Back to Basics - Technician Training

Posted: Jul 25, 2013
Views: 6588 - Comments: 16

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I went to tech school. I think I went to a pretty good program; we had lots of large and small animals on site and I got plenty of hands-on experience. I monitored anesthesia on multiple species, looked at endless poop and blood samples, and even pulled a calf at the dairy barn. I worked during school in a veterinary clinic that encouraged my learning, so I was able to see what I was learning. But when I hit the treatment floor at DoveLewis, I felt like I didn’t know a darn thing. 

I was armed with book knowledge, I kind of had a grasp of anatomy and physiology, but putting it all together in a fast-paced emergency situation was overwhelming. As I scrambled to fill in the gaps of my knowledge, I realized that I didn’t need to be reading advanced journal articles and graduate level textbooks. I needed to be reading the basics.

Megan Brashear teaching students how to prep a patient for spay surgery.

If you can get a grasp on the basics, you can understand the advanced. All of this knowledge builds on itself. Getting back to basics also helps with practical knowledge. Reading advanced textbooks may allow you to spout off really impressive words, but can you put that knowledge to practice? What does that mean for your patient? To me, that’s what matters. I’ve worked with brilliant residents and interns who can recite chapters about the chemistry and physiology of shock, but when a hypovolemic dog is doing poorly on the treatment table, they need help translating that smarty-pants knowledge into practice. Get back to the basics and treat from there.

I did a LOT of studying for my VTS exam in 2003 and was surprised at how much basic information I learned while studying. I never connected the reason of tachycardia and hypovolemia. Makes total sense. It’s awesome how fluids can correct tachycardia. Anesthesia? Don’t even get me started. Vasodilation and hypotension, hypothermia and bradycardia, positive pressure ventilation and decreased cardiac output. I had to work hard to build up that basic knowledge and was surprised at what I didn’t know. I like to attend fundamentals lectures at veterinary conferences because I often learn little tips that someone went over my head the first time. I’m still learning!

In quizzing tech students and new employees, I find that they tend to skip over the basics and try to think really advanced because that MUST be what I’m looking for. When I ask them, “What isoflurane percentage is too low during an abdominal surgery?” they start doing MAC math in their head, or when I want to know when we need to start treating those VPCs in the post-op bloat they’re trying to make a Lidocaine CRI. Think simple, think basic, think practical.

The other trait I look for in super-techs is critical thinking. If you know the basics and can critically think, you can often get yourself to the right answer. Use what you know, what you’ve experienced and a dash of common sense and you’ll often arrive at the right place. But without the right base of practical understanding you’ll struggle through and end up doing something simply because you were told to do it. To me, understanding why is just as important as understanding how and that’s the attitude I want all technicians to have. Don’t do it simply because you were told, do it because you know why, and you know the effects on your patient.

I have the opportunity to train new staff in our ER and ICU and see the struggle as new employees try to match the pace of a tenured technician. They want to skip over the first 3 years of employment and be awesome efficient technicians overnight. That only comes when you can really focus on building a good base. Ask questions even if you think they’re embarrassingly easy. Watch how those awesome efficient technicians draw blood, tape in an IV catheter, or multitask through a busy shift. You become awesome when you really understand the basics.

At this stage in my career I am looking for the tough cases, I am reading advanced articles and studies and challenging myself to learn more. But I didn’t get here overnight, and neither will anyone else. It’s not only my personal philosophy; it’s the philosophy of all of us here at Build on the basics, focus on the practical, and share what you know to improve your standards of care. 



Eileen Hagerman's picture

Thank you for a very thoughtful blogpost. I agree wholeheartedly that you can't move forward if you don't have the basics.

I am a "new" tech in that while I graduated a number of years ago, I just re-entered the veterinary field about 6 months ago. I was very honest when applying for jobs with what I could do and that I was weak on venipuncture (my previous job was in the wildlife field and we didn't do much bloodwork). Even though I was honest from the interview on, I found it extremely difficult to find a place that would give me the opportunity to learn; I was met with much impatience that I should know how to do everything immediately, either by not getting the chance to try, or by having other people jump in and take over while I was trying.

I am very fortunate to have found a practice where I have been able to practice and improve my skills without judgment, but it was very hard to find such a place. I have promised myself that once I am experienced I will take the time to help new techs feel comfortable and confident so they can grow their skills without being embarrassed about the learning curve that comes with learning any skills.

Thank you for all you do, all of the information that you provide is great.

Liz Hughston's picture

Amen and hallelujah! Great post Megan. I am amazed at how much basic anatomy and physiology I covered when I studied for my VTS exams and how much it helped me. Knowing the why of what you're doing is also so key to being a great technician. And challenging your own assumptions and that pesky "that's how I've always done it" thinking is also so so important. Thanks for the great post!

Megan Brashear's picture

Thanks for your comments Eileen and Liz! Eileen I'm glad you found a place that encourages your learning and has patience with you as you improve. That is so important in creating a really great technician. I wish we could make all practices realize that - the reason they are always hiring new people is they don't give anyone a chance to get better! Hang in there and keep learning!

Coby Richter's picture

Great post, Megan! I think you could substitute 'veterinarian' for veterinary technician and it would be just as true. We start accumulating the basics in high school biology and somehow think that we only need to focus on the stuff we learned in the last 12 months of school or residency or whatever. From a personal view, I find it impossible to retain new cutting-edge information until I find a means to link it to my foundation (basic) knowledge.

Stephanie Brozo's picture

Wonderful encouragement! I just sent this to my Triage/TA team. Thank you, Megan!

Jennifer Anderson's picture

Awesome post. Your summation of vet tech attitude (understanding the why) is spot on! Not only does it promote individual growth (which prevents burnout and compassion fatigue), but helps the team and hospital as well. Thanks for this post and this website, you guys ROCK.

Jennifer Garcia's picture

Found this post extremely helpful! I am new to the technician role, still in school but working for a new clinic that is on the job training me while in school and I keep finding myself blanking at times. I've been so focused with proving my worth and learning that I need to go back and focus on the basics. Thank you so much for the encouragement for newbies.

Erika Knutson's picture

I feel so fortunate to have come across this blog. I have been struggling since I've started at my clinic. I am a newer tech and since I did my internship at a Wildlife Cneter I lacked alot of skills when I started 9 months ago. Since then I've improved but only little by little. I have been so impatient with myself thinking I should know everything and beating myself up when I don't. When really, the truth is, I do not have the years of experience like the rest of the techs I work with. Years of experience=proficiency in skills. I had high expectations for myself and I am just now realizing they are unrealistic at this point. With time and practice I too will be like the wonderfully experienced techs that I work with. :)

Megan Brashear's picture

I'm so glad to see so many of you getting encouragement from this blog. Life as a newbie in any profession is tough, but you are all learning something every day! You'll wake up one morning and realize YOU are now the one that everyone looks up to, you are the smart, efficient, do everything person. I only ask that you return the favor and mentor your colleagues, we're all in this together!

Toni Adams's picture

This post hits really close to home for me. I've been in the business for about 8 years, working my way up from kennel. I graduated from a vet tech program and I have a biology degree, so I felt pretty confident in myself. All of that shattered when I missed the state vet tech exam by THREE points. Ever since it's been a struggle to feel like I'm in the right profession. A few months ago, I gained the confidence to study for the VTNE. So I'm pretty much going to basics. I swallowed the pride and I'm re-learning a whole bunch of stuff. Now that I'm working at a 24 hr facility, I'm starting to see the holes in my memory and alot of it traces back to just getting the basics down. Thank you for writing this post!

Evelyn o's picture

your Right! it made me really think, the best techs are observatives/multi taskers and simply common sense. Specially knowing your basics is really a great trait! KNOWING WHY YOU ARE GIVING THE TREATMENTS TO YOUR PATIENTS THE WHY? THANKS FOR THIS BLOG.

DeeDee Byers's picture

"I wish we could make all practices realize that - the reason they are always hiring new people is they don't give anyone a chance to get better!"

The last practice I managed was constantly turning people because of the administrator not giving people the opportunity to grow. I eventually left because I was tired of fighting with her about how to teach people. Her idea of training was having employees watch your videos -they had better be as good as you when they finished watching or they were told how useless and stupid they were.

I have had the great fortune to work with some incredibly talented techs from the time I was in tech school myself to now as a Practice Manager. In this world we have to build each other up and not tear down one another. Thank you for reminding me that sometimes to not over think what we are doing and stick with the basics. Everything will come in time.

Jessica Phillips 's picture

I am a VT Student still in the middle of my education and had little expose to the field before beginning my program with Penn Foster. Having recently completed my 1st set of practicum hours and 1st real hands-on experience this article really speaks to what I have been feeling, so thank you.

cheri stanford's picture

hi thank you for this blog. it has put a new way of thinking into me i am a newbie just starting my schooling now and have learned so much in little time and went to a clinic the other day and realized there that all the basics i heaved learned are really helpful and am excited about learning the advance and other thing i need to learn to be a vet tech so once again thankyou

Aryanna Goalen's picture

This article is so refreshing!! If you know the basics, the rest will follow in time. That is amazing, cause I have been putting a lot of stress on myself to keep learning more, and just jumping over the basics, so this is super refreshing to read

Thank you!

Madeyne McCarthy's picture

Love all the comments. This helps me a lot. There is laways new thing to learn everyday. You will get use it and there are many people around to help. It will get easier everyday. You don't give up. There is training everyday and you will do an awesome job.