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Look around your veterinary practice and you’ll see a network of people taking care of you and your pets. One veterinary team member is answering phones while another is discussing nutrition with someone who owns a Rottweiler. Across the room, a pretty Persian cat gets a pedicure from an agile person wearing scrubs. These people are referred to as veterinary team members. They support your veterinarian’s efforts to serve you as a client and to keep your pets healthy. Here are the specifics about three key team member positions.
From the diagnostic testing lab to the exam room to the surgical suite, technicians are busy taking radiographs, cleaning your pet’s teeth under a veterinarian’s supervision, anesthetizing your pet or administering vaccinations (also under veterinary supervision), and taking your pet’s history.
Many veterinary technicians are registered (RVT), licensed (LVT) or certified (CVT), which means they’ve completed a two- or four-year clinical training program and passed appropriate tests, such as the Veterinary Technician National Examination. They also keep their certification up-to-date by periodically completing a certain number of continuing education credits. This ensures they’re applying the most current information to caring for you and your pets. Some technicians have also earned specialty designations in areas such as anesthesia and critical care. Uncredentialed veterinary technicians (without official certification) and veterinary assistants are also important at many practices. These professionals may have decades of experience (or, in some cases, very little) but have not completed an accredited clinical training program. Depending on the practice, they may perform different tasks, including assisting technicians and restraining animals.
“A credentialed veterinary technician is similar to a registered nurse,” says Julie Sontag, AAT, RVT, a technician at Clairmont Animal Hospital in Decatur, Ga. “However, an RVT [or LVT or CVT] performs a bigger variety of tasks. We are the radiograph technician, laboratory technician, dental technician, critical care nurse, pediatric nurse, anesthetist, hospice nurse and so on. From anesthesia and hospitalized cases to laboratory procedures and emergencies, I must keep my eyes focused on everything happening at the hospital throughout the day.”
So when will you talk with a technician? Depending on the practice, the technician may be the person who checks your pet in and discharges him after surgery. He or she may also ask you questions about your pet’s medical history before the doctor’s exam. “Many pet owners are surprised when I tell them I will be examining the ear cytology I just swabbed or the urine or blood sample I just collected,” Sontag says. “I can answer most of the clients’ questions before the veterinarian comes into the room. Once clients know about our medical training, they understand the high-quality care we provide.”
Some might think the role of technician is the last step toward becoming a veterinarian. Instead, a veterinary technician is a separate career from a veterinarian, just as a nurse is different from a doctor in human medicine. “For me,” Sontag says, “a career in veterinary technology is the opportunity to assist the veterinarian in providing high-quality medicine and care, to provide patient advocacy, to educate clients and to provide another educated professional within our hospital to deliver the stellar service we promise.”
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