Monthly Archives: October 2012
This week is National Veterinary Technician Week. It is meant to be a week to give recognition and gratitude to the thousands of veterinary technicians that work in the industry. I would like to take this opportunity to give a big shout out to veterinary technicians.
Many people in the general public have this idea that a vet tech spends their day playing with cute and fuzzy kittens and puppies, or that they are nothing more than glorified kennel cleaners. Nothing could be farther from the truth.
On a daily basis, veterinary technicians are expected to be able to draw blood, place IV catheters, run lab work, provide excellent nursing care, anesthetize an animal and monitor them under anesthesia, perform dental cleanings, take radiographs, manage wounds, give medications, fill prescriptions, assist in surgery and take an initial client history. In addition, they are often called to be receptionists, schedule managers, bill collectors and grief counselors. They are peed on, pooped on, bit, scratched, banged up and of course, covered with the lovely scent of anal glands. They do all of these things while working long hours, often missing lunch, and for dismally low wages compared to what their human nursing counterparts receive.
It is physically demanding to be a veterinary technician. They lift and restrain heavy dogs. They are on their feet most of the day. Many veterinary technicians have back and neck problems from all of the lifting, squatting and restraining. They are the ones that do the back breaking work in veterinary medicine. They often suffer from neck and back problems from the physical part of their job.
If you know a vet tech, ask them to see their hands and arms. Changes are very high that they are covered in bruises, scratches and bite marks. I have been a veterinarian for 8 years, and I have one scar from a dog bite. This is not because I am particularly talented, but because I have had awesome technicians.
On top of all of that, they also deal with rude clients and grumpy doctors. It is not terribly uncommon that a client will be snide or rude to a technician, only to be full of praise and fawning when the veterinarian walks into the room. I have witnessed stressed out doctors yell, snap at and sometimes actually throw surgical instruments/syringes/a Mayo stand at technicians. I have to admit that unfortunately there have been more than a few times I have taken out my frustrations on the closest target, which is usually the poor tech.
You may be asking yourself why on earth anyone would choose this profession. I’ll tell you why…it is because they love animals. That really is it. They don’t do it for the money, or fame, or glory, or the fat retirement package waiting for them after a cushy desk job. They do it for the animals. Vet technicians often have a herd of animals at home, many of whom have been adopted from the clinic they work at, or rescued from a shelter.
When there is a sick dog or cat in the hospital, it is usually the vet tech that is keeping them warm, dry and comfortable. I have seen vet techs sitting patiently next to a sick anorexic dog, hand feeding them pieces of a rotisserie chicken that they bought at the store. I have seen vet techs patiently bathing Parvo puppies that are covered in foul diarrhea. They are the ones that will request more pain medication for the dog with the broken leg, and cuddle the chilly kitten.
Because veterinary technicians generally spend much more time with the patients than the veterinarian does, they will often be more affected by the death or euthanasia of the patient. They care deeply about their patients. They are offended when they see cases of neglect and abuse. They often are involved in and passionate about animal rights.
If I do an amazing surgery to save the life of an animal, I get the gratitude and praise of the client. What the client doesn’t often realize though, is that it was the technician who placed the difficult IV catheter, who saw their critical animal safely through a risky surgery, and who did the most important nursing care in the recovery days. Often times it has been the vet tech who tells me to breathe and calm down in surgery when an artery starts gushing blood up to the ceiling.
I always secretly laugh when clients insist that the DOCTOR trims their dog’s toenails, or when the DOCTOR cleans the cat’s teeth. In all honestly, I suck at toe nail trims and technicians are much faster than I am at dental cleanings. If a skilled technician is having a hard time drawing blood and turns to me, I am secretly afraid. How on earth will I get it if they can’t?
A good technician is a lifesaver for a veterinarian. There are days at a vet clinic where the schedule is triple booked, an emergency is on its way, the phones are ringing off the hook, and it looks like a bomb went off in the treatment area. On those days, I am comforted if I have good technicians surrounding me. They have brought me lunch when I didn’t get one, boosted my confidence after a screw up, and consoled me when I felt like everything I touched was dying. If you are a lucky veterinarian you have had a technician stroll into your office with a big coffee, soda or hunk of chocolate when you are having an awful day.
So, here’s a shout out to all veterinary technicians…especially the ones that I have worked with over the years. Thank you for the amazing, compassionate work that you do. You will never receive the pay or recognition you deserve. Please enjoy this week that is meant to honor your hard work, compassion and dedication. You are the unsung heroes, and whether you know it or not you touch countless animal and human lives on a daily basis.