Meet a Relief Tech, Melissa Evans

Riding the wave of adrenaline from the recent IVECCS conference, meet Melissa Evans, LVT, CVT, VTS (ECC).

With a past life that includes acting and singing, it was a cancer diagnosis that proved pivotal, propelling Melissa forward into the relief world.

Education is constantly evolving. Teaching is fluid. And the veterinary world is strained.

New York and New Jersey, you can’t keep her for yourselves – she has a world to see!

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Everyone has a story – what’s yours? What inspired you to become a technician/nurse?

Before I was a technician, I was a performer. I was an actor, a singer, and an occasional dancer. Life was exhausting, living in New York City and pounding the pavement trying to get a job. I was working full-time in an office as an executive assistant just to pay the rent. But it all became too much, and I was tired of not being able to live my dream.

The business aspect of being a working actor was always too much for me. I was so frustrated and knew I needed to find something that I really loved doing. With my husband’s encouragement, I started volunteering at animal shelters, something I had done off and on in the past. Realizing that my heart lay with animals, I discovered technician school. I went on to work in emergency and critical care, eventually earning my VTS in ECC. I have never looked back. I love every moment of my job.

What roles have you had within the veterinary profession? How about outside of this industry?

I work mainly as an emergency and critical care technician but have done some work in other specialties and general practice. I also enjoy teaching others within the profession. I started my own company, Melissa Evans VTS (ECC) Veterinary Nurse Consulting, and speak at conferences, write for veterinary journals and websites, and help train technicians (and doctors!) whenever I can.  I am a RECOVER CPR Certified Instructor for both basic and advanced life support, and teaching CPR is a passion of mine.

What made you switch to relief practice?

I was diagnosed with breast cancer about 10 years ago. I had multiple surgeries and months of chemotherapy. My diagnosis was such a surprise. I was young, healthy, worked out, and was a vegetarian. Cancer didn’t care.

It changed the way I look at everything. I was in technician school at the time, and I realized that I could quit and let cancer define the rest of my life, or I could continue doing what I wanted to do. I knew I wasn’t going to stop. I needed to complete school. I did not want to live with the regret that would come from not pursuing what I wanted. I realized that nothing in life was ever certain and that following your passion was the only way to be happy.

Fast forward to 2019, and I have earned my VTS in ECC. My son is now 7. And working as a full-time technician as well as being a mom was making me burn out. Cancer had taught me that life was short, and you never know what is coming.  I knew I needed to find a way to do my job on my terms. Starting my consulting company helped with that, as did discovering the world of relief practice. I can choose my own shifts, do a job I love, and still be around to enjoy my family and our time together.

How do you feel that relief practice supports the veterinary profession as a whole?

Relief practice is so important, especially right now! The entire veterinary profession is under such intense strain. It’s important to be able to give staff time off to take care of themselves, something I don’t think we allow ourselves or our coworkers to do without extreme guilt. Relief veterinarians and technicians can step in to help cover shifts and take care of the patients while staff take care of themselves and avoid becoming overworked.

What are your favorite things about being a relief tech/nurse?

I love working in different hospitals and meeting new people. Everyone has something they can teach me, and I have something I can teach them. By working in different clinics, I get to see varied ways of treating animals, learn about things I don’t know about, and share my advanced skills and knowledge to a wider group of people.

What are your least favorite things about being a relief tech/nurse?

One of the nice things about having a hospital that you work in full-time is that you know how they do things. Their procedures are like second nature to you. You can grab materials in a flash, and you know the personalities of the people working there. It can be difficult as a relief tech to step into a new clinic with people I don’t know and try to do my job. People are usually very welcoming, but not knowing where things are or how people like to work is challenging.

What do you look for in a practice when deciding to cover shifts for them?

I look for a practice that respects its staff. I have worked in too many places that tolerate a toxic environment and don’t value their staff. Good work cannot be done when there is resentment simmering.

Follow-up to the above: do word-of-mouth observations and/or online reviews factor into your decision to cover shifts? 

Word of mouth definitely factors into my decision to cover shifts. If I know someone who has worked at a certain hospital or have heard from people who know about the hospital and what I hear isn’t good, I won’t pick up a shift. It is one of the nice things about relief. I don’t have to work anywhere I don’t want to.

What advice would you give new relief techs/nurses? (Alternatively, what advice would you give someone who is thinking about being a relief tech/nurse?)

I think the most important advice I would give to new relief techs is to ‘be flexible’! We all have different ways of doing things – that doesn’t mean that one way is wrong or right, just different. Don’t get so stuck in your ways that you can’t adjust to other ways or learn from new places.

How has the global pandemic affected your relief work?

Working relief was actually, well, a relief for me during the pandemic. My son had to switch to virtual school. My husband had to work from home, and I was able to help my son adjust to the new normal because my work hours were flexible. Many of the clinics near me stopped allowing relief techs to come work, but I was able to find shifts at the ones that were still hiring relief. Once everyone started reopening to relief staff, the need for staffing was so great that I was easily able to find shifts that work around my family’s schedule.

What states do you currently work within? Any other states in your sights?

I currently work in New York and New Jersey and live in Brooklyn, NY.  I would happily work in any state!

What are your hobbies/passions outside of work?

Pilates is one of my favorite things in the world. I use it as quiet time to think about nothing except my body moving. I also still love singing, though I don’t get to do it as much as I would like. Reading and watching British crime shows have always been a way I enjoy relaxing.

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To learn more or to contact Melissa Evans, click here.

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