VetScript Editor’s pick: November 2017

‘Vet techs’ have long done important, if sometimes unacknowledged, work in veterinary practice, freeing up veterinarians to concentrate on high-level clinical work.

The NZVA’s recently created LAVT branch now wants to highlight the value of the technician’s role and its potential as a long-term career prospect.

If you were to ask your colleagues, “What is the largest growth area in veterinary business?”, the answer could surprise you. However, it would not surprise Kate Gloyn, president of the NZVA’s Large Animal Veterinary Technician (LAVT) branch and liaison to the DCV committee. Uptake of the technician role is growing fast.

Kate is passionate about her profession and the work of large animal veterinary technicians. “With shortages of veterinarians occurring nationwide, and the increasing pressures for practices to become more efficient and structured differently, techs add a whole different dimension to veterinary work,” she says.

“Techs allow veterinarians to focus on higher-level consultancy and clinical work
– there’s no end to their value. And this environment we’re in now allows techs to progress and get more job satisfaction. We’re seeing the role become a career, not just a job.”

NZVA CEO Mark Ward agrees, and acknowledges the value of technicians. “We recognise the strong relationship that veterinary technicians have with veterinarians in practices. They’re vital. The work they’re doing is such an asset to the profession. We’re proud to support them in a number of ways, but particularly through our special interest branches.”

Kate has been involved since 2012, when she joined Mark Bryan, as part of DCV, to create the first formal CPD for large animal veterinary technicians – a conference called ‘Developing the role of the large animal technician in clinical practice’. The conference was a great success and led to the establishment of the Veterinary Technicians Interim Committee, which was subsequently renamed the Large Animal Veterinary Technicians Committee.

“I was one of the original members of the committee and have remained involved since,” she says.

A couple of years ago, the Large Animal Veterinary Technicians Committee and the DCV began piloting an associate branch of the NZVA. The aim was to establish a thriving network of informed professional veterinary technicians, giving a voice on issues that directly impact the work of techs.

To join the LAVT branch, a large animal veterinary technician needs to be nominated by their supervising veterinarian, who needs to be an NZVA member. The annual membership fee is $97.75 (GST-inclusive).

The LAVT branch pilot is flying high, Kate says. “We already have more than 40 members, and we are running and planning all of our own meetings, actions and CPD. The Society of Dairy Cattle Veterinarians (DCV) and the NZVA head office are there to guide, support, and foster our growth, including co-funding and overseeing what we do.

“The mid-term plan is to build membership of our technician base, and continue to provide quality CPD in the form of conferences and VetScholar courses, as well as collegial and networking opportunities. We want to represent the interests of technicians out there, and ensure that we are communicating with education providers and industry players to further the role. We are also advocating for techs and the advancement of the group in the industry.”

Progress has already been made in formally recognising the worth of techs in the profession.

“The LAVT branch has started the ball rolling, definitely,” says Kate. “Before, many technicians have just slotted into practice and essentially flown under the radar as part-time technicians, or as nurses or support staff. This does work well for some smaller practices, but we see the LAVT branch as helping to drive techs as a stand-alone, valuable role in veterinary practice.

“We’re seeing it viewed as it should be – it’s a long-term career prospect, with advancement and leadership associated with it. We have created an incredibly valuable document in the form of the Code of Conduct for Large Animal Veterinary Technicians, and this has been used and referred to extensively by veterinary practices, employers and technicians around the country. It will be a working document that will be reviewed and updated regularly as the technician role progresses.”

The longer-term plan is for the LAVT branch to be so well supported and with such a strong and engaged membership behind it that it can break away from being an associate branch of the DCV and become an NZVA Special Interest Branch in its own right.

“At this stage, we see the LAVT branch continuing as a sub-branch for a further two years under the current structure. After that we would like to see our membership increase to a size and scope where we can establish our own self-governing structure. It’s my vision that this group will be run solely by large animal veterinary technicians, with the support of supervising veterinarians where needed,” Kate says.

Whether the LAVT branch should be part of the DCV or of the New Zealand Veterinary Nursing Association is a talking point. Kate says it should “absolutely” be a separate NZVA branch.

“While I tremendously admire what the veterinary nurses have done and where they have got themselves to, I am of the firm belief that techs are a separate role in their own right, and, while there is nothing to stop techs being members of both groups, the scope of the role is so big now that it is crucial we have a group that represents those who are focused on large animal veterinary technical work only.”

So how exactly does the relationship between DCV and LAVT work? Kate says mutual respect, trust and support are the cornerstone. “The DCV has been incredibly supportive of the LAVT and has unanimously agreed to support the group at least through the next two years. The majority of large animal veterinary technicians’ work sits in the dairy space, so it has made sense for it to sit under the DCV umbrella.”

Renée Lodder, DCV President, agrees. “The DCV committee is very supportive of the LAVT,” says Renée. “We value the work that techs do every day in New Zealand’s farming industries, particularly in dairy. The committee is happy to support the branch as it starts up. However, we will also be pleased to see the LAVT branch as a stand-alone SIB in its own right, with support from veterinarians as needed.”

The LAVT committee will continue providing quality CPD for techs. Since 2012 the committee has successfully presented LAVT conferences in Wellington (2013), Massey University, Palmerston North (2014) and Lincoln University, Otago (2015). In 2016 the committee offered the annual CPD in the form of a VetLearn course on growing young stock. This year the LAVT committee will be presenting topics alongside the DCV at the ‘Better Together’ conference on 6-8 December.

LAVT committee member Justine Britton says she’s hoping for a great turnout at the event. “We would love to see as many of our members there as possible. We’d welcome prospective members to come along, to take advantage of a great conference and meet the LAVT team.

“The aim of our conference is to provide technicians working in veterinary practice with up-to-date information, skills and knowledge that can be taken back to their workplaces and subsequently help to drive and develop the technician role. We want to offer exposure to industry professionals and fellow technicians to help inspire, challenge and share experiences.”

Times have changed since Justine joined the committee in 2013. “I was excited to be a member of this group,” she says. “I felt there was very little national support or exposure for veterinary technicians in the industry, and CPD was limited to what each individual practice could offer their technicians internally.”

Her role as a technician has changed markedly since she started working in 2005 in an after-hours reception role. “The veterinary technician role is still quite young, and one of the challenges it faces is to gain full acceptance from all veterinary practices across New Zealand,” she says.

Justine is optimistic about the future. “With the support of the NZVA and DCV, I truly believe that veterinary technicians are cementing their place as valued and trusted members of the veterinary industry. Technicians will never be able to replace veterinarians for the simple reason that they are not veterinarians. There are definite rules that prevent technicians from diagnosing disease or illness or injury, and prescribing drugs. This is and always will be the role of the veterinarian.”

Justine says life as a technician is great, and it’s a role that operates hand in hand with all of those in the profession. This is appreciated in clinics around the country, including at her own workplace, VetEnt in Otorohanga, where the development of skills and teamwork is fully supported.

“I’m encouraged to work cohesively as part of a team, but also to work autonomously. We get to drive and grow our roles, with the encouragement and support of veterinarians and management. Management has allowed us to actively participate in and take ownership of many animal health tasks, from vaccinating stock and calf disbudding to administering reproduction programmes under a veterinary operating instruction.

“Having highly trained tech staff enables the veterinarians to spend more time both clinically and in consultation with clients, adding value to their businesses, and growing and cementing trusted client and veterinary relationships.”

Kate agrees. “Vet techs are outstanding,” she says.

“VetEnt is very progressive, in that it sees the potential and value in the technician role. We have technicians utilised across the business in many different areas, including clinic practice, research, TB testing and training roles.

“Technicians can take on a larger proportion of clinical work that was previously done by veterinarians, freeing up veterinarians to focus on higher-fee- generating consultancy and clinical work.

“This then has a flow-on effect by creating greater job satisfaction and responsibility within the technician role, which allows career advancement, so the potential is greater for veterinarians and techs.”

Kate doesn’t see trade-offs in having veterinary technicians working at VetEnt.

“Our techs are constantly being asked to be part of the veterinary team, as part of the whole-farm service approach we provide. Techs are on farm so often now that they know much more about the farming systems and the people, and trust and respect are increasing all the time.

“Farmers now see techs as a crucial and valuable part of our service. They know they can get techs for many jobs, and that may free up their veterinarians to focus on other consultations, tasks and advice that’s at another level.”

Now that the profession is seeing the value of technicians, the sky is the limit, says Kate.

“While the majority of technician work is currently in the dairy sector, the possibilities are endless and could potentially extend into other areas such as research, reproduction, education and regulatory roles.

“That potential is already being realised, with technicians being used across dairy, equine, and sheep and beef work.”

Kate believes that the future role of large animal veterinary technicians and the LAVT branch could be huge.

“It’s there for the taking, and we are here to support techs from all areas of the industry to make the most of it.”

More information