Anyone who has read James Herriot’s immortal novels about veterinary practice knows that much of the work he did with animals and pets he did by himself. The owners in the stories were either unable or unwilling to help and having any sort of assistant was reserved for extreme situations, like a difficult calving.
Fast forward to today and many pet owners will see a wide range of people working at the veterinary hospital. Are these veterinary technicians just like nurses in a human hospital?
The answer to that question is, to some extent, yes, but the reality is technicians actually perform a wider range of duties than do most nurses for people. Veterinary technicians end up being the nurse, laboratory technician, dental hygienist, phlebotomist, radiology tech, anesthetist and surgical assistant for your pet as well as helping provide essential information to animal owners.
Although the first attempts to certify veterinary assistants go back more than 100 years, the very first program to provide training was actually started by the United States Air Force in 1951. This was followed by a civilian program in 1961 at the State University of New York. Now, interested individuals can find more than160 programs available across the US and even enroll in online education courses.
To earn certification as a veterinary technician, a student must attend either a two year or four year accredited program in veterinary technology. This education will provide a broad background in everything from medical terminology and anatomy to pharmacology and animal nutrition. Some schools even include business and management courses.
Although the term “technician” is often used to describe any veterinary assistant, most states’ practice acts do define a veterinary technician as someone who has obtained the education described above and then passed the Veterinary Technician National Exam. These folks are designated as Licensed Veterinary Technicians (LVTs), Registered Veterinary Technicians (RVTs) or Certified Veterinary Technicians (CVTs).
Veterinary assistants, on the other hand, are usually trained on-the –job, but often have similar skills and duties. Again, each state defines what types of responsibilities and procedures assistants or technicians can perform.
In either case, both of these vital team members function as the right hand for many veterinarians. By performing tasks such as collecting blood samples, capturing x-rays or even providing important education to clients about parasites, the technicians help make the veterinarians more efficient. Your pet’s doctor can now focus on doing examinations, prescribing needed medications, diagnosing problems and performing surgery. Of course, the overall well-being of your pets is a primary concern for all technicians. This means they are also very skilled at providing exceptional levels of nursing care to pets who might be scared, in pain or simply anxious about being at the hospital.
Some technicians will even further their education and skills by specializing in areas such as anesthesiology, nutrition, behavior, dentistry or even zoo medicine.
According to the National Association of Veterinary Technicians in America (NAVTA; www.navta.net), there is a strong demand for graduates of veterinary technology programs. In fact, the Department of Labor lists veterinary technology as one of the top twenty fastest growing careers where education makes a difference. Another fun fact…95% of all veterinary technicians are women!
You know that your veterinarian is an important partner with you in the healthcare of your pets, but it is also crucial to get to know the other vital members of the veterinary care team. These are the folks who will be insuring that your cat stays warm after her spay surgery or that your dog’s pain medication is delivered on time. In many cases, veterinary technicians and assistants can also provide you with some rock solid advice about vaccinations, parasite prevention and even nutrition.