Sunday, August 18, 2013

The Freedom of the Practice Act

The other day I was considering the Veterinary Practice Act as it is written in my home state of California. It dawned on me that we tend to put a lot of focus of what cannot be done by RVTs versus what can be done. We cannot perform surgery, prescribe medications, diagnose or prescribe. It would appear that there are still a fairly large number of quite essential tasks that we can perform.

I think about these things because, sadly, I hear so many of my students discussing what some hospital manager, head RVT or veterinarian won’t “let” them do. To all of you that have fallen prey to this line of thought I would ask what can you do in that particular setting? Have you ever spent any time considering what unique skills you have that might bring added value to your place of employment? Why are you waiting for someone to “let” you do something when the laws governing our profession are very well spelled out for us? You can do a lot!!!

Consider this: when was the last time you went out to the kennel and took the temperature, heart rate and respiration of every animal housed there? Why should you do that, you ask? Because these animals are in your care and even an animal in for boarding can manifest changes that need to be noted. This is called showing initiative! I find it kind of funny that everyone gets so excited about things like placing catheters and intubating for surgery. Once you have done that a few times it gets pretty routine. Conversely, those mundane, daily, but oh-so-important things such as observing baseline behavior and health status could reveal unexpected patterns indicating problems an RVT is uniquely qualified to assess.

There is a phrase I like to quote “You will miss much more by not looking than you ever will by not knowing.” I apologize because I do not know who originated this phrase however the larger point is that technicians get so easily burned out because they don’t know how to find new opportunities within their own practices. We have a tendency to forget that we aren’t just seeing individual patients but representatives of a larger community. That community consists of all the animals in your hospital but also all the people who live with all those animals in their private homes. When you consider the interaction each of your patients has with people and other animals in your community it can open up a very large population that might benefit from your services.

Some of the more obvious ideas are behavior training and nutritional counseling but what I would really like you to consider is that phrase I quoted: if you routinely, carefully assess the population of animals AND humans you work with you will see needs emerge. Needs that you can address. Cut yourself loose from the rather restrictive ideas about what an RVT usually does. Stop talking about what you can't do and figure out what you can do to address the needs of your population—whether that population is the staff of your clinic, your animal patients or the owners of those animals.

A woman working on her Master’s degree thesis in environmental health education recently interviewed me. She is an RVT and is seeking to find areas where veterinary technology can serve the greater good in environmental issues. Now that’s some creative thinking and an excellent example of looking for needs that she might address. In case you don’t see the connection let me direct you to an article recently published in the New York Times on the amount of industrial pollution being produced by the textile industry in Bangladesh. They are having tremendous problems with their aquaculture there due to the release of chemical by-products into local streams. It doesn’t take a huge leap of logic to realize that ecosystem health most definitely affects the health of our animal populations.

So, I will ask again: what interests do you have, what skills do you possess (re-visit my earlier blog on how I discovered my own skills in marketing!) that can be applied in your clinic? Stop waiting for someone to “let” you do something and start looking for what you are not seeing. I promise you will become more fulfilled in your work than you could ever have expected and that veterinarian or practice manager will start looking at you with new respect. You can make yourself the "go-to" person but no one is going to send you an engraved invitation to exercise a little initiative. Read the practice act in your state; learn it, quote it and then build from there.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Out of Africa

I am just back home from Mali, West Africa and I thought I might tell you a little bit about the adventure. The scope of this project was to be centered on improving goat and sheep husbandry practices in order to increase production of meat and milk. Sounds pretty basic right? Well little did I know that after flying 16 hours I would find out that this was a marketing project, not a medical one! And the adventure begins…

 At the initial meeting with the head of the field office in Bamako I listened with great intensity, taking copious notes, all the while the voice in my head kept asking, “what the heck do I know about marketing???” Well, I’m no quitter and so on the appointed day I put on my game face, loaded my luggage into a pick up truck and set off for the four-hour drive across the Malian countryside to the village that was to be my home for the next two weeks.

 After meeting with members of the small village it quickly became clear that the sorts of marketing problems they were experiencing had everything to do with methods of production coupled with complete lack of record of keeping. Phew! I can do this! Each day I presented a basic concept that would help the villagers make the connection between the health of their animals and their ability to make a profit on them at market. Hmmm…. I guess I do know something about marketing after all!

 The Malian people I met were such a joy; they were so happy to share their lives, their homes and themselves with a total stranger. Their kindness and sense of humor made my stay in their village a complete delight. There was one very quiet man who had been coming to training each day, and each day asking to speak to me separately. This gentleman had carefully written out his own introduction and a list of questions he wanted to ask me…keep in mind that in Mali the literacy rate averages about 45%. The entire exchange was conducted in such a polite, respectful and gratitude filled manner with the only motivation being to learn more about my country, my culture, and me. As I answered his questions and waited for his responses I could feel the tears welling up in my eyes. When was the last time I showed such interest in a total stranger? How often do I dismiss others from different countries or cultures rather than making an effort to learn about them simply because their ways are strange to me? I suspect that we would all benefit greatly if we took the time to slow down and really see PEOPLE instead of only focusing on the task at hand.

So how does this relate to veterinary technology, the veterinary profession and to you? In confronting the problems this village was experiencing in earning income from their animals, I applied knowledge, skills and abilities cultivated over years of experience as an RVT. These skills helped me to isolate the most pressing problems affecting the financial bottom line in this village. Much as with the clients we see in private practice, seeking the origin of a problem requires looking backwards…taking an adequate history, so-to-speak. In public health we like to call this sort of problem solving “working upstream”. And yes, it helps to remember that veterinary medicine is a business as well as a vocation.

In Mali I was asked to help the people market their animals more effectively so that they could increase their income. What was really needed was an assessment of the activities that took place all along the marketing chain. We can forget that the things we know and take for granted can be applied in new and creative ways to find solutions to life’s challenges. Never underestimate your ability to step outside your own personal comfort zone. You will experience moments of panic, as I did, and perhaps some doubt, but in the end you the lessons you will learn about yourself and the world around you will be immeasurable.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

The Spaces In Between

I meet with many prospective students in the course of a given semester and had the opportunity to meet with another interested individual about a week ago. This young woman was bright, energetic and a complete delight. Like most prospective students, though, she thought she already knew the extent of what a career in veterinary technology has to offer. In outlining our rather intense curriculum I explained that our mission is to prepare students for careers not only in companion animal practice but also in research, shelter management, laboratory diagnostics, public health, nutritional counseling, behavior, dentistry…well, you get the idea.

It is the tendency to focus on dogs, cats and horses when we speak of a career in veterinary medicine. I see this time and again with students each year. We perceive the jobs to be in companion animal medicine and yet so many technicians leave the profession after a few years stating that they can’t make a living in this career. So, because this is a brand new year and I believe we can’t move forward as a profession until we address some basic issues I would like to share some facts that might help adjust your perspective:

A new graduate veterinarian leaves school with approximately $142,613 of debt looking forward to a starting salary of $46,971(Shepard 2011). This, for a doctorate degree in medicine. Using the costs of this associate degree vet tech program as an example, and assuming a student borrows all the money needed for books and tuition, a vet tech graduate will leave school approximately $4000 in debt and can look forward to a starting salary of $36,120 (NAVTA,2008).

I will let these numbers speak for themselves but it appears fairly obvious why technician salaries are not higher in companion animal medicine. I urged you in my last post to look for the needs in society and there you will find opportunity. Put another way, we need to look for the spaces in between what we perceive to be veterinary medical practice and what the world needs from veterinary medicine to create new opportunities. One more telling statistic before I move on…less than half of technicians attend any kind of continuing education meetings (NAVTA,2008). How on earth can you hope to better your prospects if you stop learning?

There are twenty colleges in the United States that offer baccalaureate degree programs in veterinary technology, many with fully online instruction. I can’t begin to describe the professional “jump start” that occurs every time I attend a veterinary conference or workshop. If those options don’t appeal to you there are numerous opportunities for CE as close as your own computer. There are no excuses left. What happens at the intersection of humans, animals and the environment is an area that is demanding greater attention as we march forward into the 21st century. Please start doing your own research and re-invest yourself in this profession. We are a force to be reckoned with!

May your new year be filled with hope, enthusiasm, and greater educational opportunities which will lead you to be the change you want to see in this world.

Shepard, A., Pikel, L. (2011). "Employment, Starting Salaries, and Educational Indebtedness of year-2011 Graduates of US Veterinary Medical Colleges." Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association239(7): 953-957.

Decker, C., Navarre, P., (2008). Technicians Respond! National Demographic Survey Summary. The NAVTA Journal, Spring. Retrieved from

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Consider the Possibilities

It has been a long time, and a bit of a wild ride, since my last entry in this blog. Over the past several months, I have completed a bachelor’s degree in veterinary technology, enrolled in graduate school, travelled to Haiti to consult on an agricultural project, and spoken at a national veterinary conference. Phew! I am back now, a bit tired, but ready to share more thoughts on veterinary technology in the twenty-first century.

Recently someone asked why I started this blog and that very simple question served to ground me, reminding me why I have been working so hard. Veterinary technology has the potential, as a profession, to help create the possibility of better circumstances for our world. Previous blogs have touched upon the history of our profession and the need to recognize that we are a young, vibrant and growing force within veterinary medicine. We have physicians, nurses, pharmacists, ophthalmologists, dentists, veterinarians, social workers and host of others, all working together to improve the health of people and animals worldwide. Veterinary technicians can also take their place in this global effort.

While in Haiti, I met couple of women who work with an organization based out of Chicago. This organization, The Children’s Place Association, (, works to support the unique needs of children infected with HIV, both within the United States and internationally. These two women worked daily amid the heartbreak of families devastated by this horrible disease. Our conversations took place surrounded by the most mind-blowing poverty you could imagine, and yet the joy and enthusiasm exuding from them both, for all the possibilities of life, was palpable. The brief time spent with them left me renewed, refreshed and inspired as to what more I could do within my own profession.

We all have areas that call to us, in all walks of life. Within veterinary medicine, it could be dentistry, anesthesiology, behavior, diagnostic imaging, shelter medicine, disaster relief or a number of other fields. An area you might not have previously considered is that of public health. In reality, all of veterinary medicine is a public health endeavor. Herd health concepts are at work in everything we do, from keeping a community of dogs protected from parvo through implementation of a vaccination program, to preventing an outbreak of food-borne illness through education on agricultural safety.

The connection between animals and humans goes well beyond a purely emotional bond: it affects nearly every facet of life. After two trips to Haiti, it has become abundantly clear that human dependency upon animal populations is something that most of us, here in the United States do not really comprehend. Within our professional and personal lives, it is human nature to look for opportunities; let’s make the time to look for needs. From the answers to those needs, new opportunities will arise.

“I am only one, but I am one. I cannot do everything, but I can do something. And I will not let what I cannot do interfere with what I can do.”
~Edward Everett Hale

Friday, December 31, 2010

It's a Brand New Day

Veterinary technology, as a profession, is growing rapidly and there have been some remarkable strides made in a relatively short period of time. Yet I still hear some of the same old, tired complaints about being overworked, underpaid, under-appreciated, etc. I am not saying that there aren't some unpleasant working situations out there but don't you think other professionals feel the same way from time to time? Enough already!

Complaints without action are useless. Are you part of the solution or adding to the problem? Do you keep yourself informed? Sometimes what you perceive as a problem is much more a result of not knowing the whole story. What sort of maturity level do we demonstrate to our colleagues when we do not invest the effort to continue with our own academic or professional education? This brings me to the subject of this blog: titles and professional identity.

There is quite the discussion in our industry about titles. Who should be called what, why and when. Folks, in case you haven't been paying attention the discussion is over. We have veterinary assistants, veterinary technicians and veterinarians. We are not nurses; this is a protected title restricted to the human medical profession. So...if you are a veterinary assistant you should be proud of your contribution to the health care team. Please do not pretend to be a technician but, instead, find your niche within your practice setting and excel!

If you are a credentialed technician then you should be proud of your license--you worked hard for it. You know a lot but you are not a junior veterinarian so be cognizant of the limits of your license. Choose to be a leader and mentor within your practice and remember to appreciate the veterinary assistants who make your life easier each and every day. And both technicians and assistants need to pay a lot more respect to the intense amount of work and financial burden required to become a veterinarian. Ultimately the responsibility for all that happens in the clinic rests on their them!

If you are a veterinarian reading this then, please, make sure you are up-to-date on what your practice act states regarding permissible tasks for assistants and technicians. It isn't cool to look the other way no matter how much confidence you have in your staff. We are, all of us, on the same team and our clients depend upon us to work together.

We must, regardless of where we fit within the veterinary health care team, learn to proudly articulate what it is that we contribute to our profession and to the communities within which we work. We must demonstrate the maturity of those who know who they are, what they can do and where they fit within the big picture.

In California this just got a little easier. Effective January 1, 2011, the title of veterinary technician will be the title of nurse has been for years. AB1980 states, among other things, that any person is prohibited from using the title "registered veterinary technician" or "veterinary technician" or any other "words, letters, or symbols" with the intent to represent that person as authorized to act as a registered veterinary technician, having met specific requirements established by California state law. Additionally, this new law places a credentialed veterinary technician on the veterinary medical board, making California the 17th state to have an RVT serving in a regulatory capacity.

This is such a huge step forward for the veterinary profession. The legislation to which I have referred did not just appear out of nowhere; it certainly did not make it through the legislative process without the hard work of technicians and veterinarians who cared enough to get involved. Change does not happen in a vacuum. Those who see a need and then do the work will be the ones who determine the future you find yourself in. At the dawn of this new year, will you make a commitment to yourself and to your profession? Imagine a better tomorrow and then get to work on it today.

May 2011 bring all those who work in veterinary medicine the great joy and fulfillment that this career promises. Happy New Year!

Monday, September 6, 2010

A Ripple in The Pond

“The goal is Veterinary Technology as a strong, united and proud profession which serves humanity through the care of animal populations worldwide” (Loghry, 2010). When you embarked on this career path were you thinking about serving humanity? Probably not. Most of us, myself included, just wanted to be close to the animals so off to school we went to learn what we thought we needed to get us to where we thought we wanted to go. Notice how I phrased that last sentence…yes, I did choose my words deliberately.

Veterinary medicine is constantly evolving. Veterinary technicians have come a long way in a very short time. We didn’t used to exist and now we are a force to be reckoned with. We have the capacity to use our knowledge, skills and abilities to change lives in ways both simple and profound. Hopefully, by now, you have started to realize that Veterinary Technology is a living entity. This profession to which some of us have devoted a lifetime and to which others of us only aspire, is made up of living, breathing human beings.

All those that went before us saw possibilities and then worked within productive teams to turn those possibilities into realities. It is these opportunities that so many take for granted today. Don't fall into that trap--take nothing for granted!What kind of possibilities can you envision? What kind of contribution will you make?

I just finished reading an article summarizing the results of research linking flea bites with chronic infections and possible birth defects in humans. Yes, I said humans. “But Bonnie”, you say incredulously…“our profession is about animal health. Why are you interested in what makes people sick?” Glad you asked!

Bartonella henselae is a bacteria transmitted to cats by fleas. Recently Dr. Ed Breitschwerdt, professor of internal medicine in the Department of Clinical Sciences at North Carolina State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine, has discovered cases of children and adults with chronic, blood-borne Bartonella infections–from strains of this same bacteria transmitted to cats and dogs by fleas and other insects (Breitschwerdt, 2010). Flea prevention just entered a whole different realm of importance didn't it?

People interact with animals on a daily basis in so many different ways. Dr. Breitschwerdt’s work is just one example of a connection you may not have thought of; there are hundreds more. This is some pretty heady stuff, don’t you think?

So here is one possibility I see: using my knowledge, skills and ability as a Veterinary Technician to promote and protect the health of my animal patients AND the health of my fellow human beings as well. And what do I need to do to accomplish this? Simply keep learning and go to work every day, never forgetting that even in the smallest veterinary hospital in the tiniest town there are people that need veterinary technicians.

Yes, indeed, veterinary technology IS a profession dedicated to serving humanity through the care of animal populations. I recommend you access the Veterinary Technicians Code of Ethics and read it carefully as we begin to discuss more about future trends in Veterinary Technology and the power we all have within us to be a force for positive change.

Breitschwerdt, E. (2010) Research Links Flea Bites with Possible Bacterially Induced Birth Defects. Retrieved from 9/5/2010
Loghry, B. (2010) Teamwork. Retrieved from 9/5/2010
Veterinary Technicians Code of Ethics, 2007. National Association of Veterinary Technicians of America. Retrieved from 9/5/2010

Sunday, August 8, 2010


I would like to diverge, for a moment, from my discussion on the history of veterinary technology and discuss the concept of teamwork. What is teamwork, really, and why is it important? And, in keeping with the focus of this blog, what does it have to do with veterinary technology in the 21st century?

The following is an excerpt from the NDT Resource Center :

Teamwork is defined in Webster’s New World Dictionary as “a joint action by a group of people, in which each person subordinates his or her individual interests and opinions to the unity and efficiency of the group.” This does not mean that the individual is no longer important; however, it does mean that effective and efficient teamwork goes beyond individual accomplishments. The most effective teamwork is produced when all the individuals involved harmonize their contributions and work towards a common goal. (“Teamwork”, para.1)

Sometimes my students don’t understand when I harp on the concept of teamwork. Sometimes I see confusion in their eyes when they hear me tell them that just showing up is not enough. I know they drive a long way, rearrange their schedules, do their homework…I know how hard they work but more is still required. Teamwork requires a lot of heart; it requires accepting that you may not always see the results of your actions right away and it requires belief in the common goal. In reading about the history of veterinary technology it is easy to see we would not even have this profession without that kind of faith in what could be.

Where ever you see a veterinary technician you are actually seeing the hundreds of people who had a hand in getting that individual to their goal. The educators, the association members, the classmates, the family members, the mentors, the textbook authors…those who may have helped process some random piece of paperwork or somebody who bought lunch after a long day of field work. All these people, and more, worked in some way, on that person’s behalf, toward the common goal of creating a licensed technician. Each one of those people set aside their own personal needs of the day to unite with others and “harmonize their contributions”.

Being part of team is NOT the same as being a member of a group. The key to the difference lies in the ability to recognize and support a clear, common goal. Team members are unified, behave collaboratively (as opposed to individually), have high standards and support their leaders. It takes time and effort to turn a group into a team. Team members care about and support each other even when they don’t like each other. Team members do not hold themselves as superior to anyone, rather each recognizes the strengths and weaknesses present in the team and then seek to weave those strengths and weaknesses together to form a strong fabric of excellence.

So what is the common goal, the excellence that all veterinary team members should strive for? That goal is Veterinary Technology as a strong, united and proud profession which serves humanity through the care of animal populations worldwide.

I was asked recently what stimulated my interest in so many of the new career trends of the 21st century. My answer is simply this: I see nothing but possibilities for veterinary technicians. I see the possibility through shelter medicine, food safety, education, research and public health, to name just a few, that technicians can make this world a better place.

I will end by quoting one of the greatest individuals who ever graced the planet because I think that maybe Mahatma Gandhi actually defined teamwork better than anyone ever could when he urged us to “be the change we want to see in the world”.