According to many veterinary professionals, the veterinary field is in crisis. A growing number of practices are feeling both overwhelmed and understaffed, creating a vicious cycle that makes it hard to keep up with client demands.
What if there was one simple change you could make in your practice to improve both your efficiency and your employee retention? It may sound too good to be true, but it isn’t.
Try this: utilize your veterinary technicians to the full extent of their capabilities.
Two models of veterinary technician utilization
In my fourteen years as a small animal veterinarian, I saw a variety of approaches to technician utilization. While most practices function somewhere in the middle, there are two extremes.
The best-managed practices employ multiple credentialed veterinary technicians and rely heavily upon them. These technicians work to the full extent of their capabilities, as defined by their state practice act. They remain busy and engaged throughout the day, performing mentally stimulating tasks that draw upon their education and experience. These practices function efficiently and their technicians tend to be fulfilled in their roles.
By contrast, other practices use veterinary technicians as glorified assistants. In these practices, catheter placement and anesthetic induction are the responsibility of the veterinarian, with credentialed technicians often relegated to restraint and kennel cleaning. This approach not only hinders the practice’s efficiency, it also results in unfulfilled technicians who are unlikely to remain in their role long-term.
While there are a variety of reasons that your practice might gradually evolve towards one model over the other, conscious changes may be in order.
The benefits of leveraging your veterinary technicians
Empowered veterinary technicians can increase your practice’s efficiency. Making full use of your technicians’ skills can free the veterinarian to perform tasks requiring a veterinary degree, namely diagnosing, prescribing, and performing surgery. This will allow you to see a greater number of patients, while also providing better care for those patients. In fact, leveraging your veterinary technicians has been consistently shown to increase practice revenue.
Empowered technicians are also typically happier at work. According to a 2016 survey conducted by the National Association of Veterinary Technicians in America (NAVTA), 20% of those leaving the veterinary field cited “lack of respect from the employer” as their primary motivator.
Allowing your veterinary technicians to fully utilize their skills (and showing appreciation for those skills) can be a valuable way to show respect and improve your workplace culture, both of which can decrease employee turnover.
5 steps to empower your veterinary technicians
It’s easy to understand the benefits of technician empowerment, but it’s not always easy to envision what that would look like in your practice. As you consider ways to utilize your technicians, consider the following:
1. Ask your veterinary technicians to identify areas of opportunity.
Begin with a conversation, talking to your technicians about additional roles they can take on within the practice. They may already see opportunities to step in and help. Encourage these suggestions, and work with your technicians to overcome barriers to their involvement.
2. Track what a typical veterinarian in your hospital does during a day.
Outline what a typical veterinarian in your practice does during a full workday. Could any of these tasks be delegated to a veterinary technician? In many practices, for example, veterinarians induce anesthesia, suture dental extraction sites, clean infected ears, call clients with normal lab results, and administer vaccine boosters. Many of these tasks could be delegated to a well-trained, credentialed veterinary technician (depending on your state practice act).
3. Consider your veterinary technicians’ daily responsibilities.
There’s more to empowerment than piling on additional tasks. Your veterinary technicians are probably already busy; you may need to delegate some of their responsibilities to other employees. While everyone should be willing to pitch in and help occasionally, credentialed veterinary technicians should spend minimal time cleaning kennels, restraining patients, and assisting your reception staff.
Ensure that each member of your team is working at their upper limit of their capabilities, delegating tasks to an employee with the minimum required qualifications to successfully perform the job.
4. Provide opportunities for additional training.
The NAVTA recognizes a growing list of veterinary technician specialties, including internal medicine, behavior, dentistry, and others. Additional training opportunities outside of specialization include Fear-Free Certification, Human-Animal Bond Certification, Pet Nutrition Coach Certification, and others. Encourage your technicians to pursue opportunities in their professional growth. This will increase their job satisfaction, while also enhancing their value to your practice.
5. Show respect to your veterinary technicians.
A practice’s leadership team is typically comprised of one practice manager and one veterinarian. In many practices, associate veterinarians are also often regarded as unofficial hospital leaders; they are given input on issues affecting patient care and other aspects of the practice. Consider treating your credentialed veterinary technicians similarly. Show respect for their skills and education by soliciting their recommendations and feedback, giving them an opportunity to help improve your practice.
Empowered technicians benefit you, your team, your clients, and your patients
Remember, veterinary technicians are trained professionals. They are capable of performing many tasks that are routinely handled by veterinarians (up to the limits specified under law). By allowing your veterinary technicians to handle more complex tasks, you can lighten the load on your doctors while also increasing the job satisfaction of your veterinary technicians.
Cathy Barnette, DVM
Cathy Barnette, DVM is a veterinarian and freelance writer based in Florida. After 14 years as a small animal general practitioner, Dr. Barnette now focuses on creating educational content for veterinary teams and their clients. She shares her home with her husband, daughter, one dog, two cats, and a rescued white dove.