First, a disclaimer. We acknowledge inconsistencies in job titles for credentialled veterinary technicians and understand that some readers may be sensitive to one term or another. We use “nurse” and “technician” interchangeably here and ask readers to apply whichever term is applicable in their state.
If you have worked in a veterinary setting for very long, you have met that “rockstar” veterinary nurse, the unicorn that brought so much to the practice! But too often, the core values that allow that individual to excel are the same qualities that eventually force them to leave the profession. These values include eagerness to learn, a strong work ethic, leadership, and passion for the work. Their work ethic means they give their best effort every day. Their passion for this field keeps them coming back, even on the hard days. And for a while, the job is satisfying. For a while, it is intriguing and rewarding. For a while, they reach their potential and shine brightly while doing so. And then comes the “Next.”
Often veterinary clinics have low pay ceilings for those who are not veterinarians. This forces too many exceptional employees to leave the profession. No matter how much they love their career choice, they need more – more job satisfaction and more money. Many industry articles detail why fully utilizing credentialed technicians is not only a wise business decision but relieves some of the burden from veterinarians. Full utilization provides a richer job for nurses while freeing doctors to see more cases. This is half of the equation. The other half is paying these committed, ambitious people appropriate wages so they will not leave the field out of necessity.
Utilizing credentialed technicians to increase practice efficiency and profitability makes good business sense. Think about the last time you saw your own physician. The receptionist greeted you, helped with paperwork, and checked you in. A nurse or medical assistant escorted you to an exam room, collected your vitals, took your history, and reviewed your medications. They handled all the routine questions and data collection for your visit. Only then did the doctor, physician’s assistant, or nurse practitioner conduct your exam and order relevant diagnostics. From there, you saw the phlebotomist, x-ray technician, or other professional to get the samples required and run the diagnostics. The results went to the doctor for interpretation, and you received your results and a treatment plan from a nurse in most routine situations. The amount of time your doctor was involved in your visit was limited to what was necessary for their expertise and leveraged appropriately by utilizing everyone in the building to their full potential. Keep that process in mind as we think about how the doctors in a veterinary practice are utilized. Are they going back over histories, drawing samples, or running diagnostics? Are your credentialed nurses answering phones and checking clients in and out? If so, you are underutilizing not only your credentialed technicians but also underutilizing your doctors! Are your credentialed technicians trained to do everything that the doctor can do other than diagnose, prescribe, or perform surgery? In most hospitals, there is a tremendous opportunity for growth in efficiency and, therefore, growth in profits!
Now let’s assume you have made all recommended changes and are utilizing your team to the fullest. That works for a while… but then what? Unicorns will get bored eventually, even when they are doing the work they are trained to do. The position is often a dead-end job. What chance do they have for career advancement in your practice? How do you create opportunities for advancement and professional fulfillment? Who on your staff is interested in pursuing a Veterinary Technician Specialty (VTS)? NAVTA’s website (navta.org) currently lists 16 NAVTA/CVTS-approved specialty academies offering specialized certification for qualified VTS candidates. Other options include becoming a “content expert” in an area that can further enhance the practice and give them more job satisfaction. Ideas include behavior, nutrition, and pet loss support. Show your support not only through better pay but by investing in their continued professional growth and paying for their education.
NAVC has certifications such as “Human-Animal Bond Certification,” “Certified Veterinary Business Leader,” “Pet Nutrition Coach,” and “Pet Therapeutic Nutrition Coach.” What about Fear Free Certification and Low-Stress Handling Certification? They can become Cat Friendly Professionals or seek specialization, such as Veterinary Technician Specialist in Behavior through the AVBT. These are a few examples of how we can keep veterinary nurses stimulated and help them maintain their passion for their work. It’s not just about the paycheck. If we truly value our team, we will not only utilize them to their level of expertise, but we will also encourage and support them in their growth, which will expand their capabilities, enhance their careers, and helps our practices as well.
If we can increase practice profitability through increased efficiency, money will be available to support a pay increase. Most credentialed technicians are underpaid for the skillset and knowledge they bring to the table. This must change if we want to keep them in the profession now and encourage the next generation to join this field! No matter how much someone loves what they do, if they cannot make enough money to support themselves and their family, they won’t stay in this profession long term. Increasing the utilization of veterinary nurses addresses problems. Increased clinic revenue supports raising the pay scale, and full utilization creates opportunities for growth and education. We all need to encourage credentialled veterinary nurses to take their self-driven ambition and not only further their careers but help improve veterinary hospitals while doing so. When we can fully utilize the entire team, they will be more invested in the practice, leading to a culture that supports and promotes growth and will allow veterinary clinics to thrive.