Why vet techs are the veterinary profession’s backbone

And how to improve the profession so the vet tech turnover lessens

Veterinary technicians are an essential piece to every practice. Whether one or several work at a hospital, veterinarians know that each is crucial to the practitioner, the clients and patients, and the clinic.

Veterinary technicians are first responders, skillful nurses, nurturing caretakers, knowing laboratory assistants, organizers of patient records and doctor’s notes, and sympathetic ears to clients. They are one of the first faces the client sees when walking into the practice, the first face a patient wakes up from anesthesia, and often the last person to walk out of the hospital at the end of a long, stressful day.

Quick Snapshot

The U.S. pet industry is a $62 billion-a-year business that experts predict will continue to grow. Along with the expansion will come more pet-related jobs, including those for veterinary technicians—a sector that is estimated to expand by 52 percent from 2010 to 2020. The problem is that the number of veterinary technicians entering the job market isn’t keeping pace.

Anyone trying to add a technician to the team realizes that finding qualified candidates has become harder. In fact, according to a 2016 survey by the National Association of Veterinary Technicians in America (NAVTA), the industry is dealing with a shortage of credentialed veterinary technicians. A major complaint among veterinary practices is the difficulty in finding new personnel.

One reason for the applicant shortage is that more students don’t like what they see when they compare the cost of earning a veterinary technician degree against the expected pay. Some veterinary technician programs are seeing lower enrollment and smaller graduating classes.

Considerable effort is underway to reverse the trend. Allen Balay, DVM, a faculty member at Ridgewater College in Willmar, Minn., said colleagues and students are actively recruiting high school students to the veterinary technology program.

“We spend a lot of time in area high schools educating students on the veterinary industry and specifically veterinary technician career options,” Dr. Ba-lay said. “Through those efforts, along with an increase of graduating high school students, our waiting lists for the veterinary technician program have once again started to grow.”

Some veterinary technicians leave the field because of insufficient pay. Salary is the top concern among veterinary technicians, NAVTA reports, and has been since 1991.

Full-time technicians reported earning $15 to $20 an hour, according to the NAVTA survey, or about $30,000 to $40,000 a year before taxes. Considering that the U.S. poverty line for a family of four is $24,300, some veterinary technicians are forced to look for additional or alternative employment.

The benefits a well-educated veterinary technician brings to a practice can significantly improve the hospital’s bottom line. A 2008 American Veterinary Medical Association survey showed that for every credentialed veterinary technician a practice employed, the clinic generated an average of $161,493 more in gross revenue.

Turning It Around

Balay is optimistic about the veterinary technician field but says improvements must start with veterinarians and practice owners. Because veterinary technicians list poor job satisfaction as another reason to leave the field, veterinarians and practice owners need to find ways to improve the practice environment, he said.

“As veterinarians, we need to charge for our services and maximize the team approach of veterinary care,” Balay said.

This starts, he said, with practice owners and doctors empowering technicians to make decisions, trusting their judgment and supporting them in their work.

Balay values the team approach in his own work.

“It’s refreshing to be able to write an order for a patient and walk away, knowing my technicians will handle the blood draw, lab tests and X-rays on the order,” he said. “It allows me to focus my time on another important task, then come back to the patient, read the results, make a diagnosis and determine treatment.”

Through a team approach, veterinarians and practice owners can build and strengthen the staff, not only utilizing their own time more efficiently but also increasing a technician’s job satisfaction.

Another way to increase job satisfaction is through continuing education. Several studies in human medicine have linked CE opportunities to increased job satisfaction, with several pointing to similar results in the veterinary industry.

NAVTA and state associations are focused on improving the veterinary technician field. These groups are providing resources, education and events designed to enhance the skills, knowledge and careers of veterinary technicians.

Originally published in the October 2016 issue of Veterinary Practice News. Did you enjoy this article? Then subscribe today! 

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