What The Tech?: The Effect of the COVID-19 Pandemic on Veterinary Technicians
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During the COVID-19 pandemic, the public was encouraged to stay home to reduce spread of the virus. Workers whose jobs could not be conducted from home were classified as “essential” and they were required to continue to report for work in person. Due to stay-at-home orders and feelings of isolation, pet adoption increased, increasing the need for veterinary workers, a profession already in strong demand pre-pandemic. Research has been conducted to assess the effect of the COVID-19 pandemic on essential workers, such as educators and human healthcare workers, but there is a lack of literature on veterinary technicians, who are the animal healthcare equivalent of nurses. Accordingly, the objective of our study was to evaluate how the COVID-19 pandemic affected the professional experiences of veterinary technicians. To achieve this, we distributed an electronic researcher-developed survey-based instrument to veterinary technicians working during in the U.S. during COVID-19. Prior to distribution, we established face validity and reliability of the instrument. After four weeks of data collection, we received 1,132 usable responses. Descriptive statistics were analyzed using SPSS 26.0. Our respondents were overwhelmingly female (97%) and employed as veterinary technicians full time (87%). Most worked in a companion animal practice (61%) located in a suburban area (54%). Our respondents reported the top professional challenge they faced during the pandemic was: 1) being treated worse by pet owners (53%), 2) difficulties communicating with pet owners (16%), or 3) balancing quality and cost of pet care for pet owners (5%). There were an overwhelming number of veterinary technicians (80%) who had interfaced with pet owners worried about COVID-19 transmitting to their pets. However, as most veterinary practices offer curbside service only during the pandemic, the majority of respondents (67%) either agreed or strongly agreed that not having the pet owner in the room made their job easier. Cumulatively, our data indicate that, while the COVID-19 pandemic has eased the jobs of veterinary technicians in some respects, there are challenges that add to the normal burdens of this career, including interfacing with pet owners and navigating unknown territory educating them on virus transmission to their pets. These findings are timely as veterinary technicians often experience high turnover, compassion fatigue, and burnout due to stress and low compensation. Thus, we bring awareness to this issue and call for further research on how to best support veterinary technicians during and after the COVID-19 pandemic.