How a vet tech found her niche in dentistry

Vickie Byard improves the profession by improving the patient and client experience, one patient at a time

Vickie Byard improves the profession by improving the patient and client experience, one patient at a time.
Vickie Byard improves the profession by improving the patient and client experience, one patient at a time.

In honor of National Veterinary Technician Week, I felt it would be appropriate to interview someone who has been in the field as a veterinary technician for almost 40 years. Vickie Byard, CVT, VTS (dentistry), trained at Manor College in Jenkintown, Pa. After finishing her practicum at the Veterinary Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, Vickie accepted a position with Rau Animal Hospital in Glenside, Pa., in 1985. At the time, she was the only certified veterinary technician in the multi-veterinarian practice.

Q: How did you develop an interest in and an understanding of veterinary dentistry?

A: Dr. Mark Fox was a visionary and saw that dentistry was going to be an up-and-coming field in general practice. Fortunately, he included me in his pursuit of dental education. I attended wet labs aimed at doctors because he wanted me to understand this discipline and know how best to support him.

The deeper I got involved, the more I fell in love with dentistry. I loved the immediate satisfaction and gratification. I was hooked. Dr. Jan Bellows, a board-certified veterinary dentist, allowed me to work for him for free in return for an in-depth, week-long education in dentistry. His mentorship was invaluable for what would follow. Fortunately, the American Veterinary Dental College felt the need for technicians trained in dentistry to assist their efforts in the dental operatory. That notion was the inspiration for a founding group of technicians to create the Academy of Veterinary Dental Technicians (AVDT).

Q: What is the most important technical advance in veterinary medicine during your career?

A: The most important technical advance would be improvements in anesthesia. I shudder to recall the antiquated drug combinations and lack of monitoring that was considered the standard of care in the 1980s. Today, with blood pressure monitoring, capnography, agent monitors, fluid pumps, constant rate infusions, and new protocols, I feel our patients have much safer and more pleasant anesthetic experiences.

Q: What do you think is the most significant cultural change in veterinary medicine that you have seen during your career?

A: When I began my career, veterinary practices handled everything from dermatology, orthopedics, ophthalmology, behavior, cardiology, internal medicine, dentistry, and much more. In the past, every veterinarian was required to be a jack-of-all trades. Now there are numerous specialty practices and referral centers providing cutting edge care for individual disciplines.

Q: Are you glad you became a specialist? 

A: Absolutely. Being a part of the stellar group of technicians who organized the creation of the AVDT opened so many doors and led to opportunities and relationships for which I am truly grateful. Specialization also has provided a path towards a living wage. Many technicians continue to struggle with this aspect of the profession.

Q: I’ve advocated in a previous column for consideration of use of the term “veterinary nurse” or some other delineation beyond “veterinary technician.” What are your thoughts on this?

A: Oh, the controversy! I wish there was another term altogether. I am not enamored with the term “technician” because, to a client, it sounds like I operate and repair the machinery within a veterinary practice. However, the term “nurse” connotes members of the human medical field, and does not describe the breadth of skills we need to master to fully assist the veterinarian.

With complete respect to our human nurse friends, I don’t think they are performing lab work ordered by the doctor. They are not scaling and polishing their patients’ teeth. They are not anesthetizing patients or assisting in surgery without additional specialization.

Q: How has continuing education played a role in your career?

A: It is my strong belief that continuing education is provided to increase your existing skills, thus increasing your worth. I often feel like technicians are excited to learn a new skill, like dental charting or regional nerve blocks, only to be told the veterinarian will do those. Ultimately, technicians find that frustrating. Technicians have invisible wings to fly and take practices to the next level, only to have those wings clipped.

I also think of CE as client education. An example from my specialty of dentistry: most clients are told they should brush their pets’ teeth, yet they are never adequately taught how to perform the one skill that can prevent periodontal disease better than any other tool. Positive medical outcomes increase with client education. This is why I created an educational video series you can find at my website:

I recognize I am a dental nerd. That just means I followed my passion.

Q: What advice would you give to an aspiring CVT/LVT early in their career? 

A: I would advise an aspiring technician to research the field and realize there are endless opportunities. No longer is a veterinary technician merely responsible for restraint and drawing up vaccines. There are specialization opportunities, academic opportunities, lab animal medicine, authorship opportunities, and leadership roles within every practice. Your career should reflect how you want to practice. You decide what your standards are: find the environment that supports your standards.

This is great advice for all of us. Thank you for all your efforts toward improving the veterinary profession. I’d also like to take this opportunity to offer a sincere thanks to all assistants/technicians/nurses who make the lives of our veterinary patients and pet owners better as a result of the care they provide!

John Lewis, VMD, DAVDC, FF-OMFS practices and teaches at Veterinary Dentistry Specialists and Silo Academy Education Center, both located in Chadds Ford, Pa.

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