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Veterinarian Technician May 2010 (Vol 31, No 5)

A Day In The Life: A Tech in the City

by Bri Corsi, RVT, LVT

    An Ordinary Day

    It's 8:35 am on a Monday. As I climb the stairs from the subway, my BlackBerry buzzes. I received a barrage of e-mails during my underground commute. I scan through the first one while making my way through streams of pedestrian traffic. A client updates me on her cat, which was recently discharged from the hospital. The cat is doing great, which brings a big smile to my face. I dodge an oily mud puddle and check the next e-mail. The medical records department reports that a fax needing immediate attention from my department is waiting at the front desk. I cross a busy intersection, barely surviving the blur of yellow cabs whizzing by. I read my third e-mail as I round the block. A new intern asks about an estimate for a bronchoalveolar lavage. I try to type a quick response, causing me to spill iced coffee on the sidewalk. I give up typing, resume walking, and continue with the next message. A surgery service technician has questions about a procedure that may need to be coordinated with our staff between appointments today. I try to remember how busy the three appointment schedules are for my team as I finally reach the hospital.

    After squeezing into a packed elevator, I emerge on the fourth floor. I have just enough time to stow my lunch in the cafeteria and change into clean scrubs in the locker room before I check my fifth e-mail. The second-year resident asks me to contact a referring veterinarian about recent blood work for one of our 12 inpatients. I check my watch and realize that I better get moving. With 12 inpatients, I'm expecting lengthy morning rounds. As I descend the stairs, two at a time, to the main floor to clock in, my sixth e-mail reminds me that I have a meeting with an endoscopy equipment representative next week. I make a mental note to check repair invoices. I finish my iced coffee and swipe my identification badge. I grab the faxes from medical records and take the elevator to the seventh floor to begin making rounds. At last, let the workday begin!

    This is a typical morning in my life as an internal medicine technician at Animal Medical Center (AMC) in New York City. Although others might be overwhelmed by this pace, the daily rush of physical, mental, and Internet activity is invigorating and enthralling to me.

    The Right Choice for Me

    After graduation, technicians have many career paths from which to choose. I left my rural hometown of Hillsborough, NC, to attend the Veterinary Medical Technology Program at Central Carolina Community College in Sanford, NC. Moving from a town of 6000 people to a town of 20,000 was a big change for me. When I graduated, I considered working in research, general practice, specialty, emergency, and teaching hospitals before I found my place at AMC, which combines all of these hospitals into one eight-story building. It has more than 15 in-house specialties and more than 80 doctors and is situated in the heart of New York City. So why would a quiet girl from North Carolina pull up stakes and accept a position at one of the largest animal hospitals in one of the busiest cities in the world? The answer is easy: being an internal medicine technician at AMC allows me to focus in one area of medicine, continue to learn and grow, and have many responsibilities.

    Regardless of where they work, technicians can focus on specific areas or departments of medicine, becoming immersed in their area of expertise. Areas of focus may include emergency medicine, critical care, anesthesia, internal medicine, and oncology. Technicians can gain expertise through extensive hands-on training and continuing education. I chose to focus on internal medicine even though I knew very little about it when I accepted the position. I learned mostly through on-the-job training. I constantly asked lots of questions, listened intently, took detailed notes, and researched topics when necessary. Each case adds something new to my knowledge and skills.

    The level of individual responsibility for focused technicians varies from one type of hospital to another and from one technician to another. The internal medicine technician position appealed to me because I was interested in being challenged by having more responsibility in the hospital. At AMC, I'm responsible for the endoscopy department. I keep all of our seven endoscopes clean and in good working condition, and I maintain the endoscopy suite and other endoscopic equipment. Additionally, I keep all necessary instruments well stocked, stay current on endoscopic procedures, and adhere to repair and maintenance schedules. Recently, I had the opportunity to write the protocols for the use, cleaning, and maintenance of the endoscopic equipment that we have in our department. These materials are used for training new residents and interns.

    Know Your Role

    No two hospitals are exactly the same, and the same can be said about veterinary technicians. A technician who works in a large teaching specialty and referral hospital usually has a different role than a technician in a smaller general practice. However, my role varies depending on who I'm working with in my hospital. This keeps my role as a technician fresh, fun, and stimulating.

    When I work with clients and patients, my main role is to be an effective communicator. Because I'm more accessible than most of the veterinarians, our clients regularly contact me with questions, follow-ups, and requests. If I can help them and answer their questions, I will; if not, I contact the doctor in charge of their case. This allows the client to use me as an additional contact and resource for assistance. Another part of my communication role is client education. Through it, I seek to deepen our clients' relationship with the hospital and understanding of their pets. My greatest opportunity for this type of communication is during a patient's discharge from the hospital. This gives clients a one-on-one opportunity to review their pet's medications and participate in tube feeding and fluid administration. Clients can watch me administer a treatment, try it themselves, and then get my feedback. This builds the clients' confidence in themselves and the hospital and prepares them for providing home care. Patient care and client support are a hospital's top priorities and a large part of my role as an internal medicine technician.

    As a teaching hospital, AMC allows me to fulfill different roles with the staff doctors, residents, and interns. My main role when working with staff doctors and residents is to provide support and communication. These doctors benefit from my skills by having me assist with physical examinations, obtain patient histories from clients, collect specimens for the laboratory, and facilitate diagnostic testing. When these doctors are working on a research project, I'm vital in helping them collect and organize data. As a liaison between the doctors and their clients, I act like a second pair of the doctors' hands, eyes, and ears.

    Teaching is my primary role when working with intern doctors. I orient them to our routine when they work with my department for the first time. Once they are familiar with how it operates, they can focus entirely on their cases. Interns have learned skills during their veterinary education that they may not yet have had the chance to perfect in a clinical setting. Giving them assistance and advice while they develop these skills is a great way for me to help them practice and learn. I try to be helpful and approachable so that they can get the most out of their rotation with my department and the hospital as a whole. I do everything I can to allow all the doctors to spend their day being doctors.

    Networking and coordinating the day are my main functions when working with support staff and other technicians in the hospital. I keep an address book with names, e-mail addresses, and phone numbers for many of our referring hospitals. Having a good working relationship with and knowledge of the other AMC departments helps me optimize my department's communication and coordination with the rest of the hospital. If a patient in my department needs diagnostic imaging, a consultation with another department, or emergency surgery, knowing whom to contact and how to do so are essential. I have a contact person in every department. These individuals help me coordinate patient care and are an additional resource when I have questions. Knowing how the other departments operate is critical in enabling me to fulfill my patients' needs without disrupting my coworkers' plans for the day. I also like to cross-train in other departments to get an inside look into how they function, what they do, what paperwork they need, and their preferences for case management. The skills and knowledge I obtain allow me to continue my education and improve my skill set.

    Find Your Area of Expertise

    You don't have to work for a large hospital to focus on an area of expertise; even the smallest practices need technicians with specialized skills. By assessing your current tasks at work or subjects in school, you can determine an area in which you would like to become an expert. Areas of expertise can range from hematology to parasitology to puppy training. Discuss your interest with your supervisor and let him or her know that you would like to be responsible for that particular area. Learn all you can about your subject of interest and share your knowledge with your clients through one-on-one discussions and/or handouts that you create. Ask your supervisor if you can give a presentation at your next staff meeting. This will give you the opportunity to share your skills and know-how with your coworkers. Create a training protocol so that you can train new hires in your area of interest. The more knowledge and understanding you have about an area, the more people can rely on you.

    The following academies, associations, and societies have been created to recognize and develop the skills and knowledge of technicians in certain specialties:

    • The Academy of Equine Veterinary Nursing Technicians
    • The Academy of Internal Medicine for Veterinary Technicians
    • The Academy of Veterinary Behavior Technicians
    • The Academy of Veterinary Dental Technicians
    • The Academy of Veterinary Emergency and Critical Care Technicians
    • The Academy of Veterinary Surgical Technicians
    • The Academy of Veterinary Technician Anesthetists
    • The Academy of Veterinary Technicians in Clinical Practice
    • The Academy of Veterinary Zoological Medicine Technicians
    • The American Association of Equine Veterinary Technicians
    • Association of Zoo Veterinary Technicians
    • Society of Veterinary Behavior Technicians
    • Veterinary Emergency and Critical Care Society

    Technicians can become licensed in a specialty through an academy or become a member of an association or a society even if they don't work in a specialty hospital. The academies have developed advanced pathways that candidates must complete to be awarded the designation of veterinary technician specialist (VTS) in a specific discipline. More information on the technician specialties can be found on the Web site of the National Association of Veterinary Technicians in America (navta.net).

    Take It From Me

    Every technician is an integral part of his or her veterinary team. Using your skills and knowledge will deepen your working relationships with your clients, patients, doctors, and other staff. There are numerous ways to specialize your skills, even if you don't work in a specialty hospital. New skills and knowledge can be acquired every day. Proactive technicians who seek new responsibilities are innovative and confident. Once you find your niche, own it!

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