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Roundtable: A Conversation with VCA Veterinary Technicians

Apr 23,2021
What’s it really like to be a veterinary technician at VCA?

At VCA Animal Hospitals, we love our vet techs! In celebration of World Veterinary Day, Carolyn Spivock, director of veterinary technician development, and Christine Crick, director of specialty technicians, hosted a round table discussion with veterinary technicians about the real-world challenges and rewards of the job.

Click to listen to the roundtable 

Carolyn Spivock:

Welcome to VCA Voice. I'm Carolyn Spivock, Director of Veterinary Technician and Assistant Development at VCA, and I'm here with Christine Crick, Director of Specialty Technicians at VCA. How's it going, Chris?

Christine Crick:
It's going really well. Thanks, Carolyn. Well, we're really excited to have the privilege to speak to our panel of technicians today. They all have various roles across the country and the company and are all relatively new roles within VCA. First, we have Jessica Sewell, Regional Technician Director for the South Atlantic, Maria Libonate, she's our Academic Program Specialist in our Knowledge and Learning Department, and Teresa Stefan, Student Program Specialist with our recruiting department. Welcome to you all today.

Carolyn Spivock:
It's really exciting, Chris, isn't it? As we wrap up this year, it's a good opportunity to gain perspective of where we've been and really where we're going. There've been so many things that have happened in 2020 that we can reflect on and really take a moment to have some thoughtful pause. It's really provided us a chance to focus on positive things for the new year, I think.

Christine Crick:
You're right, Carolyn. 2020 has been interesting to say the least, hasn't it?

Carolyn Spivock:
It really has.

Carolyn Spivock:
Jessica, let's start with you. What are your thoughts?

Jessica Sewell:
Actually it was hard for me, because I'm on the road. That's what I do. Of course, I was no longer on the road. To keep contact with the hospitals, we had group tech calls, tech and assistant calls. I was never more proud to be a technician and to be a part of VCA when I saw what everybody was doing. Just like the... Not only were they still ... Nothing kept them down from taking care of their patients, from connecting with their clients. Nothing kept them away from doing that. I was never more proud.

Jessica Sewell:
I felt like I was being lame because I'm not an emotional person, but I felt like I was being really lame telling them how proud I was, and that I think it really came to be that... It really showed that our technicians and our assistants, they are the heart of our hospitals. I'm proud of them all, and I'm proud of our company. That's my thought process through the pandemic coming in and where we are now. I'm so proud of them.

Carolyn Spivock:
That's great, Jessica. I mean, it is. We've seen the hospitals do amazing things and just trying to adapt and be there for their patients and for the clients. I guess one more question for you specifically is, in your role as a regional technician director, which is... You've been doing field work for a while, but this is a new role, right, as of March. You get the opportunity to work with the hospitals. And like you said, normally you are in the hospital with the hospitals, but out of respect of our current conditions, you haven't been able to be actually in the hospitals.

Carolyn Spivock:
I know you were talking about having the meetings for your teams and things like that. But for tech supervisors specifically, I know that that's a role that you're trying to help grow and to elevate. How have you seen or what is your thoughts for that particular role as we move through this? Now we're looking towards 2021. How do you see that growing and developing? Because we were all tech supervisors at one point. Where are you looking at for 2021 to be like, let's focus on something super happy that we can go, okay, let's make a good difference.

Carolyn Spivock:
We've learned so much. They had tons of opportunities for leadership and having to really guide their teams. What are you looking for in 2021 from your tech supervisors specifically?

Jessica Sewell:
Yeah. Technicians should be running these hospitals and making more of the important decisions. I think, honestly, I would love to see that happen. I do slowly see it happening. The tech supervisors are our first step. Technicians, we didn't decide to be technicians because we couldn't get into vet school, right? Like it was a backup career. This is what we love. This is our life. This is what we do.

Christine Crick:
Amen.

Jessica Sewell:
It's not like a backup plan. You know everybody says, "Hey, if you had followed your dream, what would you be doing?" I'm like, "I'm doing it. I followed my dream and I do it." That's my long-term vision. We all say like nurse... We are where nurses once were, right? And that's very true. I want to see our tech supervisors being utilized in a way that they should be utilized and can be utilized. I want to see them adding to the partnership of the hospital manager and medical director. I want to see the tech supervisor right there beside them.

Jessica Sewell:
And that's what we're pushing for in our group. It's a change of culture because it's always been the hospital manager. It's been more operational. I want the right people in these positions. They're not getting the positions because they have the best technical skills, or they've been in the hospital the longest, because those make horrible supervisors in many situations. Those aren't the right people.

Jessica Sewell:
My vision is to get the right people in these positions who can develop and grow and build a team and work alongside as united front with their hospital manager, their medical director, and you know what, a CSR supervisor. I'm going to take the vision a step further. There's four people on this team and what technician can bring to the table taken seriously. People need to understand that being a doctor and being a technician are very different things.

Jessica Sewell:
There's so much value in technicians speaking to technicians and training technicians and mentoring technicians, because what doctors do and what techs do are very different. That's my vision and that's what we're working for here in the South Atlantic. It's going to take time, but it's a group effort. So that's where we're going.

Carolyn Spivock:
No, that's excellent. It made me think too, Maria, I mean, you were a tech supervisor not too long ago in a hospital. What Jessica is talking about, does that speak to your overall vision too? And then also in your role in knowledge and learning, are you seeing that growth and development? How exactly are you seeing the role of the technician and assistant grow in the industry, not just within VCA?

Maria Libonate:
I know part of the reason we started this whole technician leadership curriculum that I'm working on right now is because of the need to build up our technicians more, our assistants, and give them the leadership capability so that they can run their teams successfully and help mentor and train other technicians and assistants. And I think that's a really great thing. This is a long time coming, but the fact that we're actually working on it now is awesome.

Maria Libonate:
And the fact that we have our TDs in our regions now, it allows our technicians and even people outside of VCA to see that there are possibilities for them, and there are opportunities for growth. I can't tell you, I'm in several technician groups on Facebook and a lot of the questions I hear are, what can I do? What are the possibilities? Am I stuck in the same job for the rest of my life, for 20 years? What if I want to grow? Where do I go from here?

Maria Libonate:
Just being able to say, yes, there are so many opportunities for you as a technician and as an assistant. Just keep looking and make your thoughts known and say, "Hey, I want to improve myself. I want to further my career." I love being able to say like, "Well, this is what we're offering right now, and this is what direction we're headed in." It's really awesome to see that. My path was kind of a little wiggly because I didn't go to tech school the traditional way. I did the alternate route to get my certification.

Maria Libonate:
Once I realized that this was something that I was good at, I got my promotion to supervisor. And then from there, I decided to go to the knowledge and learning department. I'm right there with Jessica. I love what I do. People ask me all the time, "How's work going? Do you like what you're doing?" I'm like, "I love it. I am so happy with what I do. This is something that I'm passionate about." Being able to share that with other people throughout the industry is just amazing.

Maria Libonate:
I want to be able to bring that passion out with other technicians and assistants.

Carolyn Spivock:
That's great perspective too, right, Maria? You get to see the people that are trying to grow and develop with from the education standpoint. There's definitely a lot in there. Teresa, I just wanted to ask you too. From the recruiting side, just speaking to what Maria is saying, like the things that she's hearing within the different social media groups and things like that, what are you seeing from for recruiting, much less just being in the industry and seeing so many different evolutions with the different positions that you've had. What are you seeing right now out in the great big vet tech world?

Teresa Stefan:
Well, I have to say that 2020 has been the most exciting year of my career. It's almost three decades now that I've been in vet medicine. And like the other two, I definitely would not have chosen any other profession. I love what we do. And even though I'm not currently on the floor anymore, I want to show people the opportunities that we have, because there's so many great, wonderful opportunities that they just don't know.

Teresa Stefan:
And I think that is my mission to really educate our team on what they have in front of them, as well as the community. I mean, the tech week was created the year I graduated a long time ago, and it was all about educating the community. We have lost sight of that, because a lot of the people don't know what we do. Like Jessica was saying, people don't think we should know certain things that they're teaching us. In reality, we do need to know that.

Teresa Stefan:
I'm finding a lot of people feel like they're stuck and they don't realize that. Even though corporate medicine has like a bad taste in people's mouth, they provide so many great opportunities, especially our company, because we have the uniqueness of each hospital has our own personality, own flare. We have specialty, as well as emergency and general practice. It's whatever you want, we have it. Even that large animal, but I feel like there are so many great opportunities. I was one of those people who... I was a really good tech.

Teresa Stefan:
I injured my back and they're like, "Well, we need a tech manager. We want to do it." I didn't know anything other than veterinary medicine, so I was like, "All right, I'll try." But luckily I had a manager who was willing to take me under their wing and really helped me, and I was able to reach out to our HR department and kind of get assistance with any issues that were coming up. There's a lot of great support that people don't realize they have at their fingertips if they just ask.

Teresa Stefan:
I think that is why there's a lot of frustration within our industry right now is because they just don't know how to ask for what they need. And I feel like we are moving in the right direction, not only with the recruiting team, but especially with the RTDs, the regional tech directors. You guys have an amazing opportunity to get in there and educate our team about what we have.

Teresa Stefan:
Because when we were originally on the floor, a lot of times you're stuck in the trenches and you don't realize who you can talk to. And to have you guys be there to be a voice, to shed some concerns on what they're going through and to help provide solutions, I'm just excited about the direction we're going, and I cannot wait to see what 2021 brings us. It's going to be good.

Jessica Sewell:
I love that you brought up career paths, because I do find... We know that our jobs are physical and that we have a lifespan. People think that, well, I'm stuck in a hospital. Clock in, clock out. Nine to five, or emergency comes in, nine to nine, whatever. I mean, just within VCA alone, the opportunities are endless. They're so endless. I wish we could... I mean, I know we talk about it all the time, but I wish we could do something about educating technicians about their career path, just the options.

Jessica Sewell:
At some point, I don't want to have to speak or be a voice for other people. I want to teach technicians to use their own voice. It's like when you're taking radiographs and they want that radiograph, but it's not coming out right, then that's a different issue. I'll leave that for another time, but hey, doc, we need sedation or, hey, this guy's in pain. We need some... Being advocates for our patients. Like you said, they don't know how to ask for what they want. Speak up for what you need and what you want.

Jessica Sewell:
I hope that we can do that, help people find their voices because they have them. They just many sometimes feel stifled, or they feel like the voice... They're not allowed to speak and that's so not true.

Teresa Stefan:
When I stepped into my tech manager role, the best advice I received from my medical director was like, when you present an idea, me and I say no, do not take that as a no. Take that as I need more information. I was like, okay, there's something within me that clicked and be like, all right, you just opened up a can of worms, because I will push to get that along. The fact that I'm stepping into a recruiting role within VCA is an all time miracle.

Teresa Stefan:
Because five years ago, I was talking with a fellow tech supervisor about what would my dream role be, and I was like, I want to be a liaison with the schools. I want to be there to really educate them about veterinary medicine, but also VCA and what we have to offer. To be able to have this role, it's exciting to me.

Teresa Stefan:
I just want to give people hope that our leadership team is so amazing at being able to see strengths within us, to be able to identify a role and actually create it specifically for you to enhance what you already have, but also helped develop you and things that you never even thought you'd be doing, like public speaking or a podcast. It's amazing. It's amazing. Our leadership team is phenomenal.

Carolyn Spivock:
I love how you guys have talked about networking too. You can reach so many people. Maria, with you talking to students and even just the things that you create in knowledge and learning. And then Jessica, with you being able to work within all of the hospitals and reach out to Teresa, who then can... You're part of this bigger network. You brought that up. You feel like you can't talk or you don't know who to talk to because you feel like you're all by yourselves. And you're like nope. You've got a whole bunch of people in your corner. It's just interesting to hear you guys talk about that.

Maria Libonate:
I like what Jessica said earlier too about like advocating for patients. I think a huge part of our leadership is advocating for our fellow technicians and assistants and giving them the voice that they don't always have and also teaching them to use their voice and speak up and say, "Hey, I'm looking to do this, or, hey, I need help with that." I'm starting to see that more and more in these leadership roles, and it's amazing to see that. It's really awesome.

Christine Crick:
You guys have said a lot of really cool words today, and I'm pulling things out and jotting down notes. I think that one of the things that people would really appreciate hearing from you as leaders is when you talk about the fact that you've said that you've seen people that are supervisors, leaders, mentors, drivers, whatever those people have been in your life that have helped you on your career path.

Christine Crick:
If you were to go back and give a piece of advice to somebody that's... It could be an entry-level tech, maybe mid-level, or somebody that's experienced and maybe just want to change where they're at. What do you see as one of the pearls that you would hand them that could help them push forward the door that just won't quite open right now, or how to look outside of the current box that they're in to start seeing other opportunities?

Christine Crick:
Is there a particular personality metric that they could work on, or is there a specific skill that you think would be really useful to refine so that they could get that next step in the ladder that they're looking for?

Maria Libonate:
Yeah. I definitely think that knowing how to approach a question or a concern is key. Like one of the things I used to hear all the time whenever I would go to my hospital manager, this was before I even was supervisor, was, "Well, Maria, you're really good at coming to me with your concerns and issues because you don't just come to me and complain and say, "This needs to be fixed." You come to me and you bring me solutions."

Maria Libonate:
And that was always something that I was told by doctors and my hospital manager like, "I really like that you come to me with solutions." And I want to be able to tell people to say, "Look, if you really want change, if you really want a question answered, or if you're not sure where to go from here, try to come up with solutions and bring those to the table." It's a lot easier. You get more reception with your management and with your team if you say, "Here's the issue. These are the solutions that I have. What do you guys think?"

Maria Libonate:
I think that's a huge advantage when you bring that to the table, instead of just saying, "I don't like how things are going, or I'm not happy with this." It's bringing the solutions and working it through together.

Jessica Sewell:
People really don't get the importance of communication. So many issues between personalities and people and in hospitals all over is because people aren't communicating. Open your mouth and communicate. If you want something, if you want to be a recruiter, if you want to be an RTD, if you want to be a hospital manager, have you told anybody? Have you said it out loud? Have you put it out in the universe? Because many times if you're not moving any closer to that...

Jessica Sewell:
If you feel like you're not moving closer to that goal or towards what you want, maybe the people around you don't know. And I think networking is huge in that. I mean, reaching out to other people who maybe they were your mentors or maybe they're people that you've worked with in the past, that you remembered, or maybe they're somebody that you met at a CE conference. I mean, the bigger your network... Because you're not alone. Within VCA, you're definitely not alone, but outside of VCA. Speak up.

Jessica Sewell:
Communicate. What do you want? I think people need to realize that it's not like... The positions that we're in, they didn't just fall into our laps, right? There was a process of getting there. Be in control of your own destiny. Be in control of where you are and where you want to be. Speak up. It's not just going to dump in your lap and nobody's just going to hand it to you with a bow on it. I mean, speak up. What do you want?

Teresa Stefan:
I definitely agree with both of you. I feel like humble is one of the first things that came to mind and perseverance. Because like you said, you need to speak up, tell the right people. Complaining on the floor is not going to get you anywhere, but to be able to voice your concerns to the right person and to let them know what it is that you're passionate about. You never know who's going to hear and create something that would be perfect for what you're looking for. Stay humble, because there's always opportunity for growth.

Teresa Stefan:
I've been in the field for almost 30 years, and I'm always learning something new. I'm always being pushed out of my comfort zone, but that is where we get the change. That is where we grow the most is when we're outside that comfort zone. Though it may be uncomfortable at the moment, at least it puts you in a different level. It gives you different skillsets to really help other people in the future, as well as yourself.

Jessica Sewell:
That's huge too. I have had three mentors that stand out in my mind. I think when you have those mentors, the best way to pay them back is to be a mentor yourself. Pay it forward. But everybody needs a mentor. I don't care at what stage you are in life or in your career.

Carolyn Spivock:
Thank you all so much for your time today. Each one of you has had a different journey that has led you to the current step in your career path. But what was really interesting to me is that even though your journeys have been different, that you all share the same passion and overall message. The main points that stuck out to me were really to be proud of who you are and what you do. We are in a great profession, and what we do is really important. Advocate for yourself and your patients, and mentor others.

Carolyn Spivock:
That is a key. It's that pay it forward. You remember the people who were there for you when you were in your different steps in your career, and you want to be that person for them too. It's so important. They're our future, and they're going to help to push things forward. I think most importantly is to use your voice. What you have to say is so important. And don't be afraid to dream big. You never know what opportunities may develop from your thoughts and ideas and perspectives. People might just need to hear about it.

Carolyn Spivock:
It definitely helped me focus on things that are hopeful in the new year. Thank you so very much.

Christine Crick:
This has been a lot of fun. Thanks again to our panel. Carolyn and I want to thank you for listening to VCA Voice today. We look forward to more topics and discussions for the new year.


VCA Veterinary Technicians

With over 1,000 hospitals across the country -- including general, specialty, and emergency locations -- VCA Animal Hospitals offers limitless opportunities to build the career of your dreams.
 
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