Reviews & Testimonials From Our Students (2023)

Nicole

Hi and welcome to our Alumni Spotlight podcast. I'm Nicole and I tell our student stories here at Penn Foster. Today we're meeting veterinary technician graduate Julia Mensen. Welcome Julia. Hey thanks for joining us today and being willing to share your story.

Julia

Absolutely, I'm happy to be here.

Nicole

Great so can you. Tell us a little bit about what you were up to before you started with Penn Foster?

Julia

Yeah, so I had started in veterinary medicine really around 2011 and then I got really involved in the beginning of 2012 and I was doing mostly reception work and then working at the low-cost practice that I was at. They had pulled me to kind of do some back treatment stuff and I didn't have a whole lot of experience with it, but I kind of knew that I didn't want to get into all that gross stuff and so I tried to keep my head out of treatment as much as possible and just stick to reception. Kind of telling myself like, especially that I would never want to do dentistry and then just kind of as the years went on, I started to get more and more comfortable - really wanting to learn more and getting my hands dirty. So in 2015 I got married. And then I kind of decided that I was really wanting tostart my career at that. So I had enrolled in Penn Foster in August of 2015 after working as kind-of a reception assistant for the first few years.

Nicole

Well, that's awesome. What do you think that turning point was for you? Was it just like being in that atmosphere every day or was there anything specific that kind of brought you towards the stuff you didn't think you maybe initially wanted to do?

Julia

Yeah, I definitely- I think just as I became more confident in what was going on around me in the clinic and then meeting some really amazing technicians along the way where I was likeI want to be you when I grow up was really a a the turning point for me. So, I think that, you know, factors in my life up until that point had made me kind of believe that I would never get to a point where I could be that smart or that driven and, and kind of let myself believe that for a long time and after working in the field, and you know, seeing a lot of inspirational people, I kind of changed my tone and was like, you know, what I can do this. I'm, I'm young. What else am I going to do? So I definitely think that it was. It was triggered by some really good technicians that I met out there.

Nicole

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Oh, that's lovely. So before Penn Foster did you try to pursue any career focused education in the veterinary field or outside the veterinary field?

Julia

Yeah, so I had always been interested in working with animals. Probably from you know, my early teens and at first I was, you know, applying to the pet stores in the area and they weren't necessarily hiring for anyone who was under 18 just because of liability with like taking care of the small animals and that kind of thing. So I honestly applied for like 3 years before I even turned 16. Just thinking maybe someone would give me a chance and they never really did. But right when I became an adult, someone hired me on, and I was doing puppy training courses with Petco and that's actually where I met my husband and we both kind of shared that love for dogs. So that was a cool way to start out. And I kind of just got the skills with like husbandry when it comes to you know like the rats and the mice and ferrets and you know all the small animals that I got to take care of while they were there a short time in the in the store and then I also got to work with the reptiles and you know, feeding the snakes and all that stuff; so not necessarily quite into veterinary medicine at that point, but I was getting really used to taking care of animals and kind of understanding more and more about anatomy and different species at that point.

Nicole

Oh wow, that's really interesting especially I mean, I think it's. I mean, me personally, I think it's very easy to have a love for animals. I have - I grew up with dogs. I have two dogs now, so I totally get that. But you know, I think really spending all that time around them, it probably gives you an even greater appreciation, especially when you understand, you know, their behaviors and, you know, different care that each type needs. I just think that's really fascinating.

Julia

Yeah me too.

Julia

It was a good place to start.

Nicole

Yeah, definitely. So what made you decide on Penn Foster and Penn Foster’s Vet Tech program?

Julia

So at the time I was working full time and I knew that going to school, you know, working all day and then going to school for five just wasn't really an option for me and I was learning so much being in clinic that I didn't want to give up that opportunity and kind of put it on hold to go to school. So I knew that going to Penn Foster was going to take me a little bit longer, but I felt like the in-clinic, in the day, experience was so valuable that I didn't really want off working time and so the huge benefit to Penn Foster was just the flexibility of schedule that it gave me and it- you know, in our field, burnout is a is a real thing and becoming you know, emotionally burnt out. You know? It is another thing, and so the flexibility that Penn Foster has for me to say, you know, I give myself a schedule of how I'm going to, you know, get through my classes. But if I have a day or a week or even a couple of weeks where I just don't feel like I can give that extra energy, I know that I have that leeway to just give myself the rest I need so I can really learn everything, and I think that that was just the main sell for me was that I kind of could create my own school, and in retrospect, I'm really glad that I made that decision because about four months after I enrolled in Penn Foster, I found out that I was - me and my husband- were pregnant so, it was really nice to have that extra flexibility because my life was about to change pretty drastically and I knew that I was going to need that in my life, so I was really grateful for making that choice at that time.

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Nicole

Wow, for sure- I was going to actually ask, you know, what you felt were some of the advantages to online education and I love that you said, you know, about taking a break because they think so many people think OK online education. Penn Foster is self paced so you can, you know, kind of do as much or as little as you need to at a given time, but I think sometimes people forget that. Sometimes you need that break. It's not just about structuring your studies, you know, according to your work schedule or your home schedule or whatever responsibilities you have. Sometimes you need to schedule in those breaks to give yourself kind of a mental health break. I think especially in the veterinary field. As you said, you know about burnout, that is something we hear so frequently about veterinary medicine that there is a lot of burnout because it is very emotional and I feel- I mean, I can't speak to any real experience in that, because obviously it's not my field, but I feel it must be so-- it's such a different level of difficulty in that you don't have a patient telling you, you know, this hurts here. I don't feel well”; it's something you guys have to kind of independently figure out through whatever knowledge and experience you have.

Julia

Yeah, absolutely. Yep, it's it. It definitely is something that I feel like- it's hard too, because people in our profession tend to be perfectionists. And then you know, we're extremely empathetic human beings, and so a lot of that- It is difficult for us not only with the patients, but because we're not just dealing with our patient, but their owners who can- you know, there's not insurance like there is in human med, and so we feel oftentimes like we're not able to provide everything that we, you know, the gold standard because it is limited by, you know, finances all the time, and so we get backlash from clients often about you know how we don't care and, and this and that. Unfortunately, that's the opposite of how we feel and it's hard to be on the other side of that, knowing that we're just trying to help and kind of being villainized in that way, and so sometimes it's important to remind ourselves that we don't need to just keep going, going, going- that this is a hard job and it's OK to take breaks. So I think that especially if you know your passion in life is to become a veterinary tech, that's going to be a, you know, not a a fast-track kind of program; it should be something that you spend time in. I think that it's almost beneficial to have a longer program because you get to have that experience on top of the things that you're learning. And then you're also in clinic with doctors and other technicians who can really help you really understand what it is you're learning, and I just think that taking a little bit longer and taking your time is beneficial, especially for this type of degree.

Nicole

And so I mean, you mentioned you found out you were pregnant during, you know, the beginning of your course. Obviously, that’s a great surprise, but a little bit of an obstacle, I'm sure, to try and navigate initially. Between that- and you know-- any other obstacles did you face and how did you kind of work through those? And come up with a plan to help you continue? I know sometimes a lot of our students and potential students themselves - sometimes they get a little overwhelmed at the thought of, you know, working- whether it's full time or part time, having a family and going back to school, how would - how did you personally navigate those challenges?

Julia

Yeah, so I did kind of set up a timeline for myself knowing that I had, you know, so much time in pregnancy. You know, in certain, at the end of the second semester specifically, there are some- there's an externship, and so I would have to be doing X-rays and that kind of thing, which is not something that I can do while I was pregnant, and so I knew that I kind of needed to plan around that, so I kind of scheduled out what do I need to get done before I have my baby? And I know, at least when I was in Penn Foster, they had a pretty good like, make your own due dates kind of thing. So you could really schedule yourself and give yourself deadlines that seemed like deadlines but were flexible; like you could change them if you needed to. But I kind of adopted them as like these things need to get done because for me it was a time sensitive thing. So I had decided that I was going to complete all my book work for the 1st and 2nd semester before I had my child and then after maternity leave, I would come back and start my first externship. So, at that point I would be totally clear to do X-rays and that kind of thing. So I wanted to make sure I got enough under my belt before I had her because I knew that pregnancy was not even going to be the most difficult obstacle - it was going to be raising a newborn and then a toddler while still trying to go to school and pass the VTNE. And so I really wanted to take advantage of that time where I was truly alone to get at least half of my education in. So I did stay pretty disciplined through that, but I think that I had an extra motivator by knowing that my life was about to change drastically and I didn't really know how that was going to look.

Nicole

Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. Yeah, I think people at least you know, initially the knee jerk reaction is to think. Oh wow, pregnancy that's such a huge thing, but it's really the aftereffects. I'm a mom too, so it's the newborn stages and the toddler stages that really do make it difficult because you're tired, you're undertaking something very, very new and unique, and trying to find that balance without additional responsibilities is so tough sometimes. So you know, did you come up, I mean, obviously, you know, you said you made schedules for yourself. Did you have- did you set specific goals in terms of that scheduling or test taking or just, You know, different benchmarks that you saidOK, I have to meet this at this timeand then did you find motivation from that to continue on your path?

Julia

Yeah, so by, you know four months in, I had worked pretty hard where I was like I want to get this done as quickly as possible. So I was pretty close to being finished with the first semester in December of 2015 and that's when I found out I was pregnant. And so I really quickly kind of rushed through the last part of that semester and kind of got the feel for how the proctored exams go. Which is another, you know, obstacle when it comes to, you know this program. It is a, it is a difficult program, you know. So I navigated my way through the proctored exams, which I feel like took a little bit longer than I was hoping, so I only had a few months left to get my second semester done. And so I had kind of, I had made a calendar- I had like a little planner, and so each- each course had a certain amount of tests that had to be done, and so I would basically say like this week I'm going to do 2, next week I'll do 2, and this week I'll do 2. So I was trying to get an entire class done within about a month's time. And just trying to stay really dedicated to that. And my husband was really understanding; he cooked and cleaned and did everything and I just studied. So we kind of had to, you know, in our personal lives have that conversation. Like I'm, I'm going to be doing this and I need to you to pick up the slack. So I yeah. I mean, it's really- this program is you know, mostly just your own self-motivation and being able to be successful that way is, is difficult. But you know the right kind of student will thrive and I think Penn Foster has pretty high standards as far as testing and, and you know, reports and everything that you have to do. So I think that having that kind of high standard and that detail-oriented mentality is really what makes a a good technician and the drive to want to do it yourself and do it right is also what makes a good technician.

Nicole

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For sure, and did you find yourself ever needing to ask for help with your coursework? Did you ever have to reach out to instructors online or over the phone, or did you feel like you know, I, I kind of know the material and I have the environment at work to kind of ask for help if I need it.

Julia

Oh no, I took full advantage of student services – I was in pretty much constant communication with my instructors. I would call anytime that I felt like I just had- I was really unclear on anything. I felt like I did have good support. There was a little bit of a waiting game. Like you know, it's not like walking into someone's office and being able to talk to them right away, but I, I felt like I got pretty reasonably timed responses and a lot of help with what I expected and then a lot of times, you know, the perspective of you're thinking about this too hard, you know? So getting the support and you know hearing feedback from the instructors personally was a huge part of the experience because I don't I- I feel like I would be a little bit lost if I didn't have that reassurance from the teachers there that I was on the right track, and I I was doing what they were asking. I would be afraid that I wasn't, you know, learning everything that I needed to if I hadn't have gotten that double check from the instructors. So, I've mentored several students from Penn Foster since I graduated, and that's one of the the things that I tell them is to take advantage of their instructors- that they're there for a reason. And you know, we we pay for the course work, but we also pay for that instruction, and so if they're ever unclear on anything, that asking questions is the best way to go about it. And even if it takes you a few days to figure it out, it's better to, You know, turn in your work the first time, knowing that you have understood what the expectation is then to have to, you know, redo work over and over again because you're just guessing.

Nicole

I'm so glad you said that because I think sometimes you know it's- One of the questions people ask a lot is that- even in my personal life, I say, oh, you know, I work for Penn Foster and they ask how, how it works and how you know the whole system functions. And sometimes people get a little nervous. Like you know, oh, you're doing school online. You're not in front of an instructor and it's not live classes. You do them at your own pace, so how do you get help when you need it? And I, I think sometimes people are under the idea that you're kind of on your own, you're not necessarily hung out to dry, but that you're, you're in it alone. You know you're doing school, you're independent, but you're not in a class, so therefore it's al on you to figure out independently. And it's not true. You know, we try and make sure our students have the resources available to them to ask for help. And it's and you know, like you said, instructors want you to do that. They want you to ask the questions and they can explain it to make sure. You know, that's their job is making sure you understand what you're doing, and that way when you do go out into your field and you're done, you you can talk about what you need to talk about. You can apply your skills appropriately and there's not, you know, a big question as to, oh wait, did I learn this the right way? Did I not really understand this? So you mentioned having to complete like the VTNE. Can you tell us a little bit about like the qualifications you had to pursue after the program itself and what that was like?

Julia

Yeah, so- every state in the US is different. I, I live in Washington state and so there are some pretty strict rules about what assistants versus technicians can do. So, for example, like endotracheal intubation. Dental extraction. Et cetera can only be done by licensed technicians, whereas in other states, you know, controlled substances can be handled by really anyone in, in the clinic. So I first had to kind of understand exactly what my states requirements were, because I knew that if I wanted to participate in any of those more advanced skills that I would have to be licensed. And so, in order to do that, you have to have graduated from an AVMA accredited school and there are only a few of those that are provided as online schools, and so when I was choosing Penn Foster that was one of my requirements was that it was AVM accredited so that when I received my degree, I would be eligible to apply for the VTNE? So I had done my research ahead of time before starting Penn Foster and I knew that the associates degree that I would graduate with was going to be sufficient for that. I had heard. Mixed reviews on how the VTNE was like, that it was hard. It was easy, et cetera and. And I'm one of those people that you know, even if it was easy, I want to get a 99.9%, you know so. Either way, I was going to study as hard as I could and I found myself in kind of the last semester as I was applying and doing my my state exams and studying for the VTNE, that I was really stressed out. Like you know there's a lot of things that were on the review that I was doing that I had learned and the first or second semester that I I felt like, oh gosh, I don't remember this completely. And at the same time I was trying to finish my last externship with Penn Foster. And I kind of told myself that I was going to do my test at the end of the year and I I was going to graduate in November and I was going to do my test December 15th, which was like the last day that you could. So there's different testing windows. I think it's- 4, three or four times a year. There are different testing windows, so there's one that's like November, December, and then the next one coming up would have been March, April, and so I, you know, I was trying to get my license as quickly as possible. So originally I had planned on getting it done at the end of the year, but I was trying to cram in my last externship at that point and I kind of had to slow myself down and say you focus on one thing at a time. I was really stressed out about the VTNE, but that was deterring me from being able to finish my degree and so I took a step back and I decided to finish my degree and then spend the next few months just doing review for the VTNE. So, just dedicating my time to that separately and I was able to finish my externship and, and my degree earlier than I had expected because I was able to kind of prioritize that. So I gave myself three or four months to to get together everything that I needed to for my state exams and for the national exam. And I think that that was probably the best thing I could have done because it was- It was a difficult test and there was a lot of things on it that you know I never learned, or I learned the 1st and 2nd semester and you know, hadn't really reviewed since. So I think that taking that extra few months after I had graduated to just focus on doing a VTNE review was what helped me to pass the first time.

Nicole

That's awesome, especially because not everybody does pass it the first time, and it seems like you know a lot of our students do do that, so that's that's really fantastic. What have you been doing since you graduated? What have you been up to besides, you know, raising a new child and were, and mentoring some of the Penn Foster students?

Julia

Yeah, so I have been. I worked at a practice when I was licensed originally where we had a huge dentistry program. So we were doing, you know, five to six dentals a day, which included, you know, the gold standard of full mouth X-rays for every patient, Mouth charting and cleaning, polishing and then you know, I was- I was watching over the shoulder of other technicians surgical extractions for pretty much the whole time that I was in school. I was doing anesthetic moderate- technicions who are doing oral surgery. And they were kind of talking me through it. And so when I was licensed pretty much right away, the the clinic put me into the goal of learning dentistry. And I was just kind of in it all day, every day, and learning, you know all the different abnormalities and basic extractions and surgical extractions. And at the same time improving my anesthesia skills. And so I did well, and I became pretty proficient in surgical extractions. I had taken several CE classes. I'm, I'm really big into continuing education, so I kind of gave myself that extra commitment because I, I was very committed to continuing education on more advanced things as I became more intrigued with dentistry and surgery. So I've taken several you know, dental, extraction courses and that's kind of where I was at about two years ago. And then I made a big move across the state and I started working for a corporate practice over here and the medical director that I work for is actually a diplomat for small animal surgery. So our clinic receives a lot of 4th year Vet students and new grads for mentorship opportunities. So we're doing a lot of new grad training. And just kind of helping along the new veterinarians with the support of a very experienced Doctor. And then on top of that they have had me doing the training for all of the dentistry for the new doctors as well. So I'm teaching them, you know, about surgical extractions and bone grafting, and all of the fun things that I've been able to learn over the past, you know, few years. I'm able to, you know, give that knowledge out to new doctors, which is really empowering for me as a technician and also just a a testament to you know how hard I’ve worked. And you know all the things that I've learned in such a period of time, being licensed.

Nicole

That's amazing if you had to give advice to a current student or somebody considering enrolling in Penn fosters that tech program, what would you say to them?

Julia

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I would say it takes a lot of self-motivation to make sure that you schedule t,asks for yourself and and give yourself deadlines to give yourself breaks. Utilize the student services and definitely working in a hospital is probably the most important thing- Being in the environment while you're learning. Trying to become a veterinary technician by just reading the books and taking the tests is going to be a big culture shock once you finally get into a clinic, if you haven't been in that environment yet. So I think that the most important thing is to number one: Start working in that field, even if that means you're doing kennel work or reception work; just being in the hospital and in the environment and and starting, there is probably the best, best resource for you.

Nicole

For sure definitely. I think sometimes too. You know, people get a little- It's one thing to read it in a book, and it's a totally different thing to apply it in person, which is why, you know, we do make- we stress the importance of the externships. Do you feel that the externship really kind of helped? I mean you were already working in the field, but say somebody who isn't- do you think that the externship kind of makes that difference?

Julia

Oh absolutely, I work with mostly dogs and cats. I've worked with some other small, you know pocket pets, but my second externship, we worked with large animals, so horses and cows. And you know, different things that I'd never worked with before. I had read a lot on large animal studies and you know, passed all of my courses. But being, you know, in the field is a completely different story. Being able to like actually restrain those large animals and the difference in medicine between large animal and small animal is so huge. And I think that that could you know, essentially open up someone's eyes to you ,know something, that they're more interested - a specialty that they maybe want to get into even if they do have experience in the field. There are so many things that you learn in school that you don't do. Will never do or, you know, will only do if you're in specialty, so I I do think that they're super important. I learned a lot of stuff on my externships that, you know, even working in the hospitals I hadn't ever experienced before and that's mostly because I had to do the skills and I was asking questions.

Nicole

So just to wrap up, looking back to you know, before your enrollment to now that you've graduated, how do you feel about yourself today versus then?

Julia

My confidence is much, much higher than it was. Like I said when I first started, I just didn't really want to get too into it because I didn't have the confidence that I was going to really understand, and I think that the pace of the education just really helped me to take the time that I needed and therefore gave me the confidence because I, I felt confident in the information that I had learned and so.

Nicole

Confidence is such a huge thing, you know. Yes, obviously we want you to be educated and we want you to have the, the knowledge to apply. But confidence is sometimes such an overlooked asset to have because you know you can have all of that information in your brain, but if you're not, if you don't have the confidence in yourself to actually apply it- what, what good is it in the end? So I think that that's a superb answer. Thank you so much for joining us today.

Julia

Thank you for having me, I appreciate it.

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