Getting Technical columnist Sandy Walsh is a veterinary practice management consultant, speaker and adviser. She is an instructor for Patterson Veterinary Management University and continues to work in a small animal practice. She has over 35 years of experience in the veterinary field and brings her in-the-trenches experience directly to readers.Read Articles Written by Sandy Walsh
Veterinary technicians have been around longer than many of us realize. Here’s a little history. In 1908, the first organized effort to train veterinary assistants came from the Canine Nurses Institute in England. In the 1960s, the U.S. Army, Ralston Purina, the State University of New York and the Council of the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons established training programs for animal technicians. In 1967, the American Veterinary Medical Association established criteria for acceptable animal technician training programs. In 1972, the first accreditation procedures for animal technician programs were instituted. Not until 1989 did the AVMA officially adopt the term “veterinary technician.”
Currently, the Veterinary Nurse Initiative Coalition is working with the AVMA, the American Association of Veterinary State Boards, professional organizations and state legislators to create common terminology, nationally standardized credentialing procedures and the universal credential of registered veterinary nurse.
Without a doubt, the job of a credentialed technician has changed significantly over my four decades in the field. My original credential was animal health technician (AHT), which changed to registered veterinary technician (RVT) upon the AVMA’s 1989 action. A lot has happened in the profession since then.
Whether your credential is RVT, CVT, LVT or LVMT, you likely have experienced or witnessed at least some of the following changes.
Growing opportunities in leadership, management, academia, government and industry have given technicians more paths to career advancement, job security, higher pay and professional longevity. Today, the veterinary profession recognizes that technicians have more to offer than just their nursing and technical skills.
2. Veterinary Technician Specialists
Today, technicians can attain official recognition of their advanced knowledge and skills through 16 accredited disciplines. The National Association of Veterinary Technicians in America, founded in 1981, is responsible for the development and accreditation of veterinary technician specialists. The organization works closely with the AVMA to protect, support and promote our profession.
3. Medical Advances
The standard of care in veterinary medicine has improved dramatically over the past few decades, rivaling what we see in human medicine. Veterinary technicians work alongside veterinarians when it comes to advances in medical care.
Patient comfort is at the forefront of many of the changes. Dramatically improved pain management options and anesthesia protocols have been monumental in patient care and comfort. Add to that the Fear Free movement, which focuses on the physical and emotional well-being of patients.
Practice management software allows us to do much more than produce client invoices. Scheduling appointments, managing inventory and tracking financial productivity was just the beginning of the evolution. The shift to electronic medical records significantly improved efficiency and client compliance. We complete medical records in a fraction of the time needed to handwrite them. In addition, client communication platforms changed how we interact with pet owners.
Furthermore, gone are the days of manually processing X-ray film, hand-scaling teeth, using hot water bottles to keep patients warm, and waiting days for laboratory results. Digital radiography, dental radiography, patient monitoring and in-house laboratories are a few examples of the modern conveniences we have in our practices.
5. Training and CE
Focused training is happening more than ever. We’ve developed phase training plans within hospitals so that technicians can hone their skills and adapt to their practices’ specific work environments. Additionally, continuing education has never been more accessible. Many state licensing boards require it for license renewal, and every major veterinary conference offers tracks designed for technicians. Web-based education is readily available, too, and much of it is free.
6. Recognition and Utilization
Credentialed technicians are sought after by every veterinary practice. We’re recognized as vital members of the health care team. Studies have shown significant increases in practice revenue tied directly to the number of credentialed technicians on the team.
National Veterinary Technician Week is observed annually in appreciation of our dedication and to create awareness of the work we perform. This public acknowledgment enhances clients’ awareness and understanding of technicians’ skills, abilities and roles within the practice.
Also, technician utilization has given veterinarians more time to perform the tasks only they can do, allowing hospitals to see more patients and generate more revenue.
Technician wages have risen slowly over the years. However, as more practices focus on the business of veterinary medicine and the value of the team, they pay more attention to compensation and fringe benefits. Still, we have a long way to go toward fair compensation across all positions in the hospital. Low pay and the physical and emotional demands of working in a veterinary practice have caused many technicians to leave the profession.
8. Client Interaction
Many of us are drawn to the veterinary profession to help animals, and we do. However, we’ve had to learn the art of communication to serve clients and, ultimately, patients better. Technicians are interacting with pet owners more than ever. In many cases, we spend more time with the client than the veterinarian does.
Client interaction doesn’t end with a hospital visit, either. Social media changed how we connect with clients, helping us continue the conversation. We use it to educate, advise, entertain and bond with clients.
Another significant change involves technician appointments and exam room technicians. These are the norm in many practices.
9. Online Pharmacies
The ability of pet owners to order prescriptions and food from online pharmacies has brought significant changes to our hospitals. As a result, technicians spend less time counting pills and processing prescriptions and more time authorizing prescription refills.
Burnout is inevitable in the veterinary profession. The long days, physical demands and emotional ups and downs take their toll on technicians. There is a fine line between burnout (a function of where you work), compassion fatigue (a function of what you do) and the loss of balance between your work and home lives. We’ve had to learn to cope with stress and balance issues in a profession that has seen a dramatic and tragic increase in suicide rates.
Technicians will always be devoted to the jobs they were trained to do. We adapt to change. We’ll continue to persevere in the jobs we love.