Veterinary Technicians: The Quiet Angels Of Veterinary Medicine
In your veterinarian’s office at this very moment, there are people performing miraculous feats. They are compassionate, hardworking, and patient, able to comfort the owner who has just been told that her dog needs lifesaving surgery, calm a terrified cat attempting to climb the walls of an exam room, all the while carefully monitoring the wellbeing of the numerous hospitalized patients in their care. These souls are the often unsung heroes of veterinary medicine.
They are Veterinary Technicians.
So in honor of this month’s National Veterinary Technician Week (held annually the third week in October), here are just a few reasons why veterinary technicians are so invaluable.
So Much More Than Meets The Eye
Veterinary technicians are your veterinarian’s right hand, and the glue that holds most veterinary practices together. Many people equate veterinary technicians with nurses in human medicine, but this isn’t entirely accurate. Instead, veterinary technicians are an amazing combination of nurses, dental hygienists, phlebotomists, radiology technicians, surgical assistants, anesthesiologists, physical therapists, laboratory technicians, nutritionists, and grief counselors.
They work in private practices, emergency centers, university teaching hospitals, research labs, animal shelters, wildlife management programs, and zoos. In fact, it’s very common for veterinary technicians to have more hands-on animal experience than new veterinarians.
Veterinary technicians can more than double the productivity and efficiency of the veterinarians with whom they work. They’re able to monitor patients after surgery, discharge pets while explaining go-home instructions to their owners in detail, answer client questions about behavior, nutrition and vaccines, and prioritize emergency cases coming into the hospital. Since all of these roles were once filled only by veterinarians, this frees up doctors to perform other critical tasks.
A Day In The Life Of A Veterinary Technician
A typical day for a veterinary technician may include any (or all) of the following:
- Obtaining the patient’s medical history and vital sign information.
- Drawing blood and preparing it for testing.
- Taking and preparing x-rays.
- Treating and medicating hospitalized patients.
- Inserting intravenous and urinary catheters and calculating drip rates for IV fluid administration.
- Surgical assisting.
- Performing dental cleaning.
- Properly restraining animals for vaccination, treatments, procedures, and exams.
- Changing bandages and dressing wounds.
- Performing in-house laboratory procedures, including fecal analysis, heartworm testing, Feline Leukemia/FIV testing, and urinalysis.
- Calculating medication dosages.
- Providing client education, including care instructions, training tips, and animal behavior and nutrition information.
- Preparing animals for surgery.
- Releasing pets to caregivers with detailed instructions for aftercare.
Registered (or Certified) Veterinary Technicians, who have completed a degree in Veterinary Technology from a school accredited by the American Veterinary Medical Association, are able to perform even more specialized tasks, including:
- Suturing skin incisions.
- Administering vaccines.
- Providing emergency care in the absence of a veterinarian.
- Monitoring and adjusting anesthetic levels during surgery.
- Treating trauma, including hit-by-car injuries, severe bleeding, and shock.
- Performing tooth extractions under the supervision of a veterinarian.
- Assessing and treating labor and birthing emergencies.
- Reading and interpreting lab test results.
The Angels Of Veterinary Medicine
Veterinary technicians are also counselors, able to give advice and emotional support when your new puppy is chewing everything in sight, and crying with you when it’s time to say goodbye to your senior dog. They feel the pain of loss and euthanasia on a daily basis, yet their well of compassion is almost always inexplicably full.
They deal with fear daily, both human and animal, and their ability to calm the most terrified pet and panicked owner is extraordinary. They have been vomited on, shouted at by emotional clients, covered in blood (and various other bodily fluids), bitten, scratched, underappreciated, underpaid, and beaten up, both physically and emotionally. Their days are long, and the stress of their job is high.
Yet veterinary technicians don’t do what they do for money (in fact, their salaries are much lower than their counterparts in human medicine), nor do they do it for accolades. They do it, quietly and consistently, because they know they have a rare opportunity to make a real difference in the world, every day of their lives. Veterinary medicine is in their blood, and they wouldn’t have it any other way - emotional roller coaster be damned.
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