Veterinary technicians can not only survive but also thrive in profession

By Katie Burns
Published: 28 October 2022


Veterinary technicians can thrive in their profession if they find their passion within the field, further their education, and work in a good environment, said Amy Newfield, a veterinary technician of 25 years.

Newfield presented “How to Survive as a Veterinary Technician” on Aug. 1 in the Veterinary Technology track at AVMA Convention 2022. She is a veterinary technician specialist in emergency and critical care and owner of Veterinary Team Training.

Amy Newfield  with canine companion
Amy Newfield

Veterinary technicians have high turnover rates, and the workforce is very young. People enter the field because they want to save animal lives and be in medicine, but the profession has its failures, Newfield said.

First off, the median salary is low. The median pay for a veterinary technician in the U.S. in 2020 was $36,260 a year, or $17.43 an hour, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Newfield said, “We don’t want to have to struggle to pay our bills, and unfortunately we do.”

The job is demanding, both physically and mentally. Many members of the public still tend to disregard the role of veterinary technicians. The hours can be exhausting, with little flexibility.

The profession has its successes, though. For one thing, there are lots of jobs. Newfield said, “Literally, you can quit your job today, go down two streets to the next veterinary hospital, walk in, be like, ‘You got any job openings?’ and be hired the same day.”

Public awareness of the profession is getting better, and veterinarians increasingly are utilizing the skills of veterinary technicians. The patients are the best patients around. And veterinary technicians can work in any area of veterinary medicine, such as by picking a species or a specialty.

“What’s your passion?” Newfield asked. “You really can’t survive or thrive in this field if you don’t have a passion.”

At times in her career, Newfield has been bored or burned out. In her first job, she said “yes” to everything. She ended up basically managing the practice, working between 60 and 65 hours per week. She was exhausted by the sixth year.

Newfield advocates work-life balance, but even someone working 40 hours per week spends more awake time with co-workers than with friends and family. She said: “So you have to ask yourself: If you’re pretty unhappy right now, what do you enjoy about this job? Not what do you dislike, but what do you enjoy? Because the chances are you don’t dislike all of it.”

Maybe you like certain procedures, or maybe there is something that makes you smile. Do you love blood transfusions? Do you love puppy behavior? Most of the time, what you love to do is a job in and of itself. Take ownership of your passion. You could go into a specific area of medicine or go into one of the veterinary technician specialties.

Newfield became a specialist in emergency and critical care because when she was in general practice, she got the most excited about emergency medicine—quickly putting together a puzzle to save a life.

Why become a veterinary technician specialist? You are considered at the forefront of your field, a leader, and most specialists earn a higher salary. You get more opportunities. You can lecture, publish, or teach.

All veterinary technicians should continue their education, Newfield said. If you feel stagnant, it is because you stopped learning. Learning increases your knowledge and elevates the entire practice.

Newfield threw herself into emergency medicine, then defined herself as a manager. She earned a master’s degree in management and leadership. She pushed herself to publish and speak.

Some veterinary technicians think they will never survive in their profession because their clinic is a toxic work environment. Perhaps there is a gossip problem. You will never survive if you are surrounded by negative thoughts, she said.

You have three choices: Recognize and ignore that you work in a negative environment, express your concerns to a manager, or leave to try to find a healthier environment. If you leave your hospital on good terms, you can always come back.

Also, pay attention to life outside work. Set boundaries. Don’t go home and then use your phone to check on work.

“What we are faced with is a labor-intensive and emotionally charged profession where we are constantly helping others,” Newfield said. To survive, veterinary technicians also have to help themselves.

Take the time while working to hydrate, eat, laugh, and go to the bathroom. What’s a tired veterinary technician to do? Eat healthy, watch the caffeine, and get a good night’s sleep.

“Like me, you can thrive in this profession,” Newfield said. “There is just a door after a door.”


Related content:

Survey finds underuse related to retention for veterinary technicians

Valuing veterinary technicians in practice

Technician shortage may be a problem of turnover instead