Meet Your Veterinary Team
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.”
The veterinary receptionist is the person with the smiling face who greets you when you arrive at the clinic. When you call your practice to schedule an appointment, ask a question or seek help for an emergency, you’ll likely speak with a receptionist. Because they’re usually the first and last people you’ll speak to at the clinic, they focus heavily on providing strong customer service. But their knowledge and skills often extend beyond this.
Veterinary receptionists are true multitaskers. They help ensure that you and your pet go home with the treatments and supplies your veterinarian has recommended. Many also can describe the services your pet will receive during a spay or neuter, for example, and explain the reason your pet needs certain services, such as preanesthetic testing before a surgical procedure. Some veterinary receptionists can also help teach you how to correctly administer medication your pet needs to receive.
“We provide aftercare, too,” says Rachael Hume, a receptionist at Southway Animal Clinic in Lewiston, Idaho. “I call pet owners after routine anesthetic procedures or follow up with clients after their pets visit our practice,” Hume says. “We work hard. Even while the practice is closed, our team members still come to clean, medicate and take care of all of our boarded and hospitalized patients.”
At some veterinary practices, particularly small practices with limited staff, veterinary technicians and receptionists are the same people. Talk about multitasking!
This person works behind the scenes, and you might not see the practice manager during your veterinary visit. But even though they’re often out of sight, practice managers are still hard at work ensuring you get great service and your pets get great care. In fact, one of the practice manager’s jobs is quality control. The shortest definition of a practice manager’s job: If it isn’t medical, it’s the practice manager’s responsibility.
“I tell clients that I’m the business manager for the practice,” says Pam Weakley, the practice manager at Dickman Road Veterinary Clinic in Battle Creek, Mich. “I do the hiring and firing, employee reviews — everything that has to do with human resources. I also talk with clients if they have a billing question or a service complaint.”
In some veterinary clinics, practice managers also plan and organize the training to bring new team members up to speed and keep veteran employees fresh. They also often head up the practice’s outreach, such as writing the practice’s newsletter, overseeing the practice’s website, organizing special events for pet owners and looking for ways the veterinarians and team members can get involved in the community.
During busy times, practice managers also serve as an extra set of hands, jumping in with anything from cleaning up pet accidents to answering phones. This person is another helpful veterinary team member who stops to greet you and coo over your cat or pet your pooch in the reception area.
Keep in mind that even though practice managers don’t directly provide health care, they’re still involved in your pet’s care. If you have a concern about how you or your pet were treated, the practice manager serves as the liaison between you and the owner of the veterinary practice. What’s more, when practice managers handle all of the nonmedical situations, veterinarians’ schedules are freed. “The doctors have more time to take care of pets, which means the client and pet receive faster, more efficient service,” Weakley says.
The next time you visit your veterinary practice, pay special attention to all the team members serving you and your pet. You might just find a whole new group of experts who can answer your pet care questions and help your furry friends live a long, healthy life.