Columns , Leadership

5 things you didn’t learn in school

Your clinical skill set is important, of course, but there’s more to being a veterinary technician if you want to thrive and survive.

5 things you didn’t learn in school
To succeed long term in the veterinary profession, pursuing lifelong learning is important.

Veterinary technicians enroll in credentialing programs for many reasons — a love of animals, a love of science or the desire to make a difference in the lives of pets, to name just a few. Inside the classroom and in clinic rotations, there is so much to learn, from chemistry, anatomy and radiology to pharmacology, anesthesiology and dentistry. The primary focus during school is on teaching the background and practical skills necessary in veterinary medicine, but technicians have so much more to learn that isn’t part of the standard curriculum. It’s not just about taking care of animals.

Here’s what I know now that I wish I had known then.

1. You Have to Like People

Communication with clients and co-workers is fundamental to success in any position within a veterinary practice. The mindset “I like animals, not people” will get you nowhere. Pets do not drive themselves to the practice and do not pay for the services received. They do not help you get through a busy day by working alongside you to get the work done. People do that. As a technician, you need to communicate effectively with a wide variety of clients and veterinary professionals.

Client service is a critical component of a successful practice. Much of your time will be spent communicating with and educating clients. From sharing a treatment plan to providing patient care updates to scheduling appointments, the communication opportunities are continual. Technicians have to be skilled at conveying information in a way that clients understand. This skill needs to be honed to ensure proficiency.

Communicating with the team that surrounds you — doctors, client service representatives, veterinary assistants and pet care attendants — is just as important to learn. You will not be successful as a technician if you can’t communicate with your team effectively throughout the day. The entire team provides the level of care that will lead your practice to success. You have to learn to talk to, listen to and communicate with each other all the time.

2. Veterinary Medicine Is a Team Sport

We depend on our team to get the job done every day. Many tasks and duties can be done solo, but without a cohesive team’s support, there is no way to complete and attend to everything we faced daily.

Teamwork is required on all levels and isn’t just about supporting the veterinarians. All team members must work together to get the job done in the most effective and efficient manner possible. Your patients, clients and co-workers depend on it.

Being competent in your skill set isn’t enough. Team members need to share their knowledge and guide their co-workers to a higher level. Don’t be the one who withholds important information or training tips and thinks doing so elevates your importance and job security. The best employees help others achieve the same level of knowledge and hands-on technical skills that they possess.

3. Education Doesn’t End With Graduation

To succeed long term in the veterinary profession, pursuing lifelong learning is important. You need to keep current in the field by seeking regular continuing education. In fact, most state licensing boards require a defined number of CE hours to maintain licensure.

Always focus on enhancing your knowledge, whether it means attending conferences, joining webinars, enrolling in computer-based distance learning or reading every journal you can get your hands on. If your plan is for career advancement within the profession, then seek advanced training or veterinary management CE that will lead to additional credentials. Continued learning will open doors you might not have anticipated when you became a technician.

4. Veterinary Medicine Is a Business

Regardless of the type of practice where you work, remember that it’s a business. What you do or neglect to do reflects on the business. Understand your practice’s fee structure and how prices are determined for services and products, and realize that there is a method to the madness. When proper pricing structures are in place, the actual cost of providing the service or product is factored into the equation.

Profit is part of the equation, too, and is essential to the practice’s success. Practice owners cannot invest in updated equipment and fair wages and benefits if profits are absent. Every employee has a role in helping the practice achieve financial success.

Here are four ways you can help:

  • Establish patient care models to ensure consistent recommendations from the team.
  • Don’t judge clients’ wallets or what they are willing to spend on veterinary care. Offer the best medical option for the patient.
  • Charge for what you do. Fee capture is a problem in most practices, so help establish procedures that ensure all services and products are properly charged.
  • Curb discounting. Intentional discounting should be a marketing strategy and clearly defined and tracked. It should not be random or impulsive.

5. You Must Take Care of Yourself

If you plan to make veterinary medicine your long-term career, you have to take care of yourself at work and home. A study conducted by the National Association of Veterinary Technicians in America found that over 50% of technicians leave the profession within five years of graduation.

The national shortage of credentialed technicians can be blamed on many factors. Technicians have a hard job physically and emotionally. Burnout is frequently brought on by long hours, short staffing and practice chaos.

Flourish Veterinary Consulting found in a survey of veterinary technicians and assistants that over 50% of them were experiencing moderate to substantial burnout at work. What concrete things can we do to reverse the trend? Work with your team members, manager and practice owner to address the hospital culture. A negative workplace culture contributes substantially to burnout. Negotiate benefits that support balance, such as mutually beneficial schedules, adequate time off and fair compensation.

If you strive to keep a good balance at home and at work, you will find longtime success and happiness as a veterinary technician. We love what we do. Let’s love where we do it.

Getting Technical columnist Sandy Walsh is a practice management consultant, speaker, writer and instructor for Patterson Veterinary University.

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