Credentialed veterinary technicians are educated, skilled veterinary team members—yet they have been historically underutilized, underpaid, and plagued with burnout and compassion fatigue. These team members have always been difficult to come by, but a recent surge in veterinary growth, combined with pandemic woes, has left fewer technicians and skyrocketing demand.
The AVMA estimates technician demand will grow a whopping 30% by 2030, and getting there will be hard work—veterinary medicine needs to shift to accommodate rapidly changing pet and client needs, and focus on attracting and retaining technicians. Digital Empathy shares some of the progressive industry views surrounding technician utilization that might save the day.
The problems facing veterinary technicians
Studies looking into veterinary technicians’ reasons for leaving the profession have revealed a multifactorial problem leading to burnout and job dissatisfaction. The largest issues facing credentialed veterinary technicians include:
- Underutilization — Studies link technician job satisfaction directly to utilization, because underutilized technicians have no opportunities to use their vast knowledge or skills training, which leads to frustration and monotony. A Banfield study found that the average practice takes advantage of only 30% of technician skills.
- Lack of title protection — In many states, an on-the-job trained veterinary assistant can legally call themselves a technician, despite the state’s credentialing pathways. Despite consistent AVMA data demonstrating the link between credentialed technicians and increased practice revenue, many practices continue to employ assistants and technicians in the same capacity, which degrades the value of the technician’s education and credentials.
- Poor financial return on investment — Working veterinary assistants have no incentive to pursue formal education if credentialed technicians are not compensated appropriately or utilized correctly after earning a degree that likely puts them in long-term debt.
- Limited advancement opportunities — While opportunities abound for veterinary technicians outside clinical practice or in the management track, those who wish to remain “on the floor” have limited options, including team lead or VTS positions.
Solutions for veterinary technician attraction, empowerment, and retention
The topic of improving technician utilization is now of urgent interest in the veterinary community, and some innovative strategies have come to light. Veterinary practices can try to re-establish some roles in their clinic and elevate and empower technicians, including:
- Reserving the “veterinary technician” title for credentialed, qualified individuals
- Learning which tasks technicians can perform legally under your state’s practice act
- Learning the tasks required for veterinary technicians to graduate and pass the VTNE—most veterinarians are surprised at the extensive knowledge that technicians must obtain
- Empowering veterinary technicians to delegate non-technical tasks to assistants and other support staff (e.g., cleaning, walking dogs, answering phones)
- Investing in advanced technician training and education, including VTS support
- Recognizing and compensating veterinary technicians for their education and skill
Veterinary technicians want to use their knowledge and skills instead of feeling like educated restrainers. To better use their skilled teams, veterinary practices can establish clearer roles for veterinarians and technicians in day-to-day operations. For example, technicians are capable of administering most vaccines, suturing incisions, and performing dental cleanings, yet veterinarians often perform these duties. Practice managers should ask their veterinary technicians what tasks they want to learn or receive further training for, and empower them with new skills and confidence.
One intrepid Seattle company has found a solution that addresses increasing client demand, veterinarian burnout, and technician underutilization. BoosterPet is a wellness and urgent care model that leverages telemedicine and credentialed veterinary technicians to provide more pets with efficient care. On the wellness side, technicians examine pets and administer vaccines and wellness services in the clinic, while their supervising veterinarian tunes in via an in-room telemedicine platform. The company has found that clients will accept this strategy and be grateful for professional veterinary care in a timely manner.
Is the mid-level veterinary practitioner in our future?
Another exciting—albeit controversial—idea on the horizon is the introduction of a veterinary mid-level practitioner, similar to a human physician’s assistant or nurse practitioner. Lincoln Memorial University now offers a pilot master’s program that provides about a year of additional clinical training to high-performing veterinary technicians. Whether this idea takes hold or faces roadblocks from regulatory organizations remains to be seen, but the degree could provide an advanced career path without the enormous debt load or life-altering time commitment required to become a veterinarian. The online program allows participants to continue working, and is expected to cost around $25,000.
Better technician utilization, elevation, autonomy, and advancement opportunities are key to attract people to the veterinary profession and retain our top talent. If we follow human medicine, a mid-level practitioner role could fill the gaps in our current practice model and lead our profession into a more stable future.
The Digital Empathy team believes in thinking outside the box, and hopes to see more innovative technician-centered ideas and advancements in the veterinary profession. Contact us to learn how our website design and marketing services can help you attract high-level technicians who support your practice vision.
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