Veterinary Technicians: The Heartbeat of the Hospital

By Monique Feyrecilde, BA, LVT, VTS (Behavior)

Veterinary technicians have their fingers on the pulses of every patient, and they are at the heart of the entire veterinary profession. No living being can survive without a heart. Veterinary medicine can’t survive without our phenomenal technicians. During National Veterinary Technician Week, we celebrate the knowledge, compassion, professionalism, and amazing skills of these key team players. Veterinary medicine wouldn’t be possible without amazing technicians, and Fear Free veterinary medicine is no exception. Technicians facilitate Fear Free medicine, but practicing Fear Free medicine can help technicians, too!

The expectations placed on technicians can seem impossible at times. Triage exams, collecting histories, giving injections and vaccinations, performing blood collections, cystocentesis, and radiographs, administering and monitoring anesthesia, assisting in surgical procedures, providing complete dental care and intensive care for hospitalized patients, managing extensive medical records, performing grooming and janitorial duties, and providing emotional support for team mates, clients, and patients are all in a day’s work. The list of duties and responsibilities is overwhelming, and finances can be tight on a technician’s salary. With such a huge list of responsibilities in a stressful work environment for modest pay, it’s no surprise to anyone in the industry that technicians have a high rate of professional attrition and burnout.

One perhaps surprising but important cause of attrition is a mismatch between motivation and expectation. When I am teaching or presenting at a veterinary conference, I ask, “Why did you choose veterinary medicine?” Invariably the answer is because people love animals and wish to help these animals. These admirable and compassionate individuals come to the profession wanting to help, but these same people are confronted with a mismatch of expectations. The medical care they are providing to restore wellness can result in emotional and physical injuries to pets and people.

We learn how to observe patient body language, understand animal communication, and meet physical and emotional needs of animals. We are then then asked to ignore these important pieces of information in the name of diagnostics and treatments. We are taught the fastest way to scruff a cat who is trying to run away, and how to use a control pole without being bitten.  Is the better lesson how to prevent the animal from feeling as if she needs to escape from us? We are asked to harden our hearts and become experts in difficult physical restraint in the name of making pets “better.” Could we instead have open hearts and become experts in working with Considerate Approach and Gentle Control, or even Cooperative Veterinary Care? We are told to control our emotions and “keep it professional.” It is easy to label animals as mean, aggressive, biters, fractious, evil, or worse. It’s easy to become jaded about people and pets. We are asked to set aside the compassion and love for animals that sparked our interest in this vocation, and it hurts.

Fulfilling your heart’s vocation shouldn’t be dangerous, and it shouldn’t mean you set aside your compassion for animals. Dangerous work conditions, emotional challenges, low income, and underutilization are all cited by technicians as reasons they leave clinical practice. Fear Free can help keep amazing technicians at the heart of every hospital.

Heather Schroeder, CVT, is one example of a veterinary technician who recently transitioned out of clinical practice. She shared her story with me.

“After I earned my Fear Free certification, I made a presentation to my team teaching them about Fear Freesm. I wanted to inspire them to feel the way I felt, and to handle patients using these techniques. I had a great deal of success working with patients and receptive veterinarians, but the rest of the team continued allowing pets to struggle, handling them with forceful restraint. If I tried to step in and help, my team was not receptive and responded negatively.

After many disappointments, I chose to leave clinical practice for academia. I’m now teaching veterinary technician students, and including Fear Free in my curriculum to help new technicians succeed from the start.”

Fear Free brings us back to the heart of the matter: the wellbeing of animals. We can listen to the animals again. Jade Velasquez, LVT, is the practice manager of Brookside Animal Hospital. She shares, “When technicians are empowered to use Fear Free techniques, we can reconnect with our passion to provide care in a kind, caring and compassionate manner for our patients.” Technicians can prevent fear, anxiety, and stress. We can respond to patients’ emotional states, and provide care without causing fear. When we reduce the fear, anxiety, and stress a patient experiences, we reduce the risk of physical and emotional injury to both people and pets in the veterinary hospital.

Clients love Fear Free technicians. They notice the special interaction and bond between patient and caregiver when these technicians make every visit as comfortable as possible. Check out this client feedback about technicians:

“I love how excited Leon is to see Monique when we come to the clinic. Other hospitals gave up on Leon, but Monique is an amazing technician and we are so grateful for the care she provides while he is at the hospital.”

-Anthea G., client of Mercer Island Veterinary Clinic

“My dog, Carmela, has a lot of fears, especially the veterinarian. My vet office has recently instituted Fear Free techniques. No one approached her or frightened her. I took her to the scale, she sat on the scale for her weight, again quiet. We went into the exam room. Our technician Kate and veterinarian came into the room, sat on the floor and fed her treats. Carmela would go behind me and then go to the veterinarian. By the end of the visit, Carmela was lying quietly on the floor, no vocalizations, no jumping up and grabbing my clothing. She never felt trapped or forced. It was just amazing.”

-Susan Olson, client of Marine View Veterinary Hospital

“I never realized what technicians do! During my visit, the technician asked all sorts of questions about Mimi.* The doctor did her checkup and then the technician took her blood, and gave her shots. Mimi hardly noticed the needles while I had her eat the cheese whiz, and the technician was so gentle with her. I was so glad to be able to see what happened, and to see what gentle care they took of my baby.”

-Anonymous, Mercer Island Veterinary Clinic

During this week of appreciation for the ninjas, the masters, the magicians, the marvelous wizards who are veterinary technicians, take a moment to consider how to keep technicians in our hospitals and with our patients. We need to fully utilize our technicians, we need to appreciate them, we need to pay them, we need to show them respect. We need to empower them to do no harm. Veterinary technicians should be able to love our patients, showing concern for both their emotional and physical wellbeing. Empowering technicians to practice Fear Free medicine will help them fulfill their true vocations, and it will help keep them safe. It will bond clients and technicians, making our practices stronger and healthier. Let these compassionate geniuses show their empathy for our precious patients: it will keep the hearts of our hospitals healthy.

Monique Feyrecilde, BA, LVT, VTS (Behavior)

Teaching Animals, Auburn, WA | Mercer Island Veterinary Clinic, Mercer Island, WA

Monique Feyrecilde is a full-time veterinary technician in small animal private practice with over 20 years of experience. She is a veterinary technician specialist in behavior, and a past president of the Academy of Veterinary Behavior Technicians as well as the current chair of the Examination Committee. Monique was a content contributor for the Fear Free Certification course, and a module chair for two modules in the level two certification course.