I am a Registered Veterinary Technologist (RVT). Many of you have likely not heard this title, much less know what one does. Maybe you may have heard the terms vet tech or simply tech, when you have had your dog or cat into the veterinary clinic for vaccines or a check up. I think it's important that we call ourselves by our full title. Registered Veterinary Technologist. It lets the public know that I have a credential, a protected occupational title. I went to school for two years (there are now some Bachelor programs in the US). I had to pass the Veterinary Technician National Examination in order to be registered with my provincial and national associations. I have bylaws and a code of ethics. I induce and monitor anesthesia, I collect and run lab samples such as blood and urine, I take x-rays and ensure that staff are safe when doing so, I place intravenous catheters, I perform dental cleanings, I provide nursing care, I am a gentle touch when my patient is scared, I am the voice for those who can't speak for themselves. I am a Registered Veterinary Technologists. It is not just what I do, it is who I am.
I am not the only person who has said these things. In fact, if you ask any RVT, they are likely to give you the same, or a similar, answer. We are passionate about what we do. But it is a sad fact that the lifespan of an RVT is about 5 years. It is at that point in their career when the lack of pay, the lack of utilization and the lack of respect start to take their toll. Now let's be honest, no one gets into the field thinking they are going to get rich. But when you can't simply make ends meet on what you are paid, it is time to start re-evaluating. Part of the issue of low pay is that in many states and provinces, there is no requirement for credentialing. A veterinarian can hire anyone off the street, pay them minimum wage, and train them to perform the tasks that RVTs went to school to learn. Of course, these OTJs ("On-the-job trained) don't have the knowledge behind what they are doing, as one DVM states in this article. And therein lies the problem. Knowing how to do something, but not why you are doing it, or how to troubleshoot if something goes wrong, is dangerous in my opinion. And that brings us back to the lack of respect and utilization.
If a veterinarian can hire anyone to do my job, who is going to respect my credential? If you don't need it to do the job, what does it even mean to have it? Look, we went to school for two years to learn how to care for our patients. So when we aren't permitted to use our skills, or someone else can do a task in place of us, it eats away at us. Sometimes it is an issue of control (the vet can't give up placing their own catheters or inducing anesthesia themselves), but often one of economics. And yet, as this article states, a 2010 study demonstrated that for each "credentialed technician" per DVM, the veterinarian's gross income increased by over $93 000! Surely that is enough to pay a fair wage.
So, what can pet owners do? Ask if your veterinary clinic or hospital has Registered Veterinary Technologists on staff. If they don't, find out who is doing all the technical tasks. If a high school student was administering medication to your child in a hospital would you be okay with it? If not, is it okay for your furry family member?
Here are a few related links and blog posts that you might find interesting.
Four reasons why RVTs leave the field
What keeps RVTs in the field
Vet Tech Problems Twitter Account
Reasons why Vet Nurses are Essential