Veterinary Technicians: More Than Veterinary Nurses
In human medicine, there are nurses, laboratory technicians, radiology technicians, anesthetists, scrub nurses, dental hygienists, pharmacy technicians, and more who all play different parts in patient diagnostics and care. In veterinary medicine, these jobs are all combined under one title: veterinary technician.
But what exactly does a vet tech do? Read on for the full scope of a veterinary technician’s job.
What is a veterinary technician?
Veterinary technicians are trained specifically to take care of animal patients. Veterinary technicians must complete two years of schooling that includes classes about animal anatomy and physiology, nursing care, pharmacology, anesthesiology, surgical assistance, diagnostic imaging, dentistry, and laboratory diagnostics. They hold an associate’s degree and must pass a national board exam (the Veterinary Technician National Exam) as well as a state examination before becoming licensed in the state of South Carolina. Veterinary technicians must attend continuing education courses to keep their knowledge of the field current and renew their license every two years.
A veterinarian’s right-hand (wo)man
Veterinary technicians can be found alongside our veterinarians, making their day run smoothly and more efficiently. They restrain pets for exams and diagnostics so our veterinarians can safely gather important information. They gather samples, such as blood, urine, feces, and more, for diagnostic lab work. They are also the staff members you often speak with on the phone or in the exam room for updates on your pet’s progress.
Veterinary technicians have knowledge about anesthetic drugs and techniques to keep your pet comfortable before, during, and after surgical procedures. They calculate anesthetic drug dosages and, after approval by the veterinarian, administer injectable and gas anesthesia. They intubate patients before anesthesia and monitor vital signs throughout the surgical procedure. During recovery, veterinary technicians monitor each patient’s pain level and alert the veterinarian if pain medications seem necessary.
Veterinarians rely on technicians to prepare each surgical patient so their focus can be on the surgical procedure. After anesthetizing the patient, the vet tech will shave hair from the surgical site and aseptically scrub it to prevent infection. They prepare all surgical instruments and equipment the veterinarian will need for the procedure. After surgery, veterinary technicians scrub and sterilize the surgical instruments used and prepare them for the next patient.
If you have experienced the joy of picking your pet up with sparkling teeth and fresh breath after a dental cleaning, thank a veterinary technician! Vet techs perform dental cleanings and take dental X-rays to make sure teeth are healthy below the gum line. Like a dental hygienist, a veterinary technician prepares your pet’s teeth for a thorough examination by the veterinarian. If extractions or other complicated procedures are necessary, a vet tech will assist the veterinarian throughout the procedure and ensure your pet recovers comfortably.
During their training, veterinary technicians learn to take and develop radiographs (X-rays). They are experts at positioning patients to get just the right view to help the veterinarian make a correct diagnosis. Vet techs in larger hospitals may also run ultrasound machines, MRIs, and other imaging equipment.
After collecting a variety of samples, a veterinary technician will run the appropriate lab tests to help the veterinarian figure out what may be threatening your pet’s health. Vet techs can microscopically examine feces for parasite eggs and urine for bacteria that can cause a urinary tract infection. They evaluate skin scrapes for microscopic mites and ear swab samples for bacteria, yeast, and ear mites. They also run blood tests to screen for systemic diseases in sick pets and to evaluate organ function prior to anesthesia.
General nursing care
On top of all of their other duties, veterinary technicians perform general nursing care. They administer medications to growling dogs and feisty cats. They place intravenous catheters in giant Great Danes and tiny Chihuahuas. But, despite all of their technical knowledge and specialized skill, the most important task of a veterinary technician is to make your pet feel secure and comfortable during scary situations. Getting poked and prodded is never fun, but afterward, a vet tech will be there to reward your pet with hugs and snuggles. They are the ones who will put extra blankets in your pet’s cage, stay late to bottle feed a kitten, and sit on the floor with a dog waking up from anesthesia. Veterinary technicians choose this career because they love to take care of animals and dedicate their lives to doing so.
We appreciate all that our veterinary technicians and support staff do every day to take care of our patients!