Veterinary technicians are the underdogs, the unsung heroes of veterinary medicine. Indeed, Patrick Navarre, executive director of the National Association of Veterinary Technicians in America, says the public might be surprised at the range of tasks which vet techs accomplish daily.
For example, in her job, Beth Klein – a certified technician working at a private practice in Richmond, Mich. – may likely administer anesthetic to pets undergoing surgery; clean teeth; give new puppy owners advice on house training; position pets for X-Rays; take blood and offer initial analysis of the blood sample based on what she sees under a microscope; measure the pet’s temperature and weight; administer care and medication to animals in the hospital; explain and demonstrate care for pets following surgery; and offer hugs and hand holding during and following euthanasia.
It sounds exhausting. “”It’s all in a day’s work, but I love my job,”” she cheers. “”It’s hands-on with the animals, and at the same time, I’m a people person and a great deal of my time is spent just talking with people. I’m both a patient advocate, as well as a general assistant for the veterinarian.””
Navarre, who is in Lafayette, Ind. where he is on faculty at the vet school at Purdue University, says there is no correlation in human medicine to easily describe the daily work of veterinary technicians. It sort of falls somewhere between what registered nurses, nurse practitioners and physician assistants do, but not exactly.
Once upon a time, nearly all vet techs were assistants to veterinarians who learned on the job. Their backgrounds were rarely science based, and they hardly ever received formal training or schooling on how to be a veterinary technician.
Twenty five years ago, the National Association of Veterinary Technicians in America (NAVTA) was created to offer standards to member technicians. Navarre was at that first meeting with barely two dozen other interested technicians. Today, the association boasts nearly 4,000 members. All NAVTA members have formal training and regularly participate in continuing education programs.
Arguably, there is a difference when comparing vet practices with NAVTA certified technicians to those with techs who are not NAVTA certified and therefore, may have no formal training.
“”Well consider what veterinary technicians do,”” says Navarre. “”For example, administering anesthetic can mean life or death. Although, it shouldn’t really be so much anymore because the anesthetics themselves are so much better and safer than say when I began (31 years ago).””
Indeed, Dr. Craig Mosley of the American College of Veterinary Anesthesiologists, and Assistant Professor, Oregon State University College of Veterinary Medicine, Corvallis, Ore. concurs. He says that it’s not so much about the anesthetic used these days being safe, as it is about the veterinarians and technicians themselves and how efficiently a pet is monitored during and after the procedure.
Who do you want administering anesthetic to your pet? It’s true, someone trained on-the-job, who has perhaps many years of experience, may be superb dealing with real life circumstances. However, Navarre says a technician trained in school might more likely understand the science of various anesthetic agents. And since certified technicians may be more likely to attend continuing education classes, they’re more likely to keep pace with the ever changing world of anesthetics.
Some technicians enroll in extra courses and earn specialty accreditation in anesthesia. The three other formal technician specialties are emergency and critical care, dentistry and internal medicine.
Navarre says not only do clients benefit from choosing practices with certified NAVTA veterinary technicians, but so do the technicians themselves. The average salary nationwide for vet techs is about $26,000 to $27,000. NAVTA technicians, on average, earn about four to six thousand more annually (than those not certified).
However, some individual veterinarians may prefer to avoid NAVTA trained techs merely to save money. Well, at least they believe they’re saving money. Navarre points out most veterinary practice managers agree the practices that make the most offer the highest quality care.
Since more than 95 percent of all veterinary technicians are women, Navarre says it’s fun to be a man in the profession. He says being a technician appeals to women, because there is generally on the job flexibility with potentially accommodating hours. Sometimes it’s full-time, but then technicians may work a 30 hour week or 20 hours. This tends to be more appealing to women who know they will one day have a family or might currently have children.
Klein, who has a two-year-old daughter, says she didn’t have a family at the time she decided to become a veterinary technician. “”None of those things mattered. I know many female veterinarians who run their own businesses or vet techs that have a family and work as many hours or more hours as some veterinarians. I considered being a veterinarian ” being a technician was just more appealing to me.””
The education commitment for veterinary technicians isn’t as intense or ongoing as is required to become a vet. Schooling is offered through many community colleges and some four-year schools, including veterinary colleges. In some states, exams are required for certification.
It doesn’t matter to Klein so much that the public has limited knowledge of the myriad of roles vet techs play, as much as it matters that she can help people and their pets. “”I’m constantly amazed at the bond people have with their pets,”” she says. “”It impresses me almost every day. Giving veterinarians support and helping people with their pets; it’s great. If you love animals and people ” I can’t think of anything more rewarding.””