Q: Every time I take my boy Cisco to the vet’s, the assistants spend more time with him than the doctors. They take the blood, change his bandages and give him injections. This never used to happen before they sold the place to a big corporation. I know they want to cut costs, but I’m not even sure it’s legal for assistants to do a veterinarian’s job.
A: Veterinarians increasingly rely on veterinary assistants and veterinary technicians to do our heavy lifting. Veterinary care has gotten so expensive (due to the skyrocketing cost of drugs, supplies, equipment, regulations and retail real estate) that we need to leverage our support teams. This way you don’t end up paying more than you otherwise would if the vet was doing everything.
In years past the veterinarian would do all the tasks you describe. We’d also take X-rays, clean teeth, place IV catheters, run all the tests, administer injectable medications and perform all the wound care duties. These days our technicians are highly trained to accomplish all of these duties.
Technicians usually have a minimum of an associates degree and are often credentialed as Licensed Veterinary Technicians or Certified Veterinary Technicians.
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In addition to being uniquely trained, these individuals are highly motivated people with significant leadership skills. They typically manage veterinary assistants (often veterinarians or technicians in training) along with the kennel staff (skilled in animal sanitation and restraint). They are organized at the national level and engage in rigorous continuing education programs alongside veterinarians.
Just as in human medicine, these “nurses,” as many elect to refer to themselves, are indispensable to the smooth distribution of healthcare. Veterinarians lean on them when they are first learning many of their technical skills, rely on them to accomplish almost every fundamental task in animal healthcare, and benefit from the many animal insights nurses bring to the table.
Veterinary technicians have taught me a great many things, including that it’s OK to hug your clients and that crying isn’t a bad thing. They’re also among the most resourceful humans on earth.
It might seem to you, as someone who’s witnessed the changing times, that more visible technician assistance means less veterinary care, or simply a way to contain costs in a colder corporate setting, but that’s not necessarily the case. In fact, if anything, the rise of veterinary technicians means much better medicine for pets.
Dr. Patty Khuly has a veterinary practice at Sunset Animal Clinic in South Miami. Her website is drpattykhuly.com. Send questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.