The Three Most Important Roles of a Vet Tech

vet-techIf hugs counted for $1 apiece, the U.S. government could balance their budget on the number of free hugs technicians give to clients. Veterinary technicians do it for love.

Veterinary technicians, with characteristic unbridled passion, are the unsung champions of veterinary medicine, and pet owners celebrated National Veterinary Technician Week, Oct. 11-17.

"Yes, we do enjoy hugging," laughs Julie Legred, Bricelyn, MN.-based executive director of the National Association of Veterinary Technicians in America (NAVTA).

The one word describing the role veterinary technicians have today is vital, and that role is escalating. It's hard to imagine that certified veterinary technicians might do more. After all, today, the average veterinary technologist is equivalent to about three human registered nurses and a half a doctor.

"I haven't looked at that way," says Legred. "It's true, though." Legred offers a long list of jobs, which nearly all certified technicians accomplish daily. Veterinary technicians assist in dentals like human dental hygienists; they're the radiologists handling X-rays; techs offer nutrition and behavior advice to pet owners; they describe how to give medication to a pet who might not want it, and explain how to use products and when to use products, such as heartworm preventives; conduct dog training classes; run lab tests; assist the veterinarian in handling animals; assisting in surgery, including the administration and monitoring of anesthesia. And when hospitalized dogs need to go potty-guess who brings the plastic bag along for the walk?

You might think the average technician requires cloning to get it all done. Or at the very least a change in describing their roles to registered veterinary nurses. Technicians would fall under one national registration standard (rather than several standards) – and since their jobs are so much like nurses, why not call them that? NAVTA is working with organized veterinary medicine to achieve this change.

Virginia Rud, a technician for 15 years and an instructor at veterinary technology at Mascatine Community College in Muscatine, IA, says she believes technicians' three most important roles are not those technical jobs but instead involve pet owner communication.

At the top of the list, Rud says, "Is to do my best to keep the pet in the home. Behavior problems are the No. 1 reason pet are given up, and most often when they are young. My goal is to do what I reasonably can."

No. 2 is to communicate the importance of preventive care, as doing so really can increase the lifespan and quality of life of the pet. "We know this, but pet owners may not realize" says Rud. "In my experience, though, when you sit down and explain the importance of preventive care to clients, they get it. And how more frequent visits are important especially as pets age. I point out that pets age much faster than we do. In fact, visiting more often likely saves [pet owners] money."

Rud adds a third important role that technicians have: to help a pet make the transition when it reaches end of life.

"Loss is hard, and it's a very large part of our job to counsel grieving pet owners," says Legred, "It's hard on us too, sometimes really hard. We've known many of these pets since they were puppies or kittens, and help them to get over behavior problems or health crises. And we do [deal with end of life] every day."

To educate clients, you need to be educated. Professional technicians are seeking new ways to grow their knowledge and their careers. Merial (a pet pharmaceutical based in Duluth, GA) helped to model of a sort of super education to generate Tech Champions.

To celebrate technicians, the nonprofit Winn Feline Foundation which raises money to support cat health studies, launched a new program to support vet techs called the Veterinary Technician Honor Roll. With a $100 donation to Winn, pet owners, veterinarians or colleagues honor a tech, who receives a plaque and also acknowledgement on the Winn website. "It's very cool," Legred says. This is a great way to honor veterinarians and also to help cats.

"I very much like where our profession is headed," says Legred, who by this time next year may be called an RVN or registered veterinary nurse.

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Positively Expert: Steve Dale

Steve is a certified dog and cat behavior consultant, has written several books, hosts two nationally syndicated radio shows, and has appeared on numerous TV shows including "The Oprah Winfrey Show," "National Geographic Explorer," and "Pets Part of the Family." Steve’s blog is


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