Months after the pandemic, Ashli Selke, a qualified veterinary technician, was overwhelmed.
“I cried on the way to work,” she says. Selke is President-elect of the National Association of Veterinary Technicians in America. She works for Purdue University in their veterinary care program as a clinical laboratory coordinator. However, in 2020 she worked as a surgical supervisor in a 24/7 emergency and specialty animal clinic.
Practices may have quickly adapted to new COVID-19 safety protocols to ensure the continued provision of high quality patient care. But these same changes have also limited the efficiency and productivity of the team, and have continued into the present.
Ashli Selke, a qualified veterinary technician, is the elected president of the National Association of Veterinary Technicians in America. She spoke at the AVMA House of Delegates Veterinary Information Forum on July 29th. Selke said that appropriate use of veterinary technicians can overcome the inefficiencies of many veterinary practices. (Photo by R. Scott Nolen)
Many practices have also struggled with temporary or permanent loss of employees, which means that these companies had to operate with a sub-optimal number of employees.
Veterinary technicians already had one of the highest annual turnover rates of all health professions at just over 25%. Current conditions appear to have further contributed to decreased job satisfaction or even burnout for some.
Meghan Bingham, practice manager at the West Alabama Animal Clinic in Houston, said the staff were tired and stressed out.
“We’re trying our best to maintain our levels of care, customer service and communication, but it has been a struggle,” said Bingham. “Customers have cried and screamed and cursed.”
Selke also had angry customers and bad reviews. She worked longer hours and suffered from compassionate fatigue and the hospital was understaffed.
“I got really angry customer calls who couldn’t stand the wait,” said Selke. “The people were mean. It was hard for me. With the pandemic, staff were cut and the number of cases tripled. I worked almost 60 hours a week just to keep up. It began to burden me. “
Selke eventually checked into an inpatient psychiatric facility for a week and began taking antidepressants.
She decided to step down from her post but stayed another six months until a suitable candidate was found and trained. She worked to set new achievable goals and limits so that her successor would not go through the same situation.
Gerard Gervasi, hospital administrator for the Collierville Animal Clinic in Collierville, Tennessee, said the veterinary industry has been hit by COVID-19 in unimaginable ways and people are suffering more than just burnout.
“Unfortunately, the pandemic has emotionally drained our veterinary and lay staff and, in some cases, has put us in a work-life crisis,” said Gervasi. “Once we find the end of the tunnel, industry leaders need to address employee concerns and find meaningful ways to rebalance their lives.”
Selke said that on her previous job, “no one received any salary increases or any kind of support for the constant onslaught of new responsibilities or the overwhelming patient-technician-vet relationship.”
“I hope that the profession emerges from it and emerges stronger from it and that we as veterinary technicians can set our limits without fear of blame and our value for the profession, and this is conveyed through our remuneration with livable wages and social benefits.”