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.


  1. Hi Ms. Bonnie,

    I really enjoyed reading your post! It really helps put into perspective that you can indeed use critical thinking in the vet tech field and that it really brings something extra to the table versus a trained monkey. Sadly, critical thinking isn't taught in school as nearly as much in school anymore.

    With my internship site at a veterinary hospital (my first experience being more than a client at one) I was surprised to see the limitations that the vet techs' had. They don't suture or apply casts. The vets take it upon themselves to perform most of the procedures that I know a vet tech could perform. But a great example of using critical thinking to better a situation is when the tech began monitoring a patient post-op that had a very low temperature. She used warmies and the heating pad from the surgery room to help the animal with recovery, along with continuing to closely monitor for changes, making constant assessments and revisions to the prior assessments.

    1. Thanks for posting Katie! Yes, it can be discouraging to see RVTs underutilized, especially when you are just starting your career. One thing I hope to accomplish with this blog is to help all RVTs (and soon-to-be-RVTs!) realize that they are not alone. We can reach out to one another and lift each other up by sharing our stories. I believe our DVMs want us to function more independently but as you point out, critical thinking is a skill that needs to be practiced not just talked about. One small change for the good can lead to another small change...and then another...and another...

  2. I really enjoyed this article. Thank you for encouraging and supporting vet techs. Looking forward to following your blog!


  3. This was a very uplifting article that made me realize that all industries. . . even a vet technicians. . . have a choice to be positive (what do I get to do) or negative (what do I not get to do). Thanks for your insightful thoughts.

    Heidi for

  4. Your blog is great! Im considering going to vet tech school and ive been doing alot of research, however the most help has come from people in the field. I was hoping i could ask you some questions! Please emal me if you can at

  5. Nice Blog. Thanks for sharing this.