Megan Chadwick is the director of the Penn Foster Veterinary Academy.Read Articles Written by Megan Chadwick
While telehealth has long been a part of veterinary medicine, the pandemic accelerated remote pet care in ways no one could have imagined. Today, words like “teletriage” are commonplace in veterinary offices nationwide, and this new approach to veterinary practice is likely here to stay.
Such megatrends have a surprising impact on one often-overlooked role: veterinary technician. Over the past 18 months, veterinary technicians have emerged as critical players in the fight to keep clinics operational and provide efficient and effective care. In teletriage situations, for instance, they are often able to make the snap judgments needed to determine whether an animal requires urgent care or could wait for an appointment.
But despite their critical role, veterinary technicians are not always recognized for their impact on the pet care industry. It’s time for that to change.
Most, if not all, veterinary technicians undergo training through a rigorous curriculum, including externships and credentialing exams. However, for many in the field, their job doesn’t use that training. Rather, veterinary technicians are often treated as if they walked in off the street with no educational experience, leaving them not just undervalued but also under utilized. It’s the difference between giving veterinary technicians the chance to work at the top of their capabilities (which, depending on the state, could include complex procedures like dentistry or anesthesia) and having them simply bring a patient into a room and weigh the pet.
Fortunately, a growing number of veterinary care providers recognize the potential of veterinary technicians not just as near-term supporters for doctors but as a pipeline of future talent to ensure the continuing growth of the field. For example, at networks like Banfield Pet Hospital, veterinary technicians increasingly take on more complex tasks like administering medications, which frees up time for doctors to focus on more complex tasks. Banfield even organizes specific appointments to be led by technicians rather than veterinarians. This has been particularly critical in the age of telehealth as veterinarians juggle an increasingly complex and remote patient load and as pet owners start scheduling more appointments in the post-pandemic era.
How can more providers recognize the veterinary technician’s role and build a more effective and equitable system for all involved? Here are three concrete recommendations:
- Start scheduling veterinary technician appointments. Banfield’s experience demonstrates that the benefits are numerous: Veterinarians have more time to focus on complex patient challenges; veterinary technicians get valuable experience that enables them to grow on the job; and everyone’s workload is better aligned with their goals and capacity. Using all team members to their fullest potential makes their work more efficient and fulfilling.
- Aim for a 3-to-1 ratio of veterinary technicians to doctors. It’s well known that there’s no magic staffing ratio to solve every problem, but research (not to mention personal experience) indicates that more non-DVM staff can enable pet hospitals to operate more smoothly and effectively. If anything, 3-to-1 should be the minimum ratio and is the right place to start.
- Invest in your employees and give them opportunities for continued growth. After spending years training to be a veterinary technician, I left the profession because I had neither the opportunity to use the skills I’d learned nor a clear pathway to advancement in the field. Offering veterinary technicians on-the-job training and professional development isn’t just a proven retention strategy. It’s also a way to build a practice that can better serve patients by creating a broader roster of experienced caretakers.
If there’s one thing we’ve learned from the pandemic, it’s that veterinary technicians play a vital role in keeping hospitals running and pets healthy. As we navigate our new normal, let’s not forget the critical importance of support staff in the age of telemedicine. Let’s invest in providing those workers with the resources they need to make the most of their training in ways that can help build a stronger and more resilient veterinary workforce.