Veterinary Technicians: Unsung Heroes of Veterinary Medicine

Getting a pet from sick to well, or keeping a healthy pet healthy, takes a team approach. Veterinarians (like me) may want to hog all the glory for ourselves, but the truth is that we couldn’t do it without trained, talented and caring members of our team. The week of Oct 13-18th has been designated National Veterinary Technician Week by NAVTA, the National Association of Veterinary Technicians in America.

Professional ‘helpers’ like dental hygienists, veterinary technicians,  nurses and the like help keep things moving along by being the boots on the ground for veterinarians, doctors and other folks who provide services and care, but are spread thin.  Veterinary technicians, in most cases, have had college training, and received a degree in animal science or veterinary technology, so they know their stuff. In most states, you have to pass an exam and obtain a license to become a technician. These are committed, trained folks. (Veterinary hospitals also employ veterinary assistants, who are able to perform certain tasks that do not require special training and certification, like walking dogs, giving oral medications and stocking).

A good vet tech can double or triple the efficiency of a veterinarian. I can juggle several simultaneous cases if I have a good vet tech who can give updates to pet owners, go over discharge instructions, answer questions and monitor patients. They are my eyes and ears when I am working in a busy emergency situation, and when we are working together in sync you can feel things moving smoothly along.

Some of the best techs I have worked with have been almost able to read my mind – if I have a trauma case come in, they will arrange and lay out all of the items I might need for the case, comfort a frightened owner, and be working to stabilize a patient with IV fluids and oxygen. It would be breaking the law to test my theory, but I bet that some of the best techs out there are better doctors than some of the vets I have known over the years!

One big downside to being a vet tech is the pay scale. They may dodge snapping teeth, avoid flying claws and take heaps of verbal abuse from angry pet owners, and do it all for less than the guy or gal behind the counter at your local greasy spoon! The economics of it are beyond what I can cover today, but suffice it to say that we lose many of our best techs to the higher dollars offered by the human medical nursing field.  It is a shame, but I can’t blame them for wanting to live a better and more financially rewarding life. Not too many techs can make enough to save for retirement.

Next time your vet pulls off an amazing save, or even does the routine stuff like vaccinating your puppy, make sure you acknowledge the contribution of the practice’s technicians to your pet’s health and well-being. They may not be earning much in terms of dollars, but they have earned our respect and sincere thanks.

-Photo Credit: From flickr by Jeffrey Beall

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