October 11, 2010
Walking into the hustle and bustle of the William R. Pritchard Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital, it is clear that every patient is receiving ample, first-class care. A veterinary technician to the right is equipping a dog with an endotracheal tube before surgery, a technician in Ward One is recalculating IV fluids for a postoperative patient, and another staff member is leading a drowsy dog down the hall.
Every year since 1993, the National Association of Veterinary Technicians in America has reserved the third week of October as National Veterinary Technician Week. Nothing could better express the essence of what it means to be a veterinary technician than this year’s theme of “Hands-on-Healing”—an act of skill and humanity performed daily by animal health technicians.
Veterinary technicians live and breathe compassion for animal welfare, a lifestyle worthy of recognition. National Veterinary Technician Week serves as a chance for pet owners and other animal lovers alike to express their gratitude for the exceptional group of individuals tending to these critters and companions around the clock with unfailing, and always expanding, knowledge and commitment.
Richard Nelson, director of the Small Animal Clinic acknowledges the many contributions of the technical staff. "The animal health technicians and registered veterinary technicians play an integral role in almost all operations of the VMTH," he says. "This includes patient care, teaching veterinary students and residents, interfacing with clients and referring veterinarians, providing support for faculty, and managing the day-to-day operations of receiving services, support services, and diagnostic services. They do an incredible job and are part of the reason why the VMTH at UC Davis is one of the top veterinary hospitals in the world."
The veterinary technician community is layered with backgrounds and experiences as unique as the technicians themselves. While all animal health technicians are well versed in the handling and caring of animals, whether small or large, there are two main routes taken in becoming a veterinary technician. To become a Registered or Certified Veterinary Technician, one must complete a two-year program and pass the Veterinary Technician National Examination. From that point, there is also the option to specialize in a given field such as oncology or zoological medicine. Kristin Lewis, an animal health technician at the William R. Pritchard Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital, is an example of the alternate route. Lewis explains: “I’ve been doing this since I was 18 years-old—just on-the-job training.” It is this very training and experience that has deemed Lewis an animal health technician within the VMTH.
What’s more, the VMTH acts as the perfect setting for those like Lewis who acquire the title of an animal health technician through experience and a lifetime of learning and practice. Cheryl Stafford, Supervising Nurse of the Small Animal Clinic, highlights this opportunity as a feature that sets the VMTH apart from other veterinary hospitals. She says “We probably have more specialists under one roof than most referring veterinary hospitals, and the technicians have the opportunity to become very specialized in a discipline such as anesthesia, oncology, and avian/exotics.”
So, exactly what are the duties of an animal health technician within the veterinary hospital? The list is infinite, with countless responsibilities in the realm of medicine, surgery, intensive care, diagnostics and more. Stafford describes a typical day in the life of an animal health technician to include: administering medication, placing IVs and catheters, prepping patients for surgery, continuous 24-hour care for ICU patients, and performing dental prophylaxis. That is to name just a few of the many imperative intricacies the clinic could not function without.
Dawn Parmeter explains that the veterinary hospital is “essentially a human hospital, but with animals.” Thus, for the William R. Pritchard Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital to operate nonstop—like the well-oiled machine it is—the expertise of enthusiastic animal health technicians, like Parmeter, is vital in every field. From the most basic check-up appointment to oncology, dentistry, radiation therapy, dermatology and cardiology, the VMTH parallels even the best of human hospitals with animal health technicians and specialty veterinarians making it all possible.
Kristin Lewis characterizes the animal health technician team of the VMTH as being the “backbone of the clinic.” She says that with such a “wide range of duties, the hospital could not function without the techs.” Parmeter shares this sentiment—as do most of the near 400 hospital staff members—when she says that “veterinary technicians are heavily relied upon—they’re the biggest support system.”
Soli Redfield and Lindsay Newman represent a scarce, yet highly valuable, demographic of technicians—those with a specialization in caring for large animals. Marika Pappagianis, Management Services Officer of the Large Animal Clinic, says the clinic is “thrilled to have RVTs with specialized training, but they are less abundant.” Redfield, who has seven years of experience, is the perfect example of “Hands-on-Healing”. She says her daily duties consist of “trotting, lunging, restraining, prepping, and administering medication” to the clinic’s patients. The large animal sector of the VMTH accommodates the majority of large animals including: horses, goats, steer, zonkeys, and even the occasional camel. She emphasizes that her “number one duty is in assisting the doctors to aid and diagnose” the clinic's patients.
Leaving the VMTH and watching pets reunite with their families, once again in good health, serves as confirmation that what these diligent animal health technicians do day in and day out is well worthwhile and highly commendable.
Thanks to Alyson Salmon, undergraduate marketing intern from the Department of American Studies, for producing this article and accompanying photos to commemorate National Veterinary Technician Week.
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