Veterinary technician go-getters in small animal practice take charge of their destiny these days, suggesting professional improvements they can make or tasks they can take on to best help their veterinary team. It's time for equine veterinary technicians to do the same.
And progressive equine practitioners should be seeking and demanding veterinary technicians who can handle more than paperwork and client conversations. The end result of talented technicians' efforts helps themselves, their equine patients, and the overall equine practice.
To that end, we've asked some high-performing equine team members to offer their advice for top technician traits to look for and emulate. We start with seven suggestions from Liane Dillon, a large animal reproduction veterinary technician, and her co-worker Heather Wells, a large animal internal medicine veterinary technician III at the University of Florida College of Veterinary Medicine. Here's how this pair wow their colleagues:
1. Keep a positive attitude. Staying calm and upbeat during times of stress will reassure not only the client, but also the patient. Doctors appreciate working with team members with a “can-do” attitude and a confident approach to handling difficult situations.
2. Demonstrate initiative. Recognize that there are many tasks that you as a technician can assume, freeing up the doctor to focus on work you can't perform. Do what you're capable of. This can encompass a wide range of duties, from making client phone calls to placing IV catheters. Recognize that you can always learn to do more, and be willing to take on new responsibilities.
3. Be proactive. Have a quick morning check-in with your doctors to find out what's planned for the day. Gather your things, get organized, and set up procedures as efficiently as possible. If you set up ahead of time, the emergency patients that walk in the door won’t derail your day entirely; you'll be able to work in the routine procedures when you have spare time.
4. Be responsible. The doctors, clients, and patients need to trust you. If you don’t understand something, ask—and learn. If you make a mistake, own up to it and learn from it. If you say you’ll do something, do it, or admit you may have underestimated your ability to get it done. Don’t be afraid to say “I don’t know” after making an effort to figure something out on your own.
5. Be a team player. In larger equine practices and hospitals, other technicians may have different assigned duties, but everyone needs help sometimes. Make yourself available to help when you can, and you'll find yourself with help when you need it. Doctors are impressed when they find themselves in need of an extra hand—and discover they have several. Co-workers are a great resource and sounding board as well. A team with diverse backgrounds makes for unique problem-solving approaches.
6. Keep clients involved. In equine medicine, the client is typically present for most procedures. When you see a client looking worried or confused, and the doctor is busy trying to solve the medical puzzle of the patient, reassure clients by explaining what's going on. Sometimes just letting them know that the doctor will communicate thoroughly with them at the conclusion of the procedure is enough to reassure them.
7. Show attention to detail. One of the easiest ways to wow your doctor is to show attention to detail. Think ahead and anticipate what you'll need. Know which equipment and setups each doctor prefers. Make sure that equipment is in top working order prior to use. Veterinary technicians work in stressful situations, and anything you do as a technician to alleviate stress is very important. The time to go fetch a forgotten item is not when the animal is sedated and your doctor is sterile.
Once you've mastered some of those basic traits, you can dig a little deeper into the role of the veterinary technician with these tips from top performer Pam Poole, LVT, at Pilchuck Veterinary Hospital in Snohomish, Wash.:
8. Step up to diagnostic imaging. Diagnostic imaging is an area in which veterinary technicians' knowledge of equine anatomy can be crucial for radiographic positioning. You can familiarize yourself with routine radiographic series to ensure the quality of images as well as decrease exposure time.
With both radiology and MRI, the vet techs need to have a good understanding of anatomy and how the machines work, so that clinicians don’t have to spend a lot of time diagnosing mechanical and technical machine errors.
“There's a lot to be said for being able to take proper diagnostic radiographs on the first try,” says Poole. “Clearly communicate with the clinician so you can have everything properly set up and ready to go.” Such assistance, frees up the doctors for more face time with clients, which ultimately improves patient care in the long run.
“With enhanced client satisfaction, it is most likely that they are going to come back for further treatment, a practice improvement," Poole says.
Pilchuck Veterinary Hospital uses an in-house designated MRI unit, and Poole has trained with it in CE events and through on-site training. Her skill helps veterinarians schedule MRIs without having to personally take the two hours or more to take and process images.
Poole says she handles most troubleshooting for the MRI equipment—or knows who to call when the problem's too technicial. The same goes for the practice's radiology equipment. She knows the machines and computers well enough to ensure that the procedures are done properly and correctly, and troubleshoot the equipment. Familiarizing yourself with that is really important.
"It frees clinicians up to see patients and call clients, so they can improve client communication," Poole says.
9. Keep learning. Veterinary technicians should participate in conferences or CE, and bring that knowledge back to the practice to share with the clinicians, other veterinary technicians, and team members, as appropriate. Continuing education also lets technicians keep up with changes not only in veterinary medicine, but in technology advances and in equipment training to help improve the practice. For instance, Poole and a colleague recently attended a CE session on a different drug than they were routinely using for standing constant rate infusion.
“We tried it on a laparoscopic procedure and it made a huge difference," Poole says. "So we're changing our hospital protocol.”
Poole says she can't stress the value of CE enough. “It not only keeps you up to date, but afterwards you're renewed and excited about veterinary medicine, and your skills are positively affected,” she says. "All we ask is that people who take CE return with that knowledge and spread it to the entire veterinary team.”
10. Improve record-keeping and billing. “Veterinary technicians should look for ways to improve billing and record keeping," Poole says. Technicians in the field and at facilities can often see better ways to capture charges and increase client face time for veterinarians.
The more people who review invoices and bills in the moment, the more accurate billing will be. The technician can write up and follow up in the billing process, so that doctors have more time during appointments to discuss diagnosis and treatment with clients.
“At Pilchuck, we're in between paper and digital records,” Poole says, so veterinary technicians often transcribe written records into the computer. “For the technician to be able to take care of billing tasks for the practitioner is huge, and there's a lot to be said for improved accuracy as well.”
11. Train fellow veterinary technicians. “As the lead technician, I do a lot of the technician training,” Poole says. “We make sure new hires get experience in all the areas with a skill checklist that covers all the things veterinary technicians do here.” Technicians can also play a key role in training and explaining practice protocol to veterinary interns when they first start at the practice.
Poole's colleague, Jamie Tanis, is another veterinary technician at Pilchuck Veterinary Hospital. She keeps her tips to veterinary technicians short and to the point:
12. Have some grace. Sometimes thing don't go as they should, so you just have to remember that others may be just as frustrated as you.
13. Be upfront about how you feel. Don't let things fester. There's no time or place for drama in a vet hospital, so get rid of it before it starts.
14. Always ask what you can do to help. Co-workers are often not in a position to stop and ask for help when they need it. When you have time, ask whether others need help to make the hospital run smoothly.
15. Make their day. Ask your doctors, your co-workers, and you clients how they are, and wait for an answer. Listen to them, and make a personal but professional connection. This makes conflict resolution easier.
Ed Kane, PhD, is a researcher and consultant in animal nutrition. He is an author and editor on nutrition, physiology and veterinary medicine with a background in horses, pets and livestock. Kane is based in Seattle.