More Veterinary Technicians = Better Medicine for Pets

Dr. Patty Khuly

Veterinary Technician

I hear it all the time. Pet owners commenting (none too quietly) that assistants and technicians spend more time with them than the doctors. “It never used to be that way,” they’ll say. “Veterinarians once actually did ‘doctorly things’ like drawing blood, changing bandages, and giving injections. Why is it that non-vets do all the work these days?” I’ve even heard some grouse that it’s the fault of big corporations and greedy vets. Ouch!

It’s true; we veterinarians increasingly rely on veterinary assistants and technicians to do our heavy lifting. Veterinary care has gotten so expensive (due to the skyrocketing cost of drugs, supplies, equipment, regulations, and retail real estate) that we need to leverage our support teams. This way pet owners don’t end up paying more than they otherwise would if the doctor was doing everything him or herself.

In years past, veterinarian would do all the ‘doctorly’ tasks and more. We’d also take X-rays, clean teeth, place IV catheters, run all the tests, administer injectable medications, and perform all the wound care duties. These days our technicians are highly trained to accomplish all of these duties.

Technicians usually have a minimum of an associate’s degree and are often credentialed as Licensed Veterinary Technicians (LVTs), Registered Veterinary Technicians (RVTs) or Certified Veterinary Technicians (CVTs). Others have been trained over years of on-the-job experience combined with specialized coursework to fill in the necessary gaps.

In addition to being uniquely trained, these individuals are highly-motivated people with significant leadership skills. They typically manage veterinary assistants (often veterinarians or technicians in training) along with the kennel staff (skilled in animal sanitation and restraint). They are organized at the national level and engage in rigorous continuing-education programs alongside veterinarians.

Just as in human medicine, these “nurses,” as many elect to refer to themselves, are indispensable to the smooth distribution of healthcare. Veterinarians lean on them when they are first learning many of their technical skills, rely on them to accomplish almost every fundamental task in animal healthcare, and benefit from the many animal insights nurses bring to the table.

In fact, my very first mentor was not another veterinarian. This was twenty years ago and I’d been thrown into an ER setting without the necessary veterinary-support personnel to help me make some of the tougher clinical decisions. Thankfully, I had an RVT to help guide me through my first year. Honestly, I think I got lucky to have someone so competent and experienced who knew just what kind of a veterinarian she’d like to mold me into (aka, one she’d like to work with).

Over the years, veterinary technicians haven’t just taught me how to practice safely, efficiently and competently, they’ve taught me a great many things, among them that it’s OK to hug your clients, that crying isn’t a bad thing, and that it matters more to be part of the team than its aloof leader.

It might seem to you, as someone who’s witnessed the changing times, that more visible technician assistance means less veterinary care, or that hiring more veterinary support staff is simply a way to contain costs in a colder corporate setting, but that’s not necessarily the case.

Not at all! In fact, if anything, the rise of veterinary technicians means more direct patient care, more clinical oversight, better protocols and much better medicine for pets. It means that veterinary medicine is finally taking a cue from human medicine and learning that having a caring, competent, and credentialed team means better outcomes for our patients and their people.

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