In the United States and Canada, veterinary technicians and animal health technologists are being recognized the week of October 14–20, 2012, as important members of the animal health care team. These dedicated individuals work in veterinary medicine throughout both countries, and are extremely important to providing high-quality patient care.
During this week, we express our appreciation and acknowledge and congratulate all veterinary technicians and animal health technologists for all they do to enhance the health and well-being of animals.
“Veterinary technicians are becoming more and more integral to the veterinary health care team,” says Dr. Kelly Black, director of Distance Education for the Veterinary Technology Program (DEVTP) at Cedar Valley College in Lancaster, Texas.
United States Veterinary Technician’s Oath
I solemnly dedicate myself to aiding animals and society by providing excellent care and services for animals, by alleviating animal suffering, and promoting public health. I accept my obligations to practice my profession conscientiously and with sensitivity, adhering to the profession’s Code of Ethics, and furthering my knowledge and competence through a commitment to lifelong learning.
“While the veterinarians are the ones making decisions on what treatments or diagnostics each patient needs, the technicians are the ones that are performing these tasks. Veterinary technicians’ responsibilities can range from a basic physical exam to administering and monitoring anesthesia,” Black notes.
Veterinary and animal health technicians are taught the basic principles of normal and abnormal health parameters needed to handle and care for all kinds of animals. Tasks they perform include drawing blood and running blood tests, analyzing biological samples like skin scrapings and urinalysis, cleaning teeth, giving medications, dressing wounds, applying splints and performing ear flushes.
“Technicians are frequently the first point of contact for clients and a major source of high-quality client education. They are trained to give information in preventative health care and recommendations that will help keep pets healthy.
“They increase the health care of pets in the hospital that are sick or undergoing surgery, by being able to monitor each pet for problems while the veterinarian is seeing other patients or doing procedures,” Black says.
Technicians also assist veterinarians during surgical procedures by placing catheters, providing equipment and instruments, and making sure the monitoring and support equipment is working properly.
They’re trained to run anesthesia and to monitor patients, recording multiple parameters including pulse, temperature, respiration and blood pressure. They maintain treatment and medical records, drug inventory, equipment and supplies, and help with many other tasks in the veterinary practice.
Some of the only things they can’t do are diagnose, perform surgery and prescribe medications. “Technicians are involved in some way in every aspect of veterinary care for every procedure performed in a veterinary hospital,” says Black.
Before veterinary technician training programs were created in the 1960s, veterinarians did most of the work themselves or hired students and office workers to feed the animals, clean cages, help answer phones and run the office. As animal health care and technology has evolved, there’s been an increased need for well-educated and trained technicians to take on greater responsibilities in the veterinary hospital.
“I have seen the role of technicians expand greatly in the last 10–15 years,” Black says. “In the last 2 decades, there has been a great expansion of not only the duties of technicians, but their education as well.”
A desire to work with animals is what draws individuals to become veterinary technicians. And getting an education and training is an important part of becoming a veterinary technician. Credentialed veterinary and animal health technicians must earn a 2-year associate’s or higher degree in veterinary technology from an accredited school.
Courses include intensive study in anatomy, physiology, microbiology, clinical techniques, pharmacology, anesthesiology, surgical and medical nursing, radiology, parasitology and clinical pathology.
Students must also pass an in-depth national or state examination, and demonstrate specific knowledge and skills competency to become credentialed.
In the United States, credentialed veterinary technicians are registered (RVT), licensed (LVT) or certified (CVT), depending on their state’s requirements. In Canada, a veterinary technician is called an animal health technician (AHT), and some provinces require technicians to be registered (RAHT).
To maintain their credentialed status, technicians are also required to practice lifelong learning through continuing education and to uphold high ethical standards.
Veterinary medicine has evolved to the point where the same high-tech options for testing and treating illnesses and diseases for people are available for our pets. Depending on their scope of practice and training, veterinary technicians may operate diagnostic screening equipment, including electrocardiographic (ECG), radiographic (X-ray) and ultrasonographic instruments, and even more advanced diagnostic machines like computed tomography (CT), magnetic resonance imagers (MRI) and gamma cameras.
Credentialed veterinary technicians can work in a variety of areas, including animal hospitals, laboratories, universities, animal shelters, research facilities and corporations, like drug companies and animal food firms.
“We have seen the rise of specialties within the profession where technicians can gain advanced knowledge and training in more specialized areas such as behavior, anesthesia or a species specialty,” says Black.
Advanced training is available for a veterinary technician who wants to become a veterinary technician specialist (VTS). Becoming a VTS requires additional training to receive credentials in one of the 10 specialties recognized by the National Association of Veterinary Technicians in America (navta.net) and described by the Veterinary Technician website (veterinarytechnician.com/specialties):
- Anesthesia specialty technicians use anesthesia and pain medications to lessen or eliminate discomfort during medical procedures. Their duties include preparing and administering anesthesia under the veterinarian’s supervision, adjusting drug dosages as necessary during surgery and assisting animals with recovery from anesthesia.
- Surgical specialty technicians assist with common surgical procedures such as orthopedic or soft-tissue surgeries and maintain the operating and recovery areas, clean and prepare surgical instruments and medical equipment, administer anesthesia or other presurgery medications, and perform postsurgical care.
- Internal medicine specialty technicians usually pursue a subspecialty, such as cardiology, neurology or oncology, or focus specifically on large or small animals.
- Dental specialty technicians provide dental services to all types of animals, usually under the supervision of a licensed veterinarian.
- Emergency and critical care specialty technicians work in hospitals or urgent care settings addressing emergencies, and observe and treat animals with critical illnesses.
- Behavior specialty technicians facilitate human–animal cooperation and bonding, from domestic pet training to working with zoos and wildlife. Specialists can also focus on animal therapy, behavior modification, or research and education.
- Zoo specialty technicians are trained in all aspects of zoological medicine, from basic health care to dentistry and diagnostic work.
- Equine specialty technicians focus on horse health and wellness, which usually requires certain physical abilities to handle and treat horses.
- Clinical practice specialty technicians typically work in private practice, specializing in canines and felines, exotic companion animals or farm animals.
- Nutrition specialty technicians specialize in basic animal nutrition, along with providing additional care related to food allergies and special nutritional needs.
“I think the future for veterinary technicians looks very bright. Most states (and provinces) either have, or are moving toward recognizing veterinary technicians as the professionals they are and requiring licensure or certification for them,” says Black.
“The veterinary profession as a whole is just starting to realize the benefits of having highly trained technicians and seeing that those veterinary practices that employ technicians have higher productivity and higher client satisfaction.
“Because this is a relatively young profession, there is a great vacuum that needs to be filled by capable professionals. Clients are demanding higher-quality health care for their pets, and technicians are the key to that. There are so many areas that technicians contribute to in the veterinary industry that the job possibilities are quite varied and extensive.”