Thoughts from a vet tech ...
This blog originally appeared as a guest post on www.davidlissrvt.com July 2016
Are you new to veterinary technology? Maybe you’ve been around a while and you’re looking to up your game? Check out these tips from the VetTechXpert …
When I was a baby-tech, my first year in VT school, my Program Director talked about the difference between a $7 per hour tech and a $20 per hour tech. He said the $20 per hour tech took a thorough history, and listened outside the door as the vet talked to the client, then gathered everything that the vet might need so when the vet came out of the exam room, the $20 tech would be standing there with the syringes and tubes ready for the blood tests, slides for the FNA of the mass on the patient’s flank, and the x-ray machine set up and ready to go. His point was that you make yourself more valuable to your vet (and the rest of your team) if you can anticipate what’s going to be needed and have it ready. This skill makes you the do-to tech at your practice, the one that the vet and other staff members can rely on. Anticipation means putting on your critical thinking cap and synthesizing the data you collected during your history with what you overhear through the exam room door, and implement the hospital’s protocols to meet your vet’s needs, the client’s needs, and provide the best care for the patient.
Think outside of the (check)box
Working in the ICU, each patient has a list of treatments that must be completed, usually on an hourly basis, or every two hours. It is so easy to look at the list of treatments that need to be completed and use it as a checklist – go down the list, do the task, check the box. If you want to be a TECHspert, I encourage you to go beyond the checklist!
Advocate for your patients
Our patients don’t speak English, or any human language for that matter! It is up to us to translate their body language, their vocalizations, and their behavior to determine their needs. It is often said that the veterinary technician is the eyes and ears of the veterinarian (I would add the nose, too). As such, it is up to us to speak on their behalf to make sure that patients receive the care they need and deserve. Sometimes it’s more pain meds. Sometimes it’s customizing an anesthetic plan to make sure a pet has a smooth and safe surgical procedure. Sometimes it’s making sure there are feeding instructions on the treatment plan from the vet. Sometimes it’s talking through a Quality of Life scale with a carer. Whatever it may be, any TECHspert is first and foremost an advocate for their patients.
Commit yourself to lifelong learning
It is part of the Veterinary Technician’s Oath. It is part of the NAVTA Veterinary Technician Code of Ethics. And if you want to be a TECHspert, you must fully commit yourself to staying on top of innovations and new knowledge in our field. Science and medicine is ever evolving and changing. In order to be the best advocate, to anticipate our veterinarian’s needs, and to be able to provide gold-standard care to our patients, it is incumbent on each of us to keep up with those changes and with veterinary medicine’s evolution. How do you do it? Read veterinary journals like Clinician’s Brief, Veterinary Team Brief, or scientific journals like the Journal of Veterinary Emergency and Critical Care or the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association. Take a class through VSPN or VetMedTeam. And attend continuing education classes and conferences: this is a place not only to learn new things from amazing veterinary professionals, but to network with other TECHsperts too!
Train your replacement – be a mentor!!
Remember that none of us will be doing this forever! Those of who achieve TECHspert levels of knowledge and skills owe it to the profession to pass them along to the next generation of technicians. One of the best ways to do this is to be a mentor for new technicians and assistants. Being a mentor may reinvigorate your passion for this career, while you're sparking that passion in a newly minted technician.
With these tips, you are guaranteed to become the next TECHspert – good luck!
It’s Christmas Eve, maybe 2002 and my dog Jack is vomiting and lethargic. I am not a veterinary technician, just a confused, worried client. My regular vet tells me that she’s worried about Jack and thinks he should be monitored in a veterinary hospital, at least overnight. Of course, my clinic is closing, but she refers to me to the local e-clinic. When I get there, the veterinarian on duty tells me Jack has a life-threatening obstruction and needs emergency surgery right away or he’ll die. I burst into tears and call my regular vet, who disagrees with the emergency vet’s assessment and recommends a barium series. The emergency vet explains that having all that barium in the GI tract if she has to operate would be too risky so it has to be surgery. Shell-shocked, we leave Jack in their care and head to the lobby where we’re presented with a $5,000 estimate and informed that we must leave a 50% deposit to save our dog’s life. On Christmas Eve. What did we do? Put our credit card down on the counter and planned for a long winter and spring of credit card payments.
Luckily, Jack didn’t end up needing foreign body surgery. But the situation prompted my husband and I to have a discussion about where we would “draw the line” when it comes to veterinary care for our pets. And in that moment we realized that, if there were something we could fix we would fix it, no matter what it cost.
I started vet tech school a couple of years later and now we live in a world of professional discounts, making financial decisions about our pets much, much easier. But I work with many clients facing the same decision we faced that night: how far should we go? How much can we afford? Where do we draw the line?
I remember in particular one family. They had a collie in the hospital with us with fairly severe neurologic signs. He circled, he had trouble walking, he couldn’t target his food bowl to eat and needed to be hand fed. We recommended a consult with a specialist, which the owners pursued. The specialist recommended an MRI, at a cost of around $2,000 (at that time), and the owners agreed. The MRI showed diffuse lesions: nothing surgical. We continued to provide supportive care, and follow the neurologist’s recommendations for treatment, but he was not getting better. The family visited him a lot and I got to know them over the course of the collie’s hospitalization. I remember sitting in the run with the father of the family. He told me they had all sat down – he, his wife, and their two daughters – and had a discussion very similar to the discussion my husband and I had so many years ago: should we continue? Where is the line? They explained the medical situation to the kids, and told them that the whole family had to decide how they were going to move forward. One of the daughters asked him, “What happens if I get sick? Would you stop trying to fix me? Our dog is part of the family, too, and he’s sick so we can’t stop trying.” So they set an upper limit and explained that this meant no vacations, and no Christmas presents, and probably no birthday presents, and the whole family agreed. The collie began to show some improvement and when the invoice hit their upper limit, they took him home from the hospital, where he continued to improve and lived for two more years.
The lesson for me is that there is no underestimating the human-animal bond and what people are willing to do – the lengths they will go to – for their pets. Yes, we have clients who won’t pay for preventive care or for life-saving treatments, but there are those who will sacrifice so much to ensure the happiness and well being of their pets. Every time I present an estimate to a client I think about my experience at the emergency hospital and I empathize with the difficult decisions they must make. And I remember the collie and how far his people were willing to go – farther than many staff thought reasonable. But everyone’s line is in a different place and for some people the line doesn’t even exist. Where is your line?
Originally published on On The Floor @ Dove
I am in the treatment area of my very first veterinary job and I am trying to place an IV catheter. Frustration is building as I poke and miss, poke and miss and then have to pass it off to a technician while I restrain. Later in the day, I ask the head (non-credentialed) technician if she ever felt the same frustration that I was feeling: the nagging worry that my hands would never be in the right place; that my fingers wouldn’t do what I want them to; that I would never successfully place an IV catheter. The tech looked at me and said, “I never felt that way. I was always just able to do it.” My heart sank. I went home that night depressed, dejected, and thinking I had made a huge mistake. Why was I going to school to learn to be a veterinary technician when I clearly wasn’t meant for it?
Luckily for me I live with a sane and rational person – my husband – who listened to me vent about my day and set me straight: everyone goes through a time when they’re just learning something and can’t get it right. And he was right. I kept at it. Even when the techs at the clinic were frustrated, I pushed for the chance to at least try to get blood, or place the catheter, or intubate that dog or cat. And the more I practiced, the better I got.
Eventually I left that first job for a hospital that gave me the chance to learn in a very very busy environment, which gave me lots of opportunity to practice. In my first clinic, we placed two or three IV catheters a day. In the ICU in my new hospital, we might place two or three IV catheters in an HOUR, giving me lots of opportunities to try. On top of being busy, the other, more experienced techs at my new practice were encouraging, helpful, and loved to teach. It was a match made in heaven!
I have been at that busy practice for almost eight years and have had the opportunity to do amazing things that would never have been possible if I had stayed at the first clinic or if I had given up. The other day I was looking around the ICU – at all the patients we were caring for – and I had the feeling that I was exactly where I belonged and was doing exactly what I had always been meant to do. What a tremendous feeling!
Now I pay that experience forward by encouraging and teaching new generations of veterinary technology students as they intern at our hospital. And when a new tech asks me how I felt when I first started, I remember that first head tech, and I remember how disheartened she made me feel. My immediate response is always, “Of course I felt that way! Everyone does and if they tell you differently, they’re lying. But the key is to keep with it, keep practicing, keep learning, and keep believing you can do it.” To paraphrase Thomas Watson, founder of IBM, if you want to succeed at anything, first you have to fail a lot. And even though failure is difficult, each one teaches you what you need to be successful. The key is to not give up!
Originally published on On the Floor @ Dove
I’m standing at the treatment table, looking down at a 120 pound mastiff. Her mucus membranes are pale, she is almost completely unconscious, and barely breathing. Under normal circumstances, this is the kind of case that gets my adrenaline pumping and I go on auto-pilot: set up for IV catheter, get ready for blood samples, prep for surgery. But this case is different. My stomach is in knots and my heart is sinking. This is my co-worker’s dog.
As many of us in the veterinary community know, working on animals can be very difficult. Animals are innocents and whenever an innocent is injured or ill, it tugs at the compassion in all of us, whether you know the animal personally or not. But when you know and love the animal that is injured or ill, it makes working on them that much more difficult. Every decision and intervention is fraught with the worry that you’re doing the best thing for the animal and the weight of knowing that you are the ultimate decision maker, in the case of your own pets. When I take care of a client’s animal, it is so much easier to distance myself from the emotional component of the illness. In most cases, I don’t have a relationship with the animal; I’ve probably never met them before. But when it comes to my own pets, or even my coworkers’, that distance is instantly compressed and I am immediately emotionally involved in the case. Which means that I can no longer be an efficient emergency technician because the emotion makes it that much harder to access the skills and knowledge I need to treat the patient.
I find this especially true when it comes to my own animals. I lose all perspective and find myself in a panic, wondering what to do. I usually end up calling my hospital and have a veterinarian or technician “talk me down” or remind me of why I need to take my pet in. We all have seen owners that – in our opinion – take things too far: too many interventions, too much money, too much suffering. I’ve seen it so many times, I’ve now put several of my co-workers on notice: they are the ones who will have to be sane for me when one of my pets is diagnosed with a terminal illness and they know they must help me put the needs of my animal first, before my desire to keep them with me as long as possible. So when a coworker’s animal comes to the hospital I feel the extra burden of helping them make the most difficult decisions.
The mastiff has a hemoabdomen. It’s ironic because she has been a blood donor her whole life, especially in emergencies, especially for hemoabdomen cases. We know the statistics: approximately 60% of these cases turn out to be hemangiosarcoma, a cancer with a poor prognosis. With a client-owned animal, our next step would be to type and cross-match for a blood transfusion, set up the OR and get three-view chest radiographs to check for metastases before going to surgery. But not in this case. And now we all have to say goodbye to a dog who saved so many lives.