This year, October 13–19 has been set aside to acknowledge, honor and thank veterinary technicians for the important roles they play in the day-to-day operations of veterinary practices, and in helping to preserve animal health and welfare. National Veterinary Technician Week, first celebrated in 1993, provides an opportunity to recognize the special contributions veterinary technicians make to enhance and protect the lives of our furry, feathered, scaled, or hooved animal friends and family members. Each year, during the third week of October, we celebrate and recognize the commitment they make to providing compassionate, high-quality health care for all animals.
(Left Image)Samantha Blake, LVT, of Caroline Animal Hospital in Milford, Va., performs rehabilitation on a dachshund. (Photo by Alex Grissom)(right image)Wendy Minarik, Veterinary Assistant at Austinburg Veterinary Clinic in Austinburg, Ohio, performs laser therapy on Phoenix, an American Pit Bull Terrier.
Veterinary technicians play many roles in a veterinary hospital. Every day brings opportunities to help not only their animal patients, but to also help educate, counsel and comfort pet owners. While veterinarians and veterinary technicians work very closely, there are a few things that only veterinarians are allowed to do: diagnose, initiate treatment, perform surgery and prescribe medications.
In the course of a day, veterinary technicians will work in many areas of the hospital, and play a variety of different and important roles, including:
Counselor: Veterinary technicians are one of the first people to speak to pet owners about their pets. They get the pet’s history and listen to the owners to understand and help document health issues and problems. Many times this includes helping the owner talk about and work through the emotions of a sick, injured or dying beloved pet. Having strong interpersonal skills is an asset for veterinary technicians because they must communicate effectively with the owner.
Teacher: Educating pet owners about diseases, treatments, medical procedures and home care is an important aspect of a veterinary technician’s job. Veterinary technicians play an important part in a team approach to help educate and instruct pet owners in ways to help prevent diseases and illnesses, and how to take care of pets after surgeries and treatments.
Caregiver: During a patient’s stay in the veterinary hospital, veterinary technicians are the people who care for the patients. This includes soothing an anxious patient by offering kind, quiet words of encouragement. They’re with the patient before, during and after a procedure or surgery to monitor and provide care, and to meet the patient’s needs. They’re also there to help comfort and listen to pet owners during challenging times when a pet is sick or ill, and during the difficult and challenging decisions and process of euthanasia.
Nurse: Administering medications, both oral and injectable, placing catheters, providing IV fluids, wrapping wounds and administering chemotherapy are just a few of the nursing care functions veterinary technicians perform on a daily basis. They assist veterinarians with the care of hospitalized patients, including making sure patients are clean, comfortable and well taken care of.
Anesthetist: Every day pets undergo dental and surgical procedures under anesthesia, and veterinary technicians are the people who administer and monitor these anesthetic procedures. They are trained to monitor patient vital signs and to recognize any changes during anesthetic procedures.
Surgical assistant: Veterinary technicians assist veterinarians in surgery by preparing the patient for surgery, sedating, intubating and administering anesthesia, setting up, cleaning and maintaining the surgical suite, handing instruments to the surgeon, and cleaning, organizing and sterilizing surgical instruments. An important part of their job is to monitor patients before, during and after surgical procedures.
Dental hygienist: Veterinary technicians perform dental cleanings and keep detailed dental charts of the patient’s mouth and teeth. They work closely with the veterinarian to determine which additional treatments, like extractions, are in the best interest of the patient. Key treatments they perform during dental procedures include cleaning the teeth, especially up and under the gum line, checking for gaps and pockets in the gums, and polishing the teeth. They also teach pet owners how to brush their pet’s teeth, and discuss products that can help prevent tartar and plaque building up in-between dental cleanings.
Emergency responder: Veterinary technicians are a critical part of the team during emergencies. They triage patients, evaluating each patient’s needs to determine which patients need to be seen first. They assess patient vital signs, evaluate the status and condition of each patient, help stabilize patients and communicate this information to the veterinarian. They are often part of first-responder teams, working to help animals during an emergency or disaster.
Lab technician/Phlebotomist: Performing blood draws on patients for a wide variety of tests is an important part of a veterinary technician’s job and expertise. Being able to comfort and help patients relax and cooperate during this procedure takes skill and initiative. Blood tests provide critical information to help veterinarians determine the underlying causes of diseases and illnesses, and technicians are often the ones running the equipment and performing these tests.
Pharmacy technician: Accurately filling prescriptions and maintaining a precise and accurate inventory of medications and controlled substances is also a function performed by veterinary technicians. Radiology technician: Radiographs, or X-rays, is another key diagnostic test that helps veterinarians diagnose patient illness and injury, and create a plan for treatment. Veterinary technicians play a key role in knowing how to set up specific views, position patients on the X-ray table, set up the X-ray machine, and help patients remain still so the radiograph can be taken.
Animal handler: When you think about the animal kingdom, there are a multitude of species and sizes of animals, and now people are keeping a wide variety of them as pets. Veterinary technicians most commonly work with cats, dogs, birds, and large animals like horses and cows. But they also work with mice, gerbils, guinea pigs, pigs, snakes, llamas, wildlife and just about any other animal you can think of.
Other responsibilities: In many veterinary hospitals, veterinary technicians perform duties like inventory control, ordering medical supplies and medications, and many have additional supervisory or management roles. And there’s always something to clean and maintain. They help keep diagnostic equipment, like lab equipment and anesthetic machines, safe and in working order. Another very important part of their job is to record patient information in the medical record, which requires additional data entry and computer knowledge.
A veterinary technician’s job requires continual attention to detail. They must be able to work in a fast-paced environment, demonstrating the ability to juggle multiple competing tasks and demands. Part of the job requires them to stand for long periods of time while performing work that requires focus and concentration. It’s also a physically challenging and demanding job that requires the ability to lift and handle animals of various sizes and species, bending, stooping and walking. The job can be emotionally challenging, and requires the ability to work with pet owners who have sick, injured or dying pets. They deal with life and death situations every day.
So the next time you’re in your veterinarian’s office, take a minute to say thank you to the veterinary technicians for all the things they do. Their jobs are challenging and are much more than petting puppies and kittens, although that is a wonderful benefit of the job. They’re committed to helping pets live long and healthy lives, and they do it because they’re compassionate caregivers who love animals.
Photo Credit: ©Alex Grissom(left image)/©Austinburg Veterinary Clinic(right image)