Deciding to start an online vet tech program can be exciting, yet a challenge at any stage. Settling in, finding balance between all of your responsibilities, and even just understanding all your assignments is something to get used to. Penn Foster’s 2022 Graduate of the Year and veterinary technician graduate, Nicole Gonzalez, understands these struggles all too well, but also knows there are ways to make it through successfully and feel good about achieving your goals.
Having discovered her interest in working with animals a little later into adulthood, Nicole decided she wanted to pursue her veterinary career and enrolled in Penn Foster’s Veterinary Technician Associate Degree Program in 2017. Already married with a young daughter, she knew her personal time would be split even further with the added commitment to school. Penn Foster provided the perfect atmosphere for her to learn, allowing her to do so flexibly and at her own pace while setting a good example for her daughter. It also provided Nicole with her own personal sense of fulfillment.
“As an adult, you’re not required to go back to school. It’s something you do for yourself,” she explains.
Working full-time in addition to her studies, she received an additional surprise in the midst of her program, learning she was pregnant. Though she struggled with balancing a forty-hour work week with being a wife, a mom, and pregnant, she knew persevering would benefit her entire family in the long run. Finding balance initially proved difficult, particularly when it came to taking time to care for herself. She found that cramming and focusing on work, school, family and not herself meant she was going to hit a wall, with the possibility of a bigger challenge: burnout.
Read more: What Does a Vet Tech Do (Career Guide)
“When you work, like myself … the biggest thing was making sure not to constantly work and do school, but to actually find time not just for my family, but for myself. It’s not easy to always do that … I feel like the biggest struggle that people have when doing these kinds of things is that they don’t take that moment to just relax, even for a minute.”
Nicole recommends letting go of the extra things that can bog you down, like leaving the laundry for another day. “It’s important to have that mindset that you’re caring for yourself.”
Studies show that taking time for yourself reduces stress and anxiety, while increasing self-compassion. With less stress and anxiety, you can focus more clearly on schoolwork and other obligations when the time comes. And, increased self-compassion can mean a more positive attitude towards your academic endeavors. “Even if it's just a few minutes to just sit and do absolutely nothing, if that's what it takes for you, then that can go a long way.”
Taking that self-compassion and positive attitude, Nicole was able to build her self-confidence. In addition to being more sure of yourself when it comes to school and work, self-confidence impacts motivation. That not only helped Nicole pass her VTNE exam on the first try, successfully completing her course also gave her career-confidence, too.
“The program has also really helped bring out some of my own confidence, to know that I could do it... Even at work now, there are things that I learned in the program that I've been able to go back to and reference and my coworkers ask how or why I know this, and that’s just what I learned. I’m grateful for it every day.”
Nicole’s favorite part, and perhaps one of the most long-lasting and impactful aspects of her program came through her externship. With no prior experience in the veterinary field, it was here where she was able to put the things she learned in classes to use, coming full circle in fully understanding the material. She loved the challenge it presented and the real-time, real-world learning, but perhaps even more, she loved the connections she made.
“I did one of the fast-track programs … the girls I went with, we all still talk. I never had a greater group of friends that understands what I enjoy.” Forging these new relationships provided stress relief and others to rely upon for professional help and advice, even now more than a year later. “We send case things to each other, pictures … because we all know what it means.”
Friendships weren’t the only places Nicole found help, either. She says there was always someone there when she needed help or advice, whether it was fellow students or faculty. She advises anyone who is struggling or needing support to just reach out to your instructor or to peers in the Student Community. “There is never going to be a problem if you need to ask for help or need a little simple advice on something. If it's not to the school directly, there are so many other students who have gone through the program who know what you're going through at that moment.
Even if you’re a dedicated, organized student, you may have moments throughout your studies where you feel unsure if you really can do it. If you’re doubting yourself, Nicole recommends to give yourself time and keep going, don’t stop. “There’s going to be a part in each section where you’re going to be like this is hard, I don’t know how I'm going to do this; I don’t know how I’m going to make it through or retain all this, I know it's challenging, but you will get through it.”
Read more: Your Veterinary Assistant Career Guide
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