Are You Being Utilized?

Posted: Jul 27, 2015
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I love giving lectures at veterinary conferences. Love it. I get the opportunity to talk about what I love, to share my passion with equally nerdy technicians, and I get to hear about medicine and cases in different hospitals around the country. In fact, even more rewarding than the lecture preparation is the time that I get to talk with technicians after the lecture is complete. And one of the most common conversations I have with technicians is how to get their doctors to allow them to be technicians.

It’s a frustrating conversation to have. I am talking with a smart and dedicated professional, often a group of them, who are just begging to be allowed to use the very skills and knowledge they are learning at this conference. “My doctor won’t even let me draw blood.” “How can I make my doctor let me look at ear cytology or fecals?” “I have to ask my doctor before changing the anesthesia machine during surgery.” “How can I convince my doctor to buy anesthesia monitoring equipment?” “The only pain drug we have is torb, how can I convince my doctor to let me order something different?”  I look at these technicians, almost all of them CVTs or RVTs or LVTs, with their pages and pages of notes taken at the conference, and then I want to find these doctors and give them a good shake. Don’t they see what they have? Can’t they see they have MOTIVATED and CARING and SMART technicians who have the capability to earn that practice literally thousands of dollars if they are just allowed to do their job?

This is a problem that does not reside just with the veterinarians. This is a problem that has contributors from all over the veterinary industry and we should all take responsibility for our part. First: veterinarians, I’m talking to you. Did you know that the AVMA performed a study that found that a hospital that employs a certified/licensed/registered veterinary technician makes over $90,000 MORE in gross revenue for EACH licensed technician employed? That same study found that a non-licensed veterinary assistant does not increase revenue for the practice. The caveat to this study is that the veterinarian needs to properly utilize the licensed technician in order to see the revenue increase. A veterinarian appropriately using licensed technicians will be freed up to see more clients, and therefore make more money.

It can be quite a leap of faith for that veterinarian to release some control to technicians. Their practice is their life. Major mistakes can cost them their livelihood. I can understand some of the control issues that many veterinarians may have with giving up duties to technicians. That is why technicians need to be responsible for taking the initiative. Start with doing the homework. Research your state’s veterinary practice act so that you know the scope of your role in the hospital. Some states have very specific tasks, others are broad. You may not need this information to show your veterinarian, but it never hurts to have a good base if the topic ever comes up.

Take the initiative to educate yourself on your job; whether you attended a veterinary technician program or not there is never an end to learning. Attend live lectures when possible, read chapters in textbooks, ASK QUESTIONS, take online webinars, do what you can to continue to learn. If you prove you are willing to ask intelligent questions and show a real interest in advancing your knowledge your veterinarian will notice.

Depending on the relationship you have with your veterinarian, you may be able to resolve your utilization problem with a frank, direct discussion about it. Schedule a meeting with them, off of the treatment floor and without distractions. Let them know what you would like to do as a technician. You may need to start small, don’t ask for the world in one day, but outline some specific duties that you would like to do. Explain that you want to be able to use your skills and be more fulfilled at work. It may not all come at the beginning, but offer to read an ear cytology and allow the veterinarian to check over your work. After a few times of you being correct, they can rest easy knowing your skills. Outline a list of veterinary technician skills – venipuncture, ear cytology, radiographs, anesthesia induction, intubation, anesthesia monitoring – and ask to take ownership of those skills. If you catch your veterinarian doing your job, remind them to go do veterinarian duties! They will eventually realize that with appropriate time to write records and call owners during the day, they may get out of work on time. When having this conversation with your doctor, be sure to outline the potential benefits to them by having properly utilized technicians.

Don’t be afraid to prove yourself to your veterinarian. Let’s say you aren’t allowed to make any adjustments to anesthesia without their approval. Before going rogue and causing problems, prove your knowledge to them. Previously you may have said “his heart rate is really high” and waited for instruction. Try saying “His heart rate is 164 and his MAP is 124. Do you want me to increase his isoflurane or can we give another dose of pain meds?” You are still asking, but also proving your understanding of the situation. When lab work comes back, look it over and test your knowledge by asking questions about it. Prove that you want to learn more and trust will build. If you want to start using a new medication or monitoring tool, research how much it will cost but also research its importance to patient care. Come prepared with a couple of journal articles of conference proceedings outlining how to use the information gained from such a purchase. Prove that you understand how this can help patients but also help revenue in the hospital.

Nursing care differs greatly from the veterinarian’s job duties. Technicians are responsible for monitoring changes in the patient and bringing those changes to the veterinarian. Use critical thinking skills to ask good questions and prove your worth and value to the hospital. Continue to remind the veterinarian what they should be doing, and allow you to do your job. You don’t have to be annoying about it; continue to treat everyone with professional respect and you may surprise yourself with the trust you gain and new skills you can utilize. Your veterinarian should see the difference in their ability to see more patients and complete more of their work during the day.

Don’t settle for a job that does not utilize you for all that you can offer. There are too many veterinarians out there who don’t want a credentialed technician doing awesome technician work; they only want someone who will do as they are told. Don’t be afraid to walk away from those positions. If you try and still cannot gain any ground with a stubborn old-school veterinarian, look for a position with a hospital that wants credentialed technicians who can use all of their skills and knowledge. Those jobs are out there and as veterinarians are learning how amazing technicians can be, those jobs are increasing. Be proud of your career, your skills, and your knowledge; technicians are AMAZING!