Understanding Titles & Roles In The Veterinary Hospital
By Beckie Mossor, RVT
The pet industry as a whole is one of the most steadily increasing markets in the country. While owners are showing increased value in the relationship they have with their pets, and the willingness they have to spend larger quantities of money on them, they are also doing more research to ensure their pets are receiving the best products and services available.
Owners may ask for recommendations from the industry professionals they trust. Professionals should base their recommendations on education, credentials, and experience. Without this information, the recommendation may be based on who brings their business cards into the office or who carries the most name recognition. Veterinarian recommendations may be one of the most important recommendations industry professionals make to their clients. Understanding the whole hospital team and their individual roles, as well as a few state and federal regulatory laws, allows professionals to ensure their recommendations meet the minimum standards necessary for their endorsement as a professional.
Many people walk into a veterinary practice with the assumption that the roles of the team members they interact with are aligned both structurally and educationally with those of their human counterparts. Depending on the state, this may not be the case. Education requirements and certification requirements vary greatly among the states, as does enforcement of what laws are in place.
All veterinary hospitals have a veterinarian. According to the American Veterinary Medical Associations Model practice act, “Veterinarian means a person who has received a professional veterinary medical degree from a college of veterinary medicine.” (AVMA Policies 2013).
Veterinary schools, similar to any other profession, vary in the quality and the national rank position overall. The individual has graduated having met the requirements for graduation as set by the accrediting body, and has passed both a national and state board exam to obtain their license. Veterinarians are required to meet a minimum number of continuing education hours per renewal period to maintain their license, the total number of hours per year varies by state.
Veterinary practices all use their staff differently. The veterinarian is generally with the patient for the shortest period of time. The veterinarian is responsible for making all diagnosis, prescribing treatments, and maintaining veterinary client/patient relationships.
There may be personal and situational preferences to one veterinarian over another, or variability in experience. Veterinarians all vary, just as human doctors do; in their approach, style and personalities. And their education can vary as much as the institutions they attend, but overall the basic qualifications and education of a veterinarian are standardized and regulated uniformly across the country. The rest of the hospital team is where variability and inconstancies start to become a factor and are not widely understood by the public.
Many people in the industry are familiar with the term “veterinary technician”, or “veterinary assistant”. Some hospitals use the term “veterinary nurse”. Industry wide, most have a general understanding of function of this role within the veterinary hospital. In general, these individuals are perceived to be the equivalent of a nurse when a human visits their doctor. They may observe them perform many of the same tasks; obtaining a medical history, recording vital signs, and assisting the veterinarian in procedures. However, the regulation and enforcement of these roles is widely variable among the states, as are the requirements for certifications and formal education and training.
Very few states have title protection for the position of veterinary technician. This is the current formal name for someone who has graduated from an AVMA accredited Veterinary Technology Program, passed their state (where applicable) and national boards, and maintain a credential within the state where they practice. Therefore, in the states without protection, anyone can introduce themselves to a client as “veterinary technician”. This can be misleading for clients.
Many clients, and even industry professionals, believe that all members of the support staff receive formal education before performing the tasks associated with some of the most advanced procedures in the veterinary hospital. Many are surprised to find out that a person can be legally trained to induce and monitor anesthesia, perform dental cleanings, and even inject controlled substances without any formal training. Many of the regulatory bodies allow the veterinarians to determine the appropriate training required for new hires before they are released to perform these task with varying degrees of supervision.
One easy way to identify a credentialed technician is to look at their name tag. The letters RVT, CVT or LVT may be found after the staff members’ names. These letters indicate the person is credentialed.
- RVT= Registered Veterinary Technician
- LVT= Licensed Veterinary Technician
- CVT= Certified Veterinary Technician
*Different states regulate the credentialing and monitoring of this field, and are therefore distinguished differently.
Another way industry professionals and pet owners alike can determine if the staff involved in the procedures is credentialed is simply to ask, who will be performing the procedure and what are their credentials? If advised a veterinary technician will be performing the procedure, clarifying if they are credentialed is an important distinction in their education and background.
While many on–the–job trained staff members have diverse backgrounds and may have many years performing the same tasks, they do not have the same educational foundation and background to enhance their hands-on knowledge and experience, and are generally known as Veterinary Assistants.
In states where there is title protection, differentiation, and delineation, veterinary assistants are generally on–the–job trained staff members who play an important role in supporting the veterinary technicians and veterinarians. Much like an LPN or CAN in the human medical field, the support role of the veterinary assistant is essential to the whole team and the patient. Distinction between the roles helps to ensure every aspect of patient care is properly delegated and prioritized among the staff members.
There are certifications for just about every level of the hospital team. There are Approved Veterinary Assistant programs available in many states, a Certificate for Veterinary Practice Management, and many supplemental credentials for Credentialed Technicians. Knowing the educational background of all members of the team will help you know how important education and delineation is to the practice.
It may be a red flag if the receptionist is also the veterinary assistant, “technician”, or kennel staff. It may be that no one holds any type of credential in any of the above named areas. While some cross training helps to ensure everyone is learning new skills and are able to assist in the busiest areas of the hospital as needed, it is important that the hospital demonstrates general roles in staffing, which may equal very basic and general skills.
As an industry professional, it is important to understand the roles within a veterinary practice to help ensure the recommendations made are based on quality care by well-trained and educated staff. Asking the right questions and requesting a credentialed technician, as an industry professional, creates a required minimum standard of care and unites the industry in ensuring all branches of the pet industry are regulated and enforced.
By informing and educating your clients, you will help them to understand the difference in the veterinary team members and ensure they are going to get the level of care they are most comfortable with for their pet. The education provided to the client creates perceived value and builds trust, and perpetuates professionalism within the industry as a whole.
APPA. “Pet Industry Market Size & Ownership Statistics.” http://www.americanpetproducts.org. Http://www.americanpetproducts.org, 2014. Web. 02 Feb. 2016. <www.americanpetproducts.org/press_industrytrends.asp
AVMA. “Model Veterinary Practice Act- January 2013.” Www.avma.org. AVMA, 2013. Web. 17 Feb. 2016. <https://www.avma.org/KB/Policies/Pages/Model-Veterinary-Practice-Act.aspx>.