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.