Please tell me about yourself.

ON. My name is Leslie Boudreau. I’m the hospital manager at the Huntington Beach California Animal Hospital. I am also a registered veterinary technician.

Question: Can you share how you and your leadership made policy changes in the practice you manage?

ON. This was an exercise to learn how to change on the fly, and develop protocols and guidelines that change by the hour. When things started to develop, we first presented a protocol to the leadership and discussed how it could be implemented. Before it was checked, we had to change it at least four or five times. The smallest change is difficult for people and everyone has to change. It was difficult to stay positive and drive this change forward. It was a circus of moving animals, some clowns and jugglers.

Question: What kind of employee security protocols have you implemented?

ON. Setting priorities was a big deal and the safety of our employees. We have implemented a no-sniffle rule. Blink funny and you stay home. We have been as careful as possible with the safety of our employees. We now have full roadside service so very few people enter the building, and we’ve revised the schedules so that executives can provide additional support and time to staff.

Question: Are there any resources you can use to help yourself during this time?

ON. I’m part of a very close community of practice managers and it’s very helpful to have colleagues on the same boat and share best practices. We have Zoom Meetings and Text Chains which have been a great resource. The VMA in Southern California was fantastic with daily updates too.

COVID-19 is changing everything for veterinary technicians

Q. Please tell me about yourself.

ON. My name is Sarah Summers and I am a Registered Veterinary Technician in Lafayette, Indiana. I graduated in 2014 and got an RVT license. I work at Petsburgh Pet Care, a small animal general practitioner with three doctors and its own boarding and care facilities, about an hour outside of Indianapolis.

Question: How has COVID-19 changed the way you work?

ON. It has changed the way we work in every way, and I cannot stress “everyone” enough. Now everything is taking longer and we are trying to find different ways to be efficient and protect ourselves and our customers. Our RVTs and assistants take all calls regarding concerns and help determine if we can begin a remote consultation. If we want to interact with the owner and their pet at all, we ask them if they have any recent travel history, illness, or exposure that we should be aware of. So far we’ve been lucky.

It seems like so long ago we made the difficult decision of locking our lobby doors and not letting customers into the building, but it was only March 18th. Our normally rotating exam rooms were unused, and now there are echoes in the lobby. While we try to make good use of our time between sparse patient and customer care, the clinic is filled with our muted computer speakers exchanging webinars and messages about COVID-19 updates.

Q. Any other changes?

ON. When owners pick up medication, we put it on a chair outside for them to pick up. We ask cat owners to put the porters next to the door and leave. Dogs that we keep on a leash still have to get pretty close to the owner. Scared dogs are a game changer; Those who cannot walk without their owners are taken on a case-by-case basis.

Our bath and grooming team has been instructed to stay at home. The cattery carers work with minimal staff. All of our non-essential operations have been postponed. We have cloth masks that we wear when we are around property owners. We have masks that owners can wear during euthanasia. This is the only time we currently allow an owner to enter the building.

We all wash our hands and use disinfectants religiously. We all still wonder if it’s enough.

Question: What have you done for your sanity?

ON. Compassion fatigue and emotional exhaustion take on new meanings when they overflow from your professional life into a world crisis. We all know that we have to fill our own mug to be able to pour something, but we all have great difficulty finding ways or motivation to take care of ourselves.

I step back after work every day and take a few deep breaths. I stroke my animals one by one. This is my charge.

I think it’s important to know how we are feeling during this COVID-19 pandemic.