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In my hectic fledgeling days as a companion animal veterinarian in the early 1980s, my duties ran from the miraculous to the mundane. For hours in the morning, I’d be in the exam room diagnosing or treating pets; in the early afternoon, I would spend time in the surgery room doing a variety of things from spays and neuters to complicated orthopedic surgeries. In between, I would scramble to find a moment to look up a difficult case in my textbooks, eat lunch and do callbacks.
There were so many more things that had to be done, too: taking a pet’s vital signs, drawing blood for tests, putting in catheters, giving medications, taking and processing radiographs, changing bandages — even cleaning pets’ teeth. I was chronically rushed and not able to spend as much time as I would have liked with many patients and pet owners.
Fortunately, in the early '90s, veterinary medicine started welcoming licensed, registered and certified veterinary technicians (LVTs, CVTs and RVTs) to assist in caring for patients. That change made my days much less hectic and dramatically increased the quality of care I could provide. Today, the label is changing — they are veterinary nurses, not vet techs — but the work they do is still incredibly important to the patients and practices they serve.
When I'm seeing patients at North Idaho Animal Hospital, I work with a wonderful veterinary nurse named Michelle. Like tens of thousands of veterinary nurses nationwide, Michelle is more than just another set of hands to fill in paperwork, restrain a pet during an exam, or fetch a vaccine or medication; she brings another set of senses and skills to the process of a pet going from the living room at home to the exam room and back home. She often feels a lump I missed, notices extra eyelashes that are causing discomfort or remembers another patient in the past whose symptoms looked very similar. Michelle and I typically discuss cases right in front of the pet owner. And far from making me, the veterinarian, look less smart and capable, her expertise complements my knowledge, experience and authority, and raises the pet owner's confidence in the quality of the care we are providing.
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