For Rebecca Rodriguez, her passion for veterinary medicine didn’t begin at an early age. With a background in accounts payable and restaurant management, she had never even considered a career with animals. Until she adopted a dog that would change her life and ignite her passion for veterinary medicine, education, and mentoring others.Now as a veterinary technician at the Small Animal Clinic in Casa Grande, Arizona, Rebecca is more excited than ever to broaden the veterinary community’s understanding about becoming a healthy veterinary professional.
Voice of the Vet™ talked with Rebecca just as her day at the clinic was ending.
Tell us about the clinic where you practice.
Small Animal Clinic was one of the first practices to open in Casa Grande in the early 1980s. We are American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) accredited and have about 12 team members.
What inspired you to start a career with animals? What triggered your interest?
I adopted an adult dog with scaling and scabbing on her nose. Her previous owners thought she had separation anxiety and was self-injuring when left alone. Her condition worsened and the vet believed she had an autoimmune disorder. The clinic did a biopsy and tested for lupus—it came back inconclusive. The doctor told me we should try a treatment plan for lupus.
At the time, I didn’t really understand the autoimmune diagnosis. And, I didn’t realize the prescribed treatment was for management of the disorder, not a cure. It immediately became very real and the expenses started to add up. The experience was frustrating as a pet owner because I didn’t understand the big picture and the implications associated with long-term care. I did a lot of research and it grew from there. Ultimately, I wanted to help pet owners better understand treatment plans and costs.
From your perspective, what makes for a healthy vet tech and do you feel like a healthy vet tech?
I do now. I haven’t always. A few years ago, I left Small Animal Clinic when a larger, corporate clinic recruited me. Not long after, I began to feel unhealthy due to lack of support from the staff and working long hours. I was suffering from burn out. It was one of the most challenging situations I’ve ever been in. I almost left the field completely. As I learned more about burn out, I was able to self-assess. I left that clinic and luckily returned to Small Animal Clinic. This is the best clinic I’ve worked in.
Before I came back, I set goals and reconnected with my passion for veterinary care. I knew that I had to be vocal and advocate for culture, communication, and team building in the workplace. I don’t want others to experience the negativity that comes with burn out.
This profession takes a lot out of you emotionally, so having a good team and supporting one another is critical. To stay healthy, it’s all about self-recognition and creating healthy boundaries.
Do you have pets?
My heart belongs to cats. My doctor here says I was a cat in a past life. I have several cats and a dog. My dog, Cancho, has been with us for 11 years. He was a patient at the first clinic where I worked and his owners never came back to pick him up. He’s often used as a practice pet at our clinic. When I first started in the profession, I practiced on him so often that now he’s just so good about it. He lets the new techs try things like blood pressures or shaving spots. The staff appreciates and loves him in a special way.
Any funny veterinary experiences you can share with us?
There are so many. Animals have a great way of bringing humor into our lives. We recently boarded a Pitbull who was a ball of energy with a lot of muscle. On her third day, we had to take her weight. I had hold of her leash but could not keep that dog on the scale to save my life. I relaxed my hold and she immediately bolted. I was crawling and dragging myself through the clinic trying to grab the leash as it whipped around. She was so fast our receptionist didn’t see her run by. I finally found her in the restroom. I swear she was laughing at me.
What’s a common misconception about what you do?
Pet owners always mention wait time. Some patients take a little longer to wrap up than others. And unlike a human doctor’s office, we’re the hospital, pharmacy technicians, radiology technicians, anesthesiologists, surgical assistants, critical care nurses, lab technicians, and so much more. Pet owners are always surprised to hear everything vet techs do.I think the veterinary nurse title change initiative will do great things to advocate for the profession and educate pet owners about what we bring to veterinary medicine. Positive changes are going to come from our voices. As technicians, we have to speak up.
What do you think about the initiative for a title shift from veterinary technician to veterinary nurse?
I love it. I’m definitely for it. I think it encourages people to grow. The program changed after I graduated, creating emphasis on certification.
I think of myself as part of a forgotten group. I started in the field making minimum wage and could not afford another program, which came with a second student loan. Often times those who are certified have a low opinion of vet techs who have been in the field for a while without certification. They have preconceived notions about why we lack certification. I’ve heard some ugly comments and it makes me sad. I have worked very hard to earn my title and expand my knowledge through continuing education courses. Now, I’m planning to certify through the AAHA Cedar Valley program.
What keeps you inspired?
It’s the clients, patients, and new technicians entering the field. I had a client whose 16-year-old kitty had gone missing. She lives on the outskirts of town where coyotes are a concern. She truly believed the cat was gone. One day she opened her door, and there was her cat, three months later. He was limping, his fur was matted, but he was alive. She brought him in right away. We worked slowly to clean him up. The owner took one look at that cat when she returned and started crying. She said she loved me and was so appreciative. When you make a difference for an animal or a person in that way, nothing feels better. It’s the little things that happen all day—the staff, the owners, the pets—it’s every interaction.
What’s the most challenging aspect of your job?
There are two things. First, cost of care. Veterinary care is becoming more expensive. We want to do good things for pets and we want to give pet owners a solid diagnosis. But, these things cost money. Some people ask how we can love animals and not treat pets for free. Unfortunately, as our expenses increase, so do costs for pet owners. Those conversations can be challenging.
Secondly, staff training. Finding the support, time, and availability to mentor new technicians is challenging.
I want new technicians to get the support and mentorship I did not have at the beginning my career. They are the future of veterinary medicine. The time we invest now will impact their personal and professional success. It has to become a priority.
What do you think is the secret to your success?
I have gotten to know myself. I am aware of my reactions to things. I learned how to read body language and to establish healthy boundaries. It’s allowed me to grow as a technician. It’s important to recognize how you feel and understand how you will deal with those feelings. You have the power to change. I found the Facebook group Veterinary Support Staff Unleashed—the group connects me to likeminded souls, it’s a great way to find support.
I am most grateful to my husband. He has sacrificed losing me to long hours and exhaustion. He has wiped my tears and encouraged me from day one. I also hold a special place for the some staff at the Small Animal Clinic and a few others from a clinic I worked in previously. I wouldn’t be where I am today without them.