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Every year the veterinary profession honors its unsung heroes by celebrating National Veterinary Technician Week (October 11 through 17). Though we rely on them every day to do tons of our heavy lifting, we don’t often give them enough credit — not in public anyway. Appreciating them every third week in October is one of the many ways in which we express our gratitude for all they do.
When I first graduated, I thought I’d fast-track my practice experience by throwing myself to the wolves. Which explains why I accepted a position at a regional animal emergency room and started working the graveyard shift well before the bloom had faded on my graduation day flowers.
You might call this kind of work “trial by fire.” Except that Mary was there. Which made it more like “trial by veterinary nurse.”
By sheer virtue of being a veterinarian's right-hand person in most medical procedures, Mary was a seasoned technician who knew the drill and could provide invaluable prompts, especially for a newly minted vet like me.
Mary was there for the love of animals and her profession, of course, but she was also there to make sure that no veterinarian ever mismanaged her patients. She would surreptitiously check my calculations, kindly offer suggestions, scrub in on surgeries, and generally clue me in on what my superiors and subordinates expected of me.
Without Mary, I would have survived (as would my patients have, I believe), but the process probably wouldn’t have been as “pretty.” Nor would I have learned half as much as I did in my first two years of practice (or stayed half as sane as I did). She was, effectively, my mentor –– and a masterful one at that.
Veterinary technicians (aka veterinary nurses) like Mary are rarely described as mentors. Yet the reality of human and animal practice alike is that quality mentorship is tough to come by for doctors who desperately need it. But doctors, unfortunately, tend to consider themselves too busy or too important to “hold colleagues’ hands” and tend to focus instead on barreling through the next task.
Which brings me to the point of my post. There are plenty of things veterinarians would do well to pick up from their nursing counterparts:
1. “Holding hands” (aka teaching). Despite the fact that we’re taught in school the best way to learn a procedure effectively is via mentorship (“watch one, do one, teach one”), once out in practice, we tend to think ourselves superior to the task and forget all about the importance of teaching.
Veterinary technicians never forget this. They know that a big part of their job involves training new staff members. We also know that the best techs are the best teachers. Given that reality, veterinarians should emulate our best and take on some of the teaching duties, too.
2. It’s OK to hug your clients. When first out of school, I felt it “unprofessional” to hug my clients. Expressing sympathy was best done with a few choice words. My techs, however, taught me that a well-timed hug is way better than words in certain instances. The hard part is getting the timing right.
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