Transitioning to COVID-19: How Pre-Vet Students and Veterinary Hospitals Have Adapted
April 28, 2021
By Jaiden Gubbels
Despite putting the world on hold, the COVID-19 pandemic provided me with moments to reflect and assess how to achieve my goal of working in the field of veterinary medicine. After volunteering and working at a local general practice veterinary clinic for ten years, the pandemic was the first time I had not been around animals and veterinary medicine regularly. Once adjusted to the discomfort and uncertainty that the COVID-19 pandemic brought to my life, I had the time to reflect on things that had brought me joy which I had taken for granted in my everyday life – involvement in veterinary medicine being one of them. I realised that veterinary medicine was not merely a job, but a passion of mine, and I was eager to find ways to include it in my life as an undergraduate student once again.
After applying and securing an animal care attendant position at a 24-hour veterinary emergency hospital, my eyes were opened to the field of veterinary emergency medicine. The environment was much more fast-paced than what I had experienced in general practice, and I was given more responsibility for completing individual tasks in my role, such as walking and feeding all the patients in the hospital. In contrast to my work in general practice, such seemingly simple tasks are often complicated by the acute degree of the patients' needs, as well as the volume of patients in this regional facility. I quickly learned that success in this environment requires good communication, organization, and observation skills.
The hospital works on a triage basis; patients who are deemed stable at the initial triage are sent to wait with their owners until a doctor becomes available to assess and treat the animal. In addition to walking, feeding, and general patient care, my role involves assisting with any restraint that happens during triage or procedures, recording and reporting unusual behaviour to technicians and veterinarians, and ensuring animal housing is clean and comfortable. I also perform customer services as needed, carry out general hospital maintenance and restocking, and assist the veterinary team with various tasks and treatments.
Moreover, working in veterinary medicine during the COVID-19 pandemic has been a very interesting experience. The hospital must constantly balance the safety of its employees and clients while effectively communicating with patients’ families to ensure the best care. Most interactions now happen over the phone, including getting background history on the patient, the doctor's communications with the clients, and any discharge information that needs to be given. At the beginning of the pandemic, clients were not allowed to come into the hospital for any reason, but as months passed and winter came, this became unreasonable. The cold weather meant that owners were no longer willing to sit in their cars for hours waiting for a veterinarian to become available to treat their pets. Furthermore, euthanasia became an extremely difficult procedure to perform while still safely following COVID-19 protocols, since owners were often distressed and found it difficult to always stay six feet away from the veterinarian and patient. With more time to adapt to the new norms of a COVID-19-marred society, the hospital has been able to better meet the needs of patients during this procedure by having a private room that is regularly cleaned for clients to enter the building.
The valuable experiences I have been afforded by watching a large staff of RVTs and DVMs work in a high-stakes fast-paced environment while combining compassion, respect, and care for their patients and their families has been key for my development as a pre-veterinary student. While working 12-hour night shifts alongside my first-year studies in Bio-Medical Science during the pandemic, my colleagues have inspired and bolstered me with the same compassion, respect, and care that they show their clients. The shifts that I enjoy the most, despite the traumas we may encounter, are the ones where the staff demonstrate proficiency and expertise balanced with high regard for each other’s efforts. As a new employee, I made mistakes and had gaps in my knowledge, but the RVTs and DVMs who considered those to be teachable moments allowed me to move forward with new knowledge and feel like a valuable member of our team.