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Love Letter to a Profession

by Leslie Popplewell Ferguson, RVT

Most of my professional career has not been spent in a veterinary hospital. Not by design but by happenstance. While at my first job after tech school, I was recruited into a sales role for an animal health pharmaceutical company. From there I worked in sales and then moved into marketing for several animal health pharma companies.

After working with the best marketing team in animal health, our company purchased our largest competitor and we all went our separate ways. Insert broken heart emoji here. I don’t know that I’ve recovered from losing co-workers who had become friends, and a family away from my own.

However, this situation gave me the opportunity to return to practice, part-time, at an American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) & Fear Free Certified Practice, a unicorn if you will.

I love veterinary medicine. CSRs, Assistants, Vet Techs, and Vets are my people. I am comfortable in a practice, at a conference, or a sales meeting with these professionals because I feel at home with this crew. My first in-clinic job since 2003 has become my happy place. I started the year before the pandemic and am lucky to work with the most well-honed group of Registered Veterinary Technicians I’ve ever met.

Over the past 20 years, many pet parents I speak to didn’t know that veterinary technology (nursing) is a profession. Years ago, I started making the comparison by stating we are the nurses of veterinary healthcare. When I told people that “I’m a veterinary technician”, I’d get a blank stare. Compounding the confusion, there is no national naming convention for our profession. Each state can credential and call us as they choose. When I started making the comparison of the RNs of veterinary medicine, people then had a frame of reference of what we actually do.

Veterinary Technicians/Nurses are credentialed professionals similar to human nurses. Veterinary Nurses are also anesthetists, surgery technicians, radiology technicians, medical laboratory technicians, and dental hygienists.

Alphabet Soup of Credentials

One reason it is confusing, even among the profession is because of credentialing across the United States. There is an alphabet soup of credentials that fall under the title “Veterinary Technician”. Depending on the state you live in, a credentialed technician could be:

  • Certified Veterinary Technician (CVT)

  • Registered Veterinary Technician (RVT)

  • Licensed Veterinary Technician (LVT)

  • Licensed Veterinary Medical Technician (LVMT)

  • And in some states, there's no credentialing at all

A Veterinary Tech/Nurse must graduate from an American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) accredited veterinary technician program and then must pass the Veterinary Technician National Exam (VTNE), which is administered by the American Association of Veterinary State Boards (AAVSB). Whew! That’s a lot of acronyms, but each one represents a set of rigorous skills and standards that ensure the vet tech is prepared.

Utilization of Nursing Staff

This year, AAHA has come out with Technician Utilization Guidelines. Part of the struggles we face as Veterinary Technicians/Nurses is the lack of support for us to use our education, skills, and professionalism to help employers provide the best care possible.

Veterinary Technicians/Nurses are educated to assist veterinarians in many ways. They compile patient case histories, collect specimens, perform laboratory procedures, provide nursing care, assist in medical procedures, administer anesthetics, take radiographs, advise and educate animal owners, supervise and train personnel, and much more. Pets get the best care when hospitals are staffed appropriately with the right team members doing the jobs they were educated to do.

Some of the things you might not see that a Veterinary Tech/Nurse does for your pet:

  • Assist in surgery and monitor anesthesia

  • Perform lab work including Microbiology, Parasitology, and Hematology

  • Take digital and film radiographs (x-rays) and perform ultrasounds

  • Complete dental cleanings and dental radiology

  • Post-injury/surgery rehabilitation

  • Provide emergency/critical care

  • Handle and safely restrain a wide range of animal patients

  • Direct pet parent’s homecare

When a clinic has the right formula for the utilization of Veterinary Tech/Nurse, your pet is going to have the right care for their particular medical or wellness needs. If you are looking for a new veterinary practice, look for one with credentialed nursing staff.

Our Week

Although Veterinary Technicians/Nurses have our interests rooted in science, medicine, and problem-solving, we have compassion for animals as a motivating force. This annual event is celebrated beginning the second Monday in October, and the whole month of October in Canada (just another reason to love our northern neighbors), recognizing Veterinary Technicians/Nurses for their contributions to pet healthcare. Veterinary Nurses/ Technicians work closely with your veterinarian, assistants, practice managers, and other staff to ensure the best quality care for your pet.

Outside of the traditional small, large, or mixed animal practice, you’ll find Veterinary Technicians/Nurses working in the following:

  • Veterinary Teaching Hospitals

  • Academic Institutions

  • Research Laboratories

  • Animal Shelters

  • Veterinary Sales and Marketing

  • Pharmaceuticals

  • Public Health

  • Government

  • Zoos

  • Wildlife Rehabilitation Centers

Why are Vet Techs/Nurses Important?

Until 2019, there had been an almost 17-year gap between my working in private practice. There are many things I missed about practice, some I haven’t. Primarily the relationships with staff, wonderful pet parents, and long-lasting relationships with patients who stay with you. Duke Johnson, a Staffordshire Bull Terrier. Teddy, a Domestic Short Hair who had Immune Mediated Hemolytic Anemia. Truman Bowman is simply the best Boxer, ever! Finn, a Norwegian Fjørding horse. The first Fjørding I met outside of Norway and my connection to his homeland made me enjoy his sweet demeanor even more.

I know these patients because I care. I don’t particularly try, I just do. I want the best for our patients and so do the technicians (and our whole staff). Currently, I’m working in a small animal private practice that rivals any I have ever worked or visited as a sales rep or marketing manager. Why?

First, this practice utilizes their Technician/Nurses appropriately. We do everything EXCEPT: perform surgery, diagnose disease, prescribe medicine.

Second, we are a Fear Free Practice.

Third, I get to work with the strongest group of Veterinary Tech/Nurse I’ve ever worked with.

Patients here get compassionate care rooted in best medicine. I am in awe of the command my colleagues have for pharmacology, dentistry, surgical nursing, a nurse anesthetist, and they have mad microbiology and cytology skills. I haven’t always worked with people with whom I care to spend time outside of work. This team, I have! Not often because I’m the old lady of the group but I have fun when I do.

I’ve had great jobs in the past. I’ve worked for supportive bosses and an alcoholic one. It’s run the span of good, bad, and ugly. I relished working for a former company with the best group of animal health marketers in the industry, then the company broke my heart. Two years later I still haven’t fully recovered. I’m fortunate to have found my hospital.

I’m learning to believe in my nursing abilities again and revel in every minute of helping first-time pet parents learn about the wellness process of puppy & kittenhood. Answering questions about nutrition and the top things to consider when choosing food. Successful peripheral blood draws, and ultrasound-guided cystocentesis, yea me! I’m having such a good time doing all of these nursing responsibilities in a job I have been on the bleachers for nearly 20 years.

Down Side

Veterinary medicine as a whole has many struggles. But it will always have my heart. High suicide rates, high stress, low pay, revolving door of staff, and abusive pet owners to name a few. When you zero in on veterinary technicians, underutilization has been a consistent theme. Those of us who love this profession will not give up on it, we just need a little support along the way.

Thank Your Team

Veterinary Tech/Nurses are critical to the day-to-day function of veterinary practices and play vital roles in preserving animal health and welfare. High-quality veterinary care occurs when Veterinary Nurses are utilized to the best of their abilities.

Veterinary Nurses are a fun lot to work with (If I do say so myself). We aren’t in it for the money or glory – none of that comes with the job. A simple thank you is an easy way to help celebrate National Veterinary Technician Week.

Cheers to my colleagues around the world!

Happy National Veterinary Technology Week!

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