Meet Our June Scrub Superstar Melissa
You’ve probably seen our June Scrub Superstar frequent our Instagram page a lot. Melissa is a vet tech, caretaker, and receptionist based in Los Angeles, California. While her pictures with baby animals are irresistible, she is serious about spreading awareness on proper pet care and going into the veterinary field. We recently got an awesome opportunity to chat with Melissa about her journey in the field of veterinary medicine, the perks and challenges, work-life balance, UA scrub-loving, and of course animals.
What is your current position? Where are you from?
I live in Los Angeles, California. More specifically North Hollywood. I am vet caretaker, technician, and receptionist. So pretty much everything minus being an actual vet.
Why did you go into your position?
My mom actually started me on the animal craze when I was 3 years old. She brought home a basket of kittens that had to be bottle-fed. At the time, I remember thinking this is the coolest thing ever. And as I got older, I remember my mom telling me she wanted to be a vet. So, my mom is responsible for getting me as obsessed and addicted to animals as I am today. But I never pictured going into the veterinary field. Mainly because I am so empathetic towards animals I didn’t think I’d be able to handle the emotional side of this job. To be honest, the first couple of months were really hard.
When I moved to LA 13 years ago, I had one cat. Now I have four cats, one dog, and one horse. I initially started my career as an EMT, I had my EMT license for several years, but I burned myself out. I started so young (at 15) and just realized it wasn’t for me.
I briefly moved back up to Northern California to take care of my mom after surgery. Being a caretaker, whether it is animals or people, runs in my blood. When I moved back down to Los Angeles, I was looking for a job and I found the listing for my current hospital through Craigslist. I applied to be a veterinary receptionist and I started doing that work, but since then I have been able to grow and learn a lot from my time here.
For me, ultimately, I want to work in the Equine Veterinary field. I’d love to work with horses and large animals – at some point. But as of right now I am completely happy with small animals. But eventually that is where I see my career going, but especially in Southern California, there aren’t a lot of opportunities for that kind of work.
What inspired you to go into this career?
Aside from wanting to do something I am good at, I have always loved animals and I work really well with people. So why not work with animals and their owners. But over the years, I have realized I might not be able to save everything. But if I can just save one animal, or give an animal an extra six months, or five days that is good enough.
As a human and owner of animals, I know that if I were in our clients’ position I would want the vet or clinic to do everything possible to save my animals. Being a part of that process and helping animals and the humans go through it is what inspired me.
Plus, I have amazing co-workers. Seriously, people say that a lot but I really do feel so fortunate to go to work with supportive, goofy people who make me laugh a lot. I think in any medical field or environment it is so important to have that release and relief of having good people around you to make you laugh and help you through the hard times.
I think what also inspired me is just how empathetic I am towards animals. Unfortunately, I have lost count of how many times I have had to break bad news to people or assist with putting animals down and talk the owners through that.
That part of my job is really hard but the other side is getting a call from an owner saying that their animal who we thought had no chance, made it and is healthy and well. Every day can’t be easy, and there are some days where I just wish I worked at a coffee shop.
The other side of my job that I enjoy is getting to educate people. I talk to hundreds of people over the phone every week about a number of things, not everyone is a patient or owner of a patient. Educating people about vaccines, flea and tick control, diets, just LISTENING to pet-parents’ needs and advising them what would be best for their pet, is really special to me.
Also, I get to cuddle puppies and kittens, that’s a BIG plus.
What are your shifts like?
I really can’t complain, years ago when I first started at the hospital, we worked twelve-hour shifts, but now, we’re better staffed and my shifts are AWESOME! I work 7:30 am to 3:30 or 4:00 pm five days a week, and I’m off Sunday and Tuesday.
I was blessed with being both a morning person and a night owl, so my current shifts allow me to have a flexible (and sometimes crazy) AFTER work life. I add to my schedule and pack on other fun things. I teach horseback riding lessons to kids year-round and during the fall I do special effects makeup for theme parks’ haunt seasons.
Do you have any other tricks on how to stay alert during long shifts?
Coffee. Coffee is a big one. We’re also very fortunate because we have a Trader Joes right next to the hospital. I like KIND Bars, salads, and other protein bars. I am also obsessed with fruit. So, I just walk over to Trader Joes and get fresh cold fruit, plus coffee or some sparkling water. (Laughs, oh my gosh that sounds so LA). Plus, I have a weakness for ice cold lemonade and slushies.
Knowing that I have options for a quick break and pick-me-up snack always helps – and that I get to see my animals at the end of the day. I work hard every day so that I can take care of them (forget about me). For a while, I was working really long hours so that I could get my horse. I think just having something to work towards every day helps me stay energized.
What is your favorite memory during your career?
That’s a tough one because, as a lot of us know, working with so many animals (or people) you have a lot of memorable patients. But a memory that has stayed with me for a long time was a guy who came in a few years ago with his dog who was 17 or 18. He said it was time to put him down. He had the dog since he was 5 weeks old and had taken the dog to my hospital ever since.
I went into the exam room and talked to the owner and to the dog. I gave him a hug and the dog a hug. I was involved because this owner kept bringing his dog in for regular checkups and I always helped them. So as I was hugging the owner – he told me ‘He (the dog) doesn’t know any better. The only bad day there is for him (the dog) is when we have to say goodbye.’
I was stunned because it is so true. Dogs live in the moment with us, they’re not worried about tomorrow, or next week or that your socks don’t match. I really took what he said in and had to process it. But we should all be living like dogs do, in the moment.
What is the best piece of advice someone gave you about your career? And what is the best piece of advice you would give someone wanting to go into the veterinary field?
I think the best piece of advice I’ve ever been given was to find something that you love OUTSIDE of work. Something you can do that allows you to take a breath and not stress about what happened at work, or let the bad days (and there can be WEEKS where it’s just constant bad, sad days) completely swallow you whole.
My advice to those wanting to go into the veterinary field would be to first decide if it’s for you. Prepare yourself for long hours, and an emotional roller coaster. Honestly, it’s not just the animals you’ll be dealing with, it’s the pet owners, the vets, your coworkers, and if you open yourself to it, you can learn so much, more than any type of schooling will teach you. It’s all about hands-on learning and you really need to be prepared for that. Every day is different, there are new challenges, new triumphs, new learning experiences, and it’s the best adventure you’ll ever go on.
What feature is the most important while choosing scrubs?
Comfort and fit. I was heavy as a young child and young adult. I went through a huge weight loss. So, I always want scrubs that are comfy but not really tight.
I want scrubs that are always comfortable even if I am having an ‘I don’t feel great today’ day. I want scrubs that I could feel comfortable in that don’t make me look like a box. UA has so many options for fun scrub tops, different colors, designs and there’s a perfect fit for every body type. I’m currently in love with the Butter-Soft with elastic waist pants.
Plus, I do crazy things at work – if I wasn’t in butter-soft scrubs I probably would’ve ripped my scrubs so many times. I need to be able to kneel and I need my scrubs to be flexible because I am chasing after animals, kneeling, bending down, etc.
So basically, I don’t want them too tight or too loose and my most important features are the comfort, style, and fit.
Make sure to follow us on Instagram and learn more about our Scrub Superstar, Melissa as she takes over June 9th to June 11th.