Whoops…Sorry About That, Doc!

Blog Author: Mariel Hendricks, BS, RVT
NAVTA Member at Large

When I first entered veterinary specialty surgery in 2012 as a “baby technician,” I joined a team of older assistants that had molded their surgery days into a well-ran, smooth machine.  It was like watching a daily masterpiece unfold before my eyes from start to finish!  I knew my energy to learn a new aspect of veterinary medicine and my love for surgery would get me into the department. Still, I was terrified when I stepped onto that tile floor with the title “surgical technician.”  I knew nothing about soft tissue and orthopedic procedures past my limited involvement with cases during my clinical rotations at Purdue.  So…it’s safe to say I made many, many mistakes as a young technician learning surgical assisting and anesthesia.

On my first day scrubbing in as a sterile assistant, I immediately went for my face and itched a pesky hair with my sterile glove.  Whoops.  My first orthopedic procedure was a TPLO, and I dropped our only sterile saw onto the floor as I unwrapped it from its sterile cloth cocoon.  Luckily, a second saw was in the autoclave and soon became sterile.  I’ve also entered the operating room and leaned on the sterile table without thinking.  I quickly changed the table over, knowing what mess I had caused myself to re-wrap and re-sterilize items after an already long day.  Let’s not even dive into my thought process as I prepared a chihuahua for a mandibulectomy without shaving the jaw.

After a decade in the operating room, becoming a head nurse, and then starting to train new staff, I look back and chuckle at all the silly mistakes I had to learn in front of a veteran crew.  They were tough on me, but I was also tough on myself. Unfortunately, those situations were the only free pass I had to make those mistakes, and they weren’t made again.  I’m now proud to consider myself an educated, efficient, and seasoned surgical nurse. I am always excited to discuss my mistakes with young technicians and be their support when they accidentally learn the hard way.

It’s hard to find a great mentor in the veterinary profession.  A group of nurses can become competitive, dramatic, and very hangry after a 3-hour surgery or a 12-hour day!  I was so lucky to have gotten mentorship from these women and the patient surgeons who took me under their wings.  Remember that we are a team out there in this world, and be the mentor you had (or wished you had).  All technicians must start somewhere and grow into their big girl or big boy, Danskos, and YOU can help them do that.  Also, if you are a young technician looking for your place in the veterinary world…give yourself a little grace, a lot of time, and a ton of self-love.  You deserve it!