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Client Trends Flexing your #VetNurse Career

December 8, 2020

You may sense the increase in specialty medicine, but have you considered how this is transforming veterinary nursing and veterinary technology? How about the demand for telehealth services?

Your clients are driving the demand and increasing the need for credentialed, formally trained veterinary paraprofessionals. How are you preparing for the trending career paths?

Transforming Roles

The landscape of veterinary medicine is rapidly morphing! The understatement of the year, right?! The field of veterinary technology is changing to accommodate the shift in nursing skills, client expectations, and the world outside the hospital’s walls.

Credentialed veterinary technicians are an essential component in the delivery of quality veterinary medicine. These veterinary professionals are in high demand as they are formally trained. This entails graduation from an American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA)-accredited veterinary technician program, passing the Veterinary Technician National Exam (VTNE), and maintaining state requirements.

Their roles must change and adapt, along with the other veterinary team members, in order to maintain job satisfaction and keep up with client demands.

State of the Profession

The career of veterinary technology is a seemingly new sector of veterinary medicine established in 1973 when the AVMA began accrediting animal technician training programs.

Currently, there are approximately 111,000 veterinary technicians in the United States, according to the May 2019 U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. In all likelihood, this is probably a reflection of technicians (credentialed and non-credentialed) and assistants.

Surprising, new Freaky Fact, for the first time, there are fewer Veterinarians (74,540 in number) listed on the BLS than veterinary technicians, according to the May 2019 BLS report. 

In the AVMA 2018 study, there were 113,400 veterinarians. 2 This number may reflect veterinarians remaining active members in their national association and includes retirees.

Average Career Trajectory

Upon graduation from college, the majority of veterinary technicians step into general practice. They hone their skills for a few years then begin looking for their next challenge. This desire to grow, both personally and professionally, seems reasonable. Most people have a strong desire to learn and master skills in the technical and non-technical aspects of their jobs.

Dedicated, committed, and knowledgeable individuals will experience greater reward in their careers when ALL of their skills are utilized.  There is evidence of a positive connection between individual engagement (i.e., feeling recognized, appreciated, capable of performing as an integral team member and encouraged to further develop skills and knowledge) and veterinary job satisfaction. 3

How do veterinary technicians continue to elevate and grow their careers?

Over the past decade, the choices for professional development have increased. The challenge is identifying a healthy work environment, building strong, lasting relationships with their “boss,” and continually growing a satisfying, fulfilling career.

Shifting Veterinary Demands Impacts Team Needs

One of the trends that AVMA has seen in its membership is a shift from general medicine to specialization.  From 2007 to 2017, the percentage of veterinarians in general practice/surgery fell from roughly 62% to 54%. In the same time frame, referral/specialty medicine rose 9% per year and emergency/critical care medicine increased 11% per year. 4

Chart from AVMA showing the trend in veterinarians over a 10 year period.

Economic theory is based on the supply and demand principle.  This indicates that clients are driving the demand for specialization. In turn, the same demand is reflected in veterinary technology.

According to AVMA, as of December 2018, there were a total of 13,539 active board-certified diplomates across 22 major specialties. 5

As of July 2019, there were 16 fields where a credentialed veterinary technician could become a Veterinary Technician Specialist (VTS). NAVTA designates a committee to oversee the Academies and their specialty requirements.

In 2015, when there were only 11 specialist fields, there were approximately 850 people who held the VTS designation. 6 However, this number is slowly growing as in July 2019, with the 16 possible VTS designations, there were approximately 1120 people with a VTS (calculated from the individual websites).

The point is, because of the demand for specialty services by the client and the veterinarian, the need for Veterinary Technician Specialists and their amazing skills and delivery of veterinary medicine is increasing!

How to become a VTS. Where to begin, how to take the initial steps?

First, identify which Academy appeals to you. Identify what you are passionate about! Visit NAVTA’s site, under Specialties. https://www.navta.net/page/SpecialtyInformation

Do you currently enjoy anesthesia monitoring?

Are you already consulting with pet parents about the purchase of a new dog or cat?

How often are you performing dental procedures, assuring proper care and follow up?

Does your heart race when you hear a critical case is arriving in 10 minutes, good adrenalin rush?

How often are you educating current clients on pet nutrition and feeding?

Do you work in an equine veterinary hospital and ready to research VTS?

Second, review the Academy’s website to determine their requirements for application.

How many case histories are required?

Is there a mentor to assist you through the process?

How will you be supported by the Academy and current members to assure success?

How much is the application fee and cost to sit for the test?

If you work in a general practice; how will you fulfill the requirements if you are not seeing the caseload?

How long will it take to complete the requirements?

Is there a nearby VTS or Veterinary Diplomate available for questions or shadowing?

What research and reading materials are needed?

Third, objectively create an outline that takes you through the process, from the beginning to fruition.

Starting date

Mentors

Application requirements and fees

Case Histories

Defined requirements specific to that specialty (ie, x-rays, written materials, presentations)

Continuing education

Reading materials

Travel time

Certification date and fees

Celebration of success

Offering of new service, VTS

How to implement in your veterinary hospital

Completion date

Keep in mind, this is a general outline.

Reaching out, virtually

Another area where growth is occurring is in Telehealth medicine.  While fundamentally it has been around since the invention of the telephone, it is starting to grow and take on new life. Again, this is being driven by clients who are looking for improved access to veterinary services.

Basically, virtual care encompasses any technology interaction between the veterinary team and the client and patient.  Telehealth refers to all types of technology used to remotely deliver health information, education, or care.

Telemedicine services can take on many forms, depending on the needs of the client, the leveraging of the veterinary team, and the use of remote technologies. 7

Veterinary Technicians can evaluate what the current situation is, and then offer suggestions on how telehealth can be utilized to increase efficiency within the hospital. By taking it to the next level and specifically designing technology-based programs, it will allow the veterinary team to provide even more services and care. Today’s pet owner wants more than just the traditional veterinary hospital experience.

The best advice is to understand your own State Veterinary Board (Examiners) and Federal laws governing telehealth. Some of these are newly applied laws that are taking effect at different times in various states.

Teams are encouraged to discuss, as a group, the hospital’s philosophy related to virtual care, the importance of a Veterinarian-Client-Patient-Relationship (VCPR) and the different roles when offering the services and care. Expanding telehealth services can be a great opportunity for your team, the client and the patient.

Definitions are a good place to start!

Thankfully, the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) and the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) have put together a comprehensive brochure: The Real-Life Rewards of Virtual Care.2

Virtual Care

Think of virtual care as the principal term that includes ALL the other definitions. It includes all the modalities used to deliver veterinary care remotely. Basically, virtual care covers any technology interaction between the veterinary team and the client and patient.

Telehealth

Telehealth refers to all the types of technology used to remotely deliver health information, education or care. There are essentially two categories divided by the distinction of whether a VCPR is present or not. When there is NOT a VCPR, telehealth can be offered only as advice (nothing that can be construed as prognosing, diagnosing or prescribing), teletriage, telemarketing or advertising.

Teleconsulting falls under telehealth. This is when a veterinary specialist uses telehealth technologies to offer insight and advice on the care of a patient to another veterinarian.

Telemonitoring is considered a tool within telehealth where specific parameters of the patient can be relayed back to the hospital for evaluation. The perfect opportunity for a veterinary technician!

In teletriage, a diagnosis is not rendered. Rather safe, appropriate and timely advice is given based on feedback from the client, either orally or through videos or pictures.  Then a decision can be made if a referral to a veterinarian is required.

Telemedicine

Since telemedicine is an actual exchange of medical information, it can only be offered within an existing VCPR. This is critical to ensure that veterinary medicine is being practiced legally and at a high standard of quality.

While the requirements of the VCPR may vary slightly from state to state, it is important that the VCPR is clearly established prior to utilizing telemedicine.  Without it, only teleadvice or teletriage is appropriate.  And a VCPR cannot be established via technological means – it must be in a face-to-face, hands-on situation. Again, team members are reminded to understand the State’s view and definition of VCPR, because these are flexing in some states.

In summary (not completely defined), a VCPR is established when:

  1. The veterinarian has knowledge of the patient via timely exams to be able to provide diagnosis of any medical conditions,
  2. The veterinarian makes clinical judgments regarding the health of the patient with the client agreeing to follow any given instructions,
  3. The veterinarian is accessible for follow-up evaluations, care or treatments or has made the appropriate arrangements,
  4. Oversight of treatment, compliance and outcome is provided by the veterinarian, and
  5. Medical records of the patient are maintained.

Telemedicine is not a unique discipline but rather a tool to extend the practice outside of the physical walls of a building.  “Examples include using Skype or a mobile app to communicate with a client and visually observe the patient for a postoperative follow-up examination and discussion,” as stated in the Virtual Care brochure.2

Veterinary Team members interested in growing their knowledge and leverage their skills in Telehealth are encouraged to join the recently formed Veterinary Virtual Care Association.

Another worthwhile, informative group, the Veterinary Telemedicine Community on Facebook.

In Conclusion

The role of the veterinary technician is changing to adapt to the needs of veterinarians and clients. If allowed, they can thrive in a work environment that utilizes their skills and provides opportunities for career advancement.

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References

  1. The three things employees really want: career, community, cause. Goler, Gale, Harrington, and Grant. Harvard Business Review. February 20, 2018.  https://hbr.org/2018/02/people-want-3-things-from-work-but-most-companies-are-built-around-only-one?_lrsc=9eddc85c-f4ca-45df-983f-30a1a04905e9&utm_source=social&utm_medium=leap
  2. Market research statistics: US veterinarians 2018. https://www.avma.org/KB/Resources/Statistics/Pages/Market-research-statistics-US-veterinarians.aspx
  3. Team + Trust + Training = Team Satisfaction, Quality Patient Care, and Profitability. Rebecca Rose, CVT and Jason B. Coe, DVM, PhD. NAVTA. 2018. https://cdn.ymaws.com/www.navta.net/resource/resmgr/files/Team-Trust-Training-Rose_Coe.pdf
  4. Chart of the month: Shifting demand for veterinarians. [email protected] June5, 2019. https://atwork.avma.org/2019/06/05/chart-of-the-month-shifting-demand-for-veterinarians/
  5. What specialized veterinary technicians bring to the table. Matthew Kenwright. DVM360. February 9, 2015. http://veterinarymedicine.dvm360.com/what-specialized-veterinary-technicians-bring-table
  6. Telehealth and telemedicine and teletriage…Oh my! Rebecca Rose, CVT and Denise Mikita, MS, CVT.  Veterinary Practice News. March 29, 2019. https://www.veterinarypracticenews.com/telehealth-telemedicine-teletriage/
  7. Veterinary Nurse Initiative. NAVTA. http://veterinarynurse.org/