Vet techs are the answer: Using them well is the challenge

How do we treat our credentialed technicians like the skilled and capable professionals they are? Three technicians talk to Central Line: The AAHA Podcast about trust, empowerment, and a true living wage.

We love seeing veterinary technicians being celebrated all over the internet during Vet Tech Week, but we aren’t going to solve one of our industry’s biggest challenges with one week of recognition per year. It’s not enough to acknowledge our technicians – we need to make ecosystem-wide changes that empower them, elevate them, and allow them to pay their bills without having to get a second job.  

Three technicians, Julie Legred, CVT, FFCVP, Deborah Reeder, BA, AS, LVT, VTS-EVN(R), and Shannon Thompson, RVT, brought their overflowing energy, ideas, and passion to Central Line: The AAHA Podcast last week. These women know we won’t reach our potential as a community until we treat our credentialed technicians like the skilled and capable professionals they are – ones who deserve our trust, a true living wage, and unlimited opportunities to grow.  

Hosted by Katie Berlin, DVM 

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On the changing role of techs on the team 

Shannon Thompson: … Despite where we have not been fully utilized, … we still believe in our profession, and treat it as a profession—and others are joining in with that mindset that we need to turn around … [and take another look at veterinary technicians]: They persevered here, this is a group that has hung in there with you—even though we haven’t been fully utilized, even though we’ve gone to school—and let’s embrace them again and give them the opportunity to truly be team leaders … and support you in your career as well. It takes all of us. It truly takes a village. … Veterinarians cannot do this profession by themselves.  

Katie Berlin: No. I can’t even do blood work by myself.  

Shannon Thompson: …I’ve said this to the AAEP many times, the horse needs both of us. It needs all of us. Our animals need all of us. Our profession needs all of us. 

Julie Legred: We need all of us. It’s very true because we have to lean on each other, not thinking that we have to do it all as an individual. It takes the entire team from front to back, back to front, and I think that helps with the well-being aspect of it too. 

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On helping techs find their passions 

Shannon Thompson: … I’ve supported many new veterinarian graduates in being comfortable and confident in their skills and it’s the same thing with our RVTs: They’re coming in and they’re new, and they’re fresh, and they haven’t had practice. Do we expect them to do nerve blocks and epidurals on day one? No. But with a supportive team and goals and talking to each other and saying, “How can we make our team more efficient? … Where do you want to go? How can you do it together? Where can we get additional training and support? How can we utilize some other things? How can we elevate our care?”  

Gone is this “gold standard.” It’s about the best care we can provide. What is the best care that we together as a team can grow together and provide? And it doesn’t mean every single person has to do a nerve block. Let’s try and tailor some of those skills to those who really want to learn it and are passionate about it. They’re going to do fantastic. They’re going to rock it out of the park, and guess what? They’re going to train the next one that comes in that is interested as equally.  

Julie Legred: And you’re right, the passions within each individual can be extremely powerful on a team. If you have somebody that’s really passionate about, say, parasite control, use their passions and let it show throughout the practice, because that’s ultimately going to help that pet and the owner understand what it is we’re asking them to do.  

Deborah Reeder: It’s almost like creating a triage approach to every appointment and every animal that comes in like, “Okay, who is the most qualified in this area? Who’s the most qualified here? Who can handle this?” Making sure everybody knows where their arena is doesn’t mean we don’t cross-train, because we love being cross-trained, and [we] do that as well. But I think it’s that approach instead of, “Okay, this is all on me”? It’s: “Who can help?” 

Katie Berlin: We don’t all have to be everything to everybody and every patient. And that is such an important point because …I can’t speak for technicians, but as vets, we feel like we have to be able to do it all.   

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On technician pay and compensation 

Katie Berlin:How can practices think differently about finances to make it possible to compensate their technicians fairly and appropriately for doing this work and for the professional education that they have? 

Julie Legred: [It’s not just veterinarians who bring in the money] because they have a whole team behind them. And I would say CSR, the assistants, the technicians, everybody has some touchpoint on that patient and client throughout their visit. And I get [that] veterinarians come out of school with a lot of debt, but no one really points out that the techs also come out of school with debt.  

I cringe when I see McDonald’s paying 15 bucks an hour, when some of the technicians aren’t even making that. … We did a survey when I was NAVTA executive director: …  There were many [technicians] who were making below poverty level… I started at $4.25 an hour back in the day, and it was like, no benefits, nothing. But if you want your team to continue, you have to put some investment into [them]. …  

Health insurance is another one … You want your teammates there every day? Well then let’s keep them healthy too. And I don’t think that many veterinarians realize that techs have to work two to three jobs to make ends meet. … I mean, you don’t see your family, and it gets to be very hard. 

Deborah Reeder: There are creative ways that you can re-work your financial plan and your practice. Instead of, “Well, just paying a technician this amount of money, how do I know they’re actually contributing to that level in my practice?” Now, that’s your own self-assessment, but you can charge for tech appointments. Anesthesia technicians – there’s a charge on the invoice. Well, part of that should go to that anesthesia technician. Surgery techs, telemedicine techs, imaging techs, ICU—those are areas where we are taking the lead and probably doing the majority of the work.  

So look at your financial charging, whatever you’re doing in your practice, and maybe allot some of that towards those people who are actually creating a sustaining income center for you.  

Shannon Thompson: Veterinary medicine is largely set up in a production-based model. … Production compensation. Why are your techs not involved in that? And especially now with the workforce crisis and you’re short of veterinarians, you can’t find [any]. You already have the framework of the budget for veterinary salary. Why not distribute that to those that are filling in the gaps? Find a way while you can.  … You’ve got the budget for it. 

Katie Berlin: … Losing employees and having to train new ones is extremely expensive from what I understand. I’ve never owned a practice, but I know there’s some pretty good data on what it costs to lose an employee. And I can’t think of a bigger reason why I would leave as a technician than feeling like they just keep looking for vets and looking for vets and looking for vets… In the meantime, I’m getting paid a salary that makes me have to go work at a restaurant on the weekends and that just… It kind of feels super icky just to say that.  

Shannon Thompson: We do have data. In Canada, the Ontario Association of Veterinary Technicians, OAVT, they did the value of an RVT survey, an economic survey to investigate and collect data on the income generated by an RVT, having a credentialed veterinary technician in your practice to generate $80,000 in revenue to your practice, if utilized appropriately. 

 

Hear the whole conversation on Central Line: The AAHA Podcast, anywhere you get your podcasts or at aaha.org/podcast.  

This episode doesn’t have video, but most do! Wish you could watch these conversations? Catch Central Line on YouTube

Got something to say? We’re always up for constructive comments and conversation. Send us feedback or questions anytime at podcast@aaha.org.  

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