A Day of a Veterinary Technician

Misconceptions About Veterinary Technicians

People frequently ask me when I plan on becoming a vet, or how much longer I have left in school. The truth is I will never become a veterinarian. I am a veterinary technician, which is something I had to go to school for two years and work hard to become. Many people do not know what role technician plays in a vet clinic. Technicians are not allowed to provide owners with a prognosis, prescribe medication, diagnose animals or perform surgeries. They do, however, play a crucial part in aiding the doctors to do those things.

The Role of a Veterinary Technician

I am writing this blog post so people can see what a typical day is like for me, a Veterinary Technician. A lot of people aren’t quite sure what a technician does, and may be curious as to what role a technician plays in the care of their pet. Going into my shifts I never know what to expect. I don’t know what patients are coming in that day, or what surgeries we have booked. Every day is different and helps keep me on my toes. And I wouldn’t change a thing!

Morning Routine and Surgery Preparation

A typical day for a technician at our practice starts when we walk in the door at 7:30am. We have morning appointments and then surgery every week day starting at 10am. When the surgery patients arrive that morning, it is the technicians job to check them in. We have to make sure they haven’t eaten since midnight the night before (fasted), make sure we know exactly what medications they’re taking, if any, find out the best phone number to reach the owner at that day incase of emergency, as well as go over the surgery cost estimate with the owner so there are no surprises at the end of the day.

When checking in the animal, it is our job to answer any questions the owner may have, as well as to help them understand the procedure their pet is having. After the owner leaves it is the technician’s job to prepare the animal for surgery. We weight them; take their temperature, heart rate, and respiration rate, which is all part of the pre-surgical exam. We also check their gum colour and capillary refill time. We watch the animals to make sure they are responsive and acting as normal as one would expect in a vet clinic. These are very important things to do before surgery to ensure the patient is healthy enough to be put under anesthetic and is done every single time a pet comes in for surgery. At this time, we also draw blood if the owner has decided to do pre-surgical blood-work to evaluate organ function in order for the doctor to determine the best anesthetic protocol to use. On top of the preparations for surgery, the technician also needs to help the veterinarians with anything they need for their appointments. This could include drawing up medications or vaccines, restraining animals or doing x-rays or lab work. At the same time the technician may also have technician appointments booked. These include certain vaccine boosters, anal gland expression, nail trims, blood draws and many other things. Depending on the day this makes for a very busy morning!

Surgical Assistance and Anesthesia Monitoring

When preparing for surgery the technician will ask the doctor which anesthetic protocol they would like to use for which animal. It is then the technicians job to do the calculations to determine how much of each drug the animal should receive, then the tech draws up the drugs and labels them to make sure everybody gets the right medications for their surgeries. The veterinary technician is the anesthesiologist and ensures your pets safety. When the time comes, it is the technicians job to pre-med the animal. Which is when we give them drugs to relax them and make them sleepy so we can start to prepare the animal to be put under general anesthesia. That includes placing an IV catheter which allows us to have vein access in case of an emergency, as well as for us to put the animal on fluid therapy throughout surgery to help maintain a healthy blood pressure. Once the IV is placed, the technician will induce the animal, which means you give them an induction drug that will make them go fully to sleep. Once this happens an endotracheal tube is placed so we can hook the animal up to the anesthetic machine, which delivers oxygen and isoflurane gas to the animal. The machine is what keeps the pet under general anesthesia throughout the surgical procedure and it is the technicians job to recognize when a pet is not at the right level of anesthesia and adjust the gas anesthetic.

Post-Surgery and Dental Procedures

Once the pet is fully under anesthetic and cannot feel anything, they need to be prepared for surgery. The technician will clip and clean the area that is being operated on. Then the animal will be moved into the surgery suite and hooked up to all kinds of monitoring devices. Our number one goal is to keep the animal safe and we use these devices, along with our highly trained skills to keep your pet safe while under anesthetic. The animal gets hooked up to blood pressure monitors, heart rate monitor, and fluids. They are given heat support as body temperature tends to drop when the animal is put under anesthetic. We can also listen to their heart and lungs regularly using a stethoscope or an esophageal stethoscope. We can also hook them up to a machine that shows us what their heart beats look like in real time, this is called an electrocardiogram (ECG). All of this is done so that we can determine if the animal needs more or less gas, more drugs, more fluids, or more heat support. Once the animal is all hooked up, the surgical site is scrubbed and the doctor is ready to come perform the surgery!

Additional Responsibilities

Throughout surgery it is the technicians job to monitor and record all of the information being shown by the machines. They also are constantly checking gum colour, looking for reflexes, capillary refill time, and jaw tone. The technician needs to be focused at all times on making sure the animal is not too light or too deep under anesthesia. Once the surgery is completed, the technician will turn off the gas, leaving the animal on oxygen for a period of time, all while unhooking the animal from all the monitoring devices. The technician will then unhook the pet from the anesthesia machine and wake them up and pull their endotracheal tube once the pet has regained the ability to swallow on their own. Once the animal is awake they are frequently placed in the incubator (if small enough) so we can help control their temperature, or on blankets right out of the dryer to help them stay nice and warm. The technician keeps a close watch on the patients for the rest of the day, making sure they recover okay. They then have to fill out surgery notes, prepare pain medication for go home, and prepare discharge instructions for the owner. Technicians often play a vital role in the post-operative care of patient by helping the owner with any special care the pet may need after their surgery. They also have to pull the IV out once the animal is fully completely recovered. We wait to do this until they are ready so that we can have emergency vein access ready just incase something were to ever go wrong. Now that one surgery is over, the technician and doctor may have a few more to do!

Dental cleanings are another thing that technicians are allowed to do. They will do the anesthetic monitoring as per usual, but they are also the ones who clean the teeth! Techs will use the scaler and the polisher to get the teeth looking pearly white. If extractions are needed the doctor will perform those, and then will go through the mouth and make sure everything looks good and healthy before we wake the pet up.

Once surgery is over, the technician still has plenty to do! The doctor will continue to have appointments, and technician appointments may also be booked. The technician helps out with the doctor appointments in various ways. If an animal requires x-rays, the technician and the assistant will take those x-rays. If any laboratory things need to be done, the technician will do those as well. These can include seeing if their is bacteria or yeast on an ear swab or skin scraping, doing urinalysis, and looking at blood or fecal smears. They will also be restraining animals, collecting blood, giving diet recommendations, showing owners how to do certain things, and helping out around the clinic.

Overall, being a technician is an incredibly busy but rewarding job. Technicians are an essential part of a veterinary practice, as are the doctors, assistants and receptionists. Each person plays a very important role in providing the best possible care for your pet.

Mikaila Cariou