Interview – Vet Tech Externship at Best Friends Leads to Job

Tammy Jugovich learned first hand that a vet tech externship can lead to a job.

As part of her vet tech program at Argosy University in Twin Cities, Minn., an externship was required, so in February of this year, she started at Best Friends Animal Society. This  national no-kill society partners with rescue groups and shelters across the county, and has a main sanctuary in Kanab, Utah, and centers in Salt Lake City and Los Angeles. It has also undertaken three initiatives, which include trap/neuter/return programs for cats, finding loving homes for pit bulls, and the prevention of puppy mills.

Tammy began her six-week externship at the main sanctuary and spent her time rotating between treatment and surgery, as many other vet techs do.  Although these are the two main rotation areas at the clinic, vet techs that have more specialized skills may be able to work in dental care there. Tammy’s rotations provided her with valuable, hands-on experience in bandaging, catheter placement, incubation, injection, shavings and more, and gave her the opportunity to practice time management skills and multi-tasking in a high-volume and busy animal care clinic. “You really do everything,” she said.

Her time at the non-profit also resulted in the offering of a full-time job. There were a few vet tech spots open as her externship came to an end and she had nailed down one of these positions before her externship finished. “I was offered a job at Best Friends,” she said.

Her opportunity may reflect the strong growth in vet tech employment expected across the country from 2012 to 2022. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics puts this job growth at 30 percent, which is much faster than average, and which could result in 25,000 new vet tech positions becoming available across the country during this time. And, of course, animal care clinics may always be in need of skilled technicians to help busy veterinarians complete their many different tasks, the BLS reports.

“While our externships [at Best Friends] are not a direct path to employment, it has happened,” said Wendy Gallant, grant coordinator at Best Friends.

Tammy Jugovich, Lucy, and Doctor Chris Hansen

 

Gaining Skills Through a School Program and Externship

Many schools with vet tech programs, like Argosy, do require a hands-on experience through an externship or something similar. Externships are typically unpaid and are shorter in length than an internship, which may be paid. Tammy had decided to attend Argosy after completing a bachelor’s degree in field biology with a minor in conservation. She then found jobs in in that field to be highly competitive and available for just a limited number of positions.

She ended up going back to a vet clinic for employment. While there, it dawned on her that she loved animals and that instead of continuing to work as a veterinary assistant she should become a vet tech. She headed back to school for a second time, but had many of the undergraduate courses completed due to her bachelor’s degree, and so was able to fast-track her associate of applied science degree program to a year-and-a-half.

 

“Argosy definitely prepared me very well for going out in the field and feeling comfortable and confident in my ability to do what I need to do as a tech,” she said. “The program is great for teaching the basics and giving you an understanding of what you are going to be doing, but knowing in theory how to do it and then doing it in practice is different.”

 

That is why, of course, schools like Argosy require an externship. And at Best Friends, that experience might be more eye-opening than at other places. In addition to being a proponent in the no-kill movement, the sanctuary simply treats vast numbers of animals and wildlife in need of care each year. It is then committed to continual care for those animals, whether at its sanctuary or in finding homes for those animals. It’s a different experience than a vet tech might have working at a clinic that provides care on a 9-to-5 schedule.

“At Best Friends, if you’re in surgery, you may have on average between 10 to 18 animals that need catheters, incubation or whatever,” Tammy said. “There is higher volume there than is likely to be found in private practice.”

 

Working at The Clinic

At the clinic, the veterinarians and vet techs work primarily with dogs and cats, and, on occasion, a pig,  rabbit, parrot or horse, or specific types of wildlife. In addition to completing rotations and doing routine tasks, vet techs at the sanctuary might participate in the society’s out-reach programs, such as helping provide low-cost spay and neuter programs.

 

Jugovich is just one of many vet techs to come through the doors at Best Friends. According to Gallant, externs have come from as far away as Canada and the UK.

 

Most externships are 40 hour per week unpaid experiences, lasting between four to six weeks in length. Two internships are also available at the clinic and focus on general animal care, but do not include the clinical rotations through which Tammy has gone.

 

“At any time, we have 1,700 animals in our care,” Gallant said. “We have everything from guinea pigs to Moluccan cockatoos. We have dogs and cats in every size, shape, color and condition. The variety of cases that an externship is exposed to is pretty unique.”

Tammy said that her externship experience has led to moments when a veterinarian or other staff member said something or explained something that made what she learned in her vet tech program at Argosy click. It has also let her see what is possible when people work together to help animals. “Animals that have medical issues and may have been euthanized elsewhere are given another chance here, and to me that is a wonderful thing.”

 

Tammy’s graduation papers will be processed shortly, but in the meantime she is joining Best Friends in a pivotal year: having been founded in 1984, the no-kill society is is celebrating its 30th anniversary of being a best friend this year.