From Animal Lovers to Vet Techs: How a 30-Year Experienced Technician is Igniting Passion in High School Students
July 10, 2023
Terry Wnorowski is spending the last years of her career sparking new beginnings for others. For 30 years she has worked as a licensed veterinary technician at the Veterinary Teaching Hospital (VTH) at the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine.
“I first walked into these hallways in 1987,” she said, “and when I thought about that, what blew my mind was that most people didn’t even have cell phones then!”
From working in anesthesia, serving as one of the VTH’s first floaters, and specializing in ophthalmology for a decade each, Wnorowski has seen it all – even anesthetizing a Siberian tiger. Now in her last two years, she has taken on a new role at the teaching hospital: Onboarding and Training Coordinator and Tech Liaison. Her goal? Inspire and guide new veterinary technicians to have successful careers, just like she did.
Having witnessed the evolving landscape of veterinary medicine over the years, Wnorowski is well aware of the challenges that the industry faces, particularly the shortage of veterinary technicians. It can be a tough job, and the shortage has led to burnout and difficulty filling positions, exacerbating challenges in the industry's well-being. Terry is determined to be part of the solution by focusing on education and support for current and aspiring veterinary technicians.
“I thought if I could spend the last two years supporting our current team, and then help new techs to realize what a great place this is to work, that'd be an awesome way to go out.”
Wnorowski is passionate about working with hospital administrators to create a workplace of engagement and well-being for current staff members, as well as promoting opportunities for tuition assistance for new employees aspiring to be veterinary technicians. Additionally, relationships with area technical and community colleges are being developed with the goal of reinvigorating veterinary technician externships. This would provide future technicians hands-on experience and also ease the strain on the veterinary hospital team.
"There are only 32 vet schools in the entire U.S. So how incredibly lucky are we to have one right here in our little valley?"
However, the most exciting part of her new role is educating young people about the field of veterinary technology. As a former 4-H Leader, Girl Scout Leader, and Sunday school teacher, she is well-suited to to the task. She actively engages with high school students, introducing them to the field, answering their questions, and highlighting the unique opportunity of having a veterinary college in their local area.
“There are only 32 vet schools in the entire U.S.,” she said. “So how incredibly lucky are we to have one right here in our little valley?”
Working at a teaching hospital allows veterinary technicians to develop skills in various speciality areas, many of which aren’t available in private practice. Doctors in the hospital also serve as researchers advancing knowledge in the industry. “I've learned from some of the most brilliant clinicians over the last 30 years,” Terry said. “What a gift.”
"Being a veterinary technician is a fantastic career with a lot of opportunities. There's so many cool things you can do."
Not only that, technicians at the teaching hospital have the opportunity to shape the future of veterinary medicine by supporting future veterinarians. Working with DVM students has always been one of the most rewarding parts of Terry’s career. She finds joy in witnessing the "light bulb" moments when students grasp new concepts and skills for the first time.
According to Wnorowski, one of the biggest contributors to the technician shortage is the lack of awareness of the field. She described how many of the high school students were passionate about working with animals but didn’t realize just how many career pathways were available, especially in veterinary technology.
"Being a veterinary technician is a fantastic career with a lot of opportunities," she explained. "There's so many cool things you can do. You absolutely use your brain, you absolutely use your skills. And at the end of the day, you know you’re helping – helping vets, clients, and, of course, animals."
Wnorowski has one piece of advice for aspiring technicians, that she wished she had listened to back in 1987: “Pay attention to your core and your back. Do core exercises when you're 20. So that you can still be lifting bulldogs when you're 70.”