What is a Vet Tech anyway?

What exactly is a Vet Tech? I have heard this asked many times and I am not sure that the question is ever answered out there in the general public.

Most people do not know what a Vet Tech is or what we do. But if you ever take your pet into a veterinary clinic and had some one come into the exam room and take your pet’s temperature, look over their gum color, weighs them and do a cursory exam, then you have probably just met the Vet Tech at that hospital.

Now in many hospitals, and unfortunately in many of them here in my county, there are not enough licensed technicians to work and so the ‘kennel help’ is trained to do these things by the vet or another team member in the back room. Can they do the job correctly? Sometimes. Is it legal for them to do the job of a licensed technician? In a word, no.

There is an ongoing debate over this and the definition of what constitutes ‘direct supervision’ by the presiding veterinarian.For many things that these team members do, they do fine with on the job training. But when it comes to giving an anesthetic to an animal, or a proper dental, I do not believe these lay people are trained properly nor should be allowed to do certain procedures.

Veterinarians are liable to the public and the state boards and if someone loses a pet due to a non-licensed, non-trained person doing an improper procedure on their pet, or a one they are not licensed to do,ย  then the owner can take legal action against the clinic, the veterinarian and the technician. And we, as licensed para-professionals, are liable to the VMB (veterinary medical board) as well.

Now I was a non-licensed vet tech for 13 yrs. However, I did NOT do anesthetics. I did NOT do dental procedures beyond my training. But I was highly trained before I landed my job up here. I was a vet tech in San Diego and had training down there. I also accrued over 450 CE (continuing education) credits in my 20 yrs at this practice up here. That is about 4 times what the average Veterinarian accrues over the lifetime of his/her career.

Why? I have a thirst to learn. I learned everything I could, went to every training seminar I could afford or attend. I became certified in Small Animal Nutrition 5 times. I am working on the 6th now. That wasn’t enough for me. I loved doing dentistry, so I decided to specialize in it.ย  I attended classes at UC Davis, and hours of seminars and trainings in Reno and online. I also became the first Certified Small Animal Veterinary Dental Technician in this county. I was very proud of that.

So that is all good and well you must be thinking. But what do RVTs (Registered Veterinary Technician) actually do? When I was first licensed we were still called Animal Health Technicians, but that seemed limiting to the Veterinary Medical Board so they changed it right afterward to Registered Veterinary Technician. I am a Certified Vet Tech in Oregon. I am licensed to practice in both states.

Well let’s see what a typical day was like in the clinic:

I would arrive between 8- 8:30 to start the day. The kennel person was usually there cleaning and feeding all the animals that had spent the night, such as spays and neuters, and other surgeries.

First thing I would normally do is check on the patients that had been there overnight from a surgery the day before. I would remove tape from legs, check to see if they were eating, check incisions and the color of their gums and even their ears. I would note their movements and whether or not they were B&A (bright and alert). We love acronyms in the medical world. Almost as much as us computer geeks love them. (I am one of those too).

So I would check the HBC(hit by car) to see if he was RTG (ready to go) and made sure his BW (blood work) was done and his bill was tallied.
If it was a OVH (ovariohysterectomy) or a canine neuter, I would check to see if they had gotten their (feline) vaccinations such as FELV (feline leukemia virus), FIP (feline infectious peritonitis) or Rabies vaccinations.

If it as a BBBD (bit by big dog) then we usually had them a few days so I would check wound drainage etc.
Funny huh? I once wrote a whole surgery schedule (14 animals) along with minor procedures on the white board all in acronyms to see how many team members could read it. Only the vet got most of them.

Back to a day in the life….

The receptionist was starting to bring back the day’s surgeries and we would start to get them ready for their surgeries later in the day by tagging them with a collar, giving them a pre-op sedative if needed or pulling pre-op blood work to run. At times I had about 10 to run at once.

After we got the animals situated there were exams to help the doctor with or xrays to take or dentals to prep. Once the doc was done with clients and patients I would start the procedure to anesthetize a cat or dog to prep them for a surgery- typically a spay or neuter. This took a some time to do with the help of my assistant and then I had to do the actual surgery prep. This is done with the utmost care and as aseptically possible so it takes about 15 minutes depending on the size of the patient.

Then while the doc did the surgery I stood by and monitored the breathing, pulse and color of the gums.
After surgery I would monitor the pet while they woke up, then would clean the surgery room and start the surgical pack soaking. If we were swamped with surgeries I would hand that off to another member and start another surgical prep.

We wove surgeries in around the doc seeing clients in the exam room. With only one vet you don’t have the freedom to get all the surgeries done by one while another one see the clients. I wished many times that we had but then we would have been done so fast!

I worked with (read: trained) many new veterinarians right out of school and was amazed at how little hands on work they did and how little they knew about actually treating animals. They knew all about diseases and theories on treatments, but actually working on patients and knowing how to do things like splint a fractured leg we had to teach them. I was left with my jaw hanging more than once during the 20 years I as at the clinic here.

So while the vet saw patients we were in the back room doing treatments, dentals, x-rays, toe nail trims, or I was up front talking to clients picking up their pets and giving them after care instructions.
I sold a lot of dog and cat food too. Dentals took a lot of time as do x-rays of animals. Sometimes we did barium series X-rays which were always fun to try and do before you got it all over the x-ray cassettes and yourself.

Sometimes I just got to sit quietly with a recovering pet and watch some fluid intake or read to them. Yep you read that right- I would read to them. It helped calm them and they were attentive listeners. I read a whole article once on the surgical repair of ACL ruptures (there is one of those pesky acronyms again) to a huge dog that was recovering from one. The guys reading this know that term because it is ‘football knee’ in the world of sports and had ended many a career. (Ok I will tell you what it is, it is an Anterior Cruciate Ligament tear). I know, you just had to know.

So that is a small portion of what we do behind the scenes. I will write more about it later. But let me ask you out there- how many of you knew what a Veterinary Technician was and what we do? How many of you out there know your technicians at the clinic you take your pets to?

What can you tell me about them?ย  Did you know your Vet has/had one and do you know what she/he does? Are they licensed?
Please leave me your comments!