Most healthcare providers don't work solo. Doctors, dentists and veterinarians all count heavily on the skills of trained support staff and technicians. For example, much of the routine work in a veterinary practice is carried out by veterinary technicians. Aside from directly assisting the veterinarian during procedures, their normal work day includes a wide variety of other duties.
If the office or clinic has a night shift, the technician who's leaving can provide a report of anything noteworthy. If not, the tech makes a quick round of the animals' sleeping area and assesses the patients' condition, noting pertinent details on their charts. The next step is usually a look at the day's schedule. Scheduled surgeries, outbound calls and inbound appointments make fixed points of reference, and the rest of the day's activities need to be organized around them.
The technician's duties will vary depending on her work setting. Small-animal practices are different from horse or farm animal practices, and hospitals or research labs have their own requirements. At times during the day, a tech might assist the vet in a surgery, a delivery or a treatment that requires the animal to be restrained or sedated. Some technicians are also qualified to give anesthesia, or provide X-ray or ultrasound images. Technicians also work independently for much of the day. They'll perform laboratory tests, give medications, clean teeth and trim nails, and monitor the condition of any recovering patients.
Direct patient care isn't the whole job, either. Technicians handle much of the daily routine, freeing the vet's time for higher-value activities. When new patients arrive, the technician is often responsible for doing the paperwork, inquiring about symptoms, performing an initial examination and – very importantly – reassuring the owner. The technician might also discuss fees and payment arrangements, if the practice has no office administrator. Technicians are responsible for cleaning and sanitation in the care area, including sterilization of any reusable instruments. Some maintain the practice's inventory, re-ordering supplies and medications as needed.
Veterinary technicians and technologists take much the same training as their counterparts in human health care. Technicians usually graduate from a two-year associate's degree program in veterinary technology, while technologists take a four-year bachelor's degree. Both degrees are heavily weighted to the sciences, especially biology and organic chemistry, with the bachelor's degree including more advanced course work. Technologists can perform more sophisticated testing procedures, and often choose careers in research and commercial settings. Employment prospects are excellent for veterinary technicians. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics has projected 52 percent job growth through 2020, much higher than the average for other occupations.
- Pet MD: What is a Veterinary Technician?
- PetSide.com: Inside an Animal Hospital -- A Day in the Life of a Vet Tech
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: Occupational Outlook Handbook -- Veterinary Technologists and Technicians
- American Veterinary Medical Association: Veterinary Technology Student Essential and Recommended Skills List
Fred Decker is a trained chef and certified food-safety trainer. Decker wrote for the Saint John, New Brunswick Telegraph-Journal, and has been published in Canada's Hospitality and Foodservice magazine. He's held positions selling computers, insurance and mutual funds, and was educated at Memorial University of Newfoundland and the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology.