Career in communications or vet tech?
September 21, 2014 6:09 PM   Subscribe

Pursee a career in communications or as a vet tech?

Hi there,

I have been debating this for a while. As I am still in college, I have a little bit of time left to decide. I can choose to finish my degree out in Communications or I can pursue a career as a vet tech.

I have experience working in a radio station, doing graphic design, and product management for a retail website, and it seems that the possibilities for working in the communications field are numerous. However, I also care a lot about animals, and I have to admit that having a pretty good idea of what the future would like if I were to work in a veterinary clinic is an attractive aspect.

Any insights to help me make this decision are appreciated, thanks!
posted by DeltaForce to Work & Money (9 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
One part of your consideration should how employable will you be in each field. No idea what it's like in communication, but currently in the veterinary field (assuming you're in the U.S.) there is a significant surplus of vet and vet techs, to the point that vets are working as techs just to have jobs.

One source: 2013 AVMA Veterinary Workforce Report Confirms Excess Capacity There's a part in the study that talks about how supply will continue to exceed demand until at least 2025.
posted by barchan at 6:39 PM on September 21, 2014

Is there any chance you could do both? A qualified communicator with a real working knowledge of animal issues could do some good work. You'd be able to work in either field for a while to get started, then you could invent your own career path.

For example, Jackson Galaxy is known for his work with animals, but he studied acting (which is related to the communications program in the university near me).

While you could argue that the communications degree isn't crucial, the work you'd have to do to get it (even the foreign language credits or statistics, if they're required) will give you a depth of understanding that will be tremendously helpful in helping others understand the world.
posted by amtho at 6:47 PM on September 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

I know a few people in the veterinary field (friend who is an emergency vet, another couple of acquaintances who are former vet techs), and it can be a pretty emotionally grueling field. Long ago, I considered going into it myself, but ultimately decided not to for this reason. One of the former vet techs I know has said that it's not a good field for people who love animals, basically due to all of the crappy pet owners out there and some of the sad, sick and terrified animals she would see on a regular basis.

Having said that, my emergency vet friend has been at it for going on 15 years now or so. My hunch is that she's good at it because she's very cool under pressure, not at all squeamish, and frankly because she's not all that sensitive to the suffering of the animals she sees. I mean, she likes animals, but it doesn't keep her up at night when she's treated a particularly egregious case. And she's told me some things that have kept me up at night.

Which isn't to say that you have to be completely hardened and calloused to be a good vet tech--just that you may have a hard time processing some of what you encounter. (I know I would.)

If you haven't already, I would look into arranging some informational interviews with professionals in both fields, to get a better idea of what the day-to-day would be like. And asking yourself what kind of work environment you would do best at. There are definitely opportunities to help animals coming at it from both a hands-on, medical care angle as well as in communications (for instance, working in communications for an animal rights nonprofit or shelter).

I don't mean to sound discouraging with the vet tech advice, and if it is truly something that you feel passionate about there's nothing to stop you from overcoming a poor job market as well as the emotionally difficult aspects of the field to be an excellent tech. Just wanted to post some of the information I had from my brief time considering the field. Good luck!
posted by whistle pig at 7:24 PM on September 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

From what I've observed of my (awesome) vet techs: you will be working in a small-ish space, and you will always be second in charge to the vet themselves. This means you won't have a traditional career advancement, you will be a vet tech forever, and the most change you will get will be working for a different vet. (It may be different if you are outside of an urban area; maybe farm vet techs are different.) Also the vet and vet tech have the doctor-nurse relationship, where you always listen to the orders of the vet and execute their decisions. So ask yourself if you have the "yes ma'am" personality, or if you would find yourself itching for growth or change in a few years. Also vet techs clean poop, clean waiting rooms, ring up purchases and do the grunt work for the vet. Day in and day out.

Whereas with communications, you will be in a corporate environment and could advance to director or VP (if that's your gig), you will have more various job options and job fields open to you. Don't let the unknown deter you; after 10 years of experience in a field you may like that you have the freedom to determine your career trajectory, whereas right now I can appreciate that it looks daunting and scary. So an informational interview would be great here. I've often said that most jobs are "hidden" (all children see on tv is doctor, lawyer, bus driver, teacher...) but having worked in a corporate environment I see that there are lots of jobs I would have never known about coming out of university.

You know your personality best.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 7:28 AM on September 22, 2014 [1 favorite]

St. Peepsburg: "This means you won't have a traditional career advancement, you will be a vet tech forever, and the most change you will get will be working for a different vet. (It may be different if you are outside of an urban area; maybe farm vet techs are different.) Also the vet and vet tech have the doctor-nurse relationship, where you always listen to the orders of the vet and execute their decisions."

That's not necessarily true anymore. Technicians can be certified by a number of national veterinary medical boards to demonstrate their expertise, and if you are working in a large specialty hospital with residents and interns, techs are often the ones in the room with the most experience, and end up informally teaching or educating young veterinarians. You are, in the end, going to have to follow your doctor's orders, but it's a much more collaborative field than it used to be. My wife has been a tech for almost 20 years now, and recently became an Emergency and Critical Care VTS, and it has been a very rewarding career, with a great deal of upward mobility. She's always happy to take to people considering going into the field, so let me know if you'd like her email address.
posted by Rock Steady at 8:49 AM on September 22, 2014 [3 favorites]

As someone who'd been a vet tech for about 10 years, I wanna share some considerations:

The negative- Do grunt work you must, very likely always, sometimes for those whom you may deem incompetent (I must nth what St. Peepsburg said.) Also, often it is your job to tell the pet parents that stuff actually costs money by going over their care estimates and grand totals with them. It is a physical and often messy job (my coworkers wore crocs- ew!) which can take its toll on you physically. Indeed, my back went funny on me so I had to quit. There is also the consideration of xray exposure. And, ultimately, there is a LOT of responsibility on your head for relatively little money- the life of someone's little loved one in your hands via drug dosages, anesthesia monitoring, etc, for $15/hr give or take. I could also go on about the clinic's version of office politics, but I think by just saying that, you know they exist and what I think of them.

The positive- Definitely rewarding. You know why you get up to work in the morning. You will more likely than not wind up in a place that is staffed by good people (A-holes don't last too long in this field) and will treat you and act like family. You can be proud of your job, always. And though it is competitive, advancement is possible if you are diligent and focused with your continuing education.

Final point- if you're a college-y type, communications may well be the way for you to go, since you will be doing more of the thinking for your money. My gut says to recommend going that way. You can make better money there for less physical input, which you can in turn donate to the critter shelter of your choice. You can also volunteer there and keep your animal interaction generally happy and low stress.

FYI: You're a good Joe for even thinking about this. Good luck!!
posted by JulesER at 1:06 PM on September 22, 2014

I am a licensed veterinary technologist. I have my B.S. in veterinary technology. I've been licensed for about 15 months now and I work in a specialty hospital located outside a major American city. I work as a technician anesthetist about 80% of the time, and work in emergency and critical care the other 20% of the time.

I love my job! I have seen and learned so much in the last 15 months. On any given day I might administer a blood or plasma transfusion, provide anesthesia for spinal surgery, or help preform CPR with the crash team. I have even done anesthesia for a few craniotomies (one dog, three cats). That is what is so awesome and exciting about specialty medicine. I am guessing that St. Peepsburg only knows general practice vet techs - something totally important but also SUPER boring (to me at least). I get feces, urine, blood, vomit, and a whole host of other nasty body fluids everyday - but I still I LOVE my job!

I get paid about 50% less than my human counter-parts and get a lot less fame and glory. Folks like St. Peepsburg definitely don't help the situation - they act like we are glorified janitors and we are far from it. I also don't know anything about this "yes ma'am" business. My doctors are always asking me and my fellow techs for feedback. We definitely don't blindly cary our their orders - that's a pretty insulting thing to say about any nurse or vet tech. A good doctor knows how valuable his or her nurse or tech can be and uses them a resource constantly!

It is a VERY physical job. You need to able to lift at least 50lbs, push/pull at least 150lbs, and stand for HOURS on end. Some shifts I don't get a chance to sit down for 10 to 12 hours. I eat standing up all the time...when I get a chance to eat. It's emotionally taxing too. You deal with death every single day. You see abuse and cruelty. You watch people loose their most treasured and loved companions all the time. But at the end of the day, it's all worth it. Advancement is definitely possible. I plan on pursuing a veterinary technician speciality in anesthesia once I have worked enough hours. Don't let people who don't know anything about the field, or only know about it through friends, give you a bad impression. Vet techs are well educated, highly trained, and very technically skilled folks!

The biggest negative for me is the pay. This a field where you have to really, really, really hustle to "make bank". But I know techs who teach, write books, and work as consultants so they can be where they want to be financially.

Some links to check out:
Megan Brashear's [CVT, VTS (ECC)] blog over at @Dove
National Association of Veterinary Technicians in America
Academy of Veterinary Technician Anesthetists
Academy of Internal Medicine for Veterinary Technicians
Academy of Veterinary Emergency & Critical Care Technicians
Programs accredited by the AVMA Committee on Veterinary Technician Education and Activities (CVTEA)
AVMA Policy on Veterinary Technology

Feel free to get in touch if you have any questions.
posted by OsoMeaty at 2:33 PM on September 22, 2014

If you're at least halfway done with the communications degree, I would just finish it. I don't think that radio has a great future for providing jobs and my experience with communications departments has been that they often prepare students for career paths that don't really exist in the post-internet world using technology that's out of date. But for most corporate jobs, I don't think you'll find a lot of difference between a communications degree vs a business degree vs a technical writing degree (unless you're in a top tier program or your department is really bad with providing networking opportunities), so unless something really draws you to become a vet tech, completing the degree you've got a good lead on makes a lot of sense.
posted by Candleman at 3:11 PM on September 22, 2014

Response by poster: Thank you everyone for your responses!
posted by DeltaForce at 8:41 PM on September 23, 2014

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