When it comes to new experiences in the veterinary field, Kathryn Parkin Hramiec, LVT, dives right in. From selling lingerie to Aretha Franklin to pay for college courses to driving a pet ambulance to help a friend, Kathryn’s experience is vast and wild. But, it’s her commitment to clients and patients that fuels her passion for daily practice at Northern Animal Clinic in Midland, Michigan.
Voice of the Vet™ chatted with Kathryn on a prized day off.
Tell us about Northern Animal Clinic.
Northern Animal Clinic is a busy, private practice. We have three doctors and 12 staff members. I really enjoy our team. We have team meetings once per month, celebrate one another’s successes and make sure everyone gets a pat on the back when needed. Our leadership team is also very detail-oriented and communicative with our team and our clients.
What makes the practice unique? Why do you think pet owners bring their pets to you?
We approach each patient and client individually. We have owners that only want their pets to have rabies or distemper vaccines. Some patients follow all of our yearly recommendations and others pursue extensive diagnostics and specialist referrals. We adapt and try to understand the dynamics of every situation. In terms of cost, there is often a gap between what the doctor recommends and what the owner can afford. It’s important to remain non-judgmental and flexible while focusing on patient care. Most clinics claim to treat clients like family. This is a reality for our team every day. We’re here because we have earned (and continue to earn) our clients trust.
What inspired you to start your career as a veterinary technician?
I started as a kennel attendant at a practice in the Detroit suburbs in 1985. I cleaned the kennels in the morning and worked as a receptionist in the afternoon. It was hard work for $3.56 an hour. During my first week, I was called into the surgical suite. I didn’t realize the doctors were performing an amputation and the staff handed me a leg wrapped in a bloody drape. I noticed that the paw was scarred and hairless from being dragged on the ground for some time. As I looked at the anesthetized German shepherd on the table, I said “it’s too bad that this surgery didn’t happen sooner, the poor thing.” I don’t think that was the response they were looking for.
As I watched the technicians work, I noticed that they were everywhere and involved with everything. I knew that’s what I wanted to be.
I saved up for the technician program at Macomb Community College in Southeast Michigan by working at Jacobson’s, a regional department store, selling designer lingerie on commission. I waited on celebrities like Aretha Franklin and Iman. I learned how to provide excellent customer service. It was a great experience, but I do not miss wearing pantyhose and heels every day!
What’s one piece of wisdom you wish you had known before starting school?
Don’t ever sell yourself or your expertise short. Even new graduates have something to offer. Many veterinary students work in the field before and during school, so they have relevant, marketable skills. Don’t be afraid to ask for what you want, because the worst thing that can possibly happen is hearing no. My biggest mistake was undervaluing what I brought to the table.
Also, diving headfirst into the deep end is the world’s best education. One of my better decisions as a student was working in emergency medicine during weekends, internships, and after graduation.
Tell us a story about a favorite or memorable animal who comes to your clinic.
Oh, there are so many! We have a paved walking/biking trail behind our clinic, called the Rail Trail. One of our clients has two vocal schnauzers. As they walk behind our clinic on the trail, you can hear them “talking.” We know they’re here for a visit before they cross the parking lot. She’s a wonderful client and her talkative dogs are well-loved.
Rumor has it you drove a pet ambulance. What was that experience like?
Ha! I did that to help a doctor friend who was temporarily understaffed. I worked at the facility for about six months. The property had a general outpatient practice, a large boarding facility, and pet crematorium. I drove one of two converted ambulances with an assistant in tow. We would make routine house calls or pick up animals that expired at home. Sometimes, we ended up in some questionable areas. I still remember this huge, old house in downtown Detroit. We had to go into a sprawling, makeshift kennel in the basement and could not turn on all the lights, per the homeowner’s instructions. It was like “Silence of The Lambs” meets James Herriot, as we tended to bitches and litters in a dungeon atmosphere. It was surreal.
From your perspective, what do you think makes a healthy veterinary technician? Do you feel like a healthy veterinary technician?
Yes, I feel healthy. I’ve been in this field for 27 years. Work-life balance is important, but for me, it all boils down to passion. You have to be passionate about quality care, driven, and curious about everything. On the flip side, many in our profession get hyper-focused and worn out while trying to do the right thing for each and every case. Unfortunately, it comes with the territory. If you’re feeling burnt out, angry, or indifferent, you have to take a step back and focus on self-care.
This profession has been the most constant thing in my life. I consider the veterinary practice my home and the people within it like family. It has been and will always be my happy place.
What do you think about the latest initiative to change titles from technicians to nurses?
Our title is just that—a title. It doesn’t affect or imply worth, competence, or knowledge. The person behind the name tag does that through their actions and attitude. It would be nice to have a standardized, nationwide title. But, we also need to standardize the expected knowledge and skill-sets of graduates bearing that shiny, new title. Requirements and expectations vary widely from state-to-state and college-to-college. New technician programs pop up almost every year, and future technicians deserve consistency when it comes to requirements and quality in terms of education.
What’s one of the most challenging aspects of what you do?
I would say it’s a challenge to avoid cynicism. It all ties back to taking time for yourself. Interacting with owners who don’t always have the best interest of the animal in mind, cases that inexplicably head south, and emotionally challenging euthanasias can wear you down. As a team, it’s critical to stay focused on the mission, rise above small office politics, and support each other when it’s needed.
What is a common misconception about what you do?
The public doesn’t fully understand everything that technicians can do. They’re unaware of the education and training required to become licensed, along with the commitment technicians make to continuing education.
What’s the most rewarding thing for you about coming to work each day?
Clients have countless questions when something is amiss with their pet and my time is well spent answering all of them. It’s nice to hear thank you so much for helping us, or wow, no one ever told me that before! Improving the health, safety, and quality of life for a family pet benefits everyone. Our ability to preserve and protect the human/animal bond using education is very powerful thing. It’s why we are here.
A HEALTHY VET IS JOYFUL, PROFITABLE, EFFECTIVE, AND COURAGEOUS
This is the ninth post in a series of interviews with veterinarians, veterinary technicians, and practice managers discussing their devotion to the noble veterinary profession and love for their pet patients. We hope you will follow us during this series.
If you are a clinical vet, vet tech or practice manager we want to interview you for this series. It only takes an hour of your time and Zomedica makes a donation in your name to an animal charity of your choice.