I forgot to acknowledge National Veterinary Technician Week this year (October 9-15).

Pretty typical veterinarian behavior, I have to say. Vet techs do so much good work, but they rarely receive the recognition they deserve, especially from vets. Let me try to make amends in this post.

Veterinary technicians are like the nurses of the veterinary world. I know some techs don’t like to be referred to as such, but I do think it is appropriate. They go through at least two years of training to become licensed or certified in their field, and they are on the front lines of patient care. When vet techs are used to their fullest potential they are responsible for drawing blood, placing intravenous catheters, administering medications, inducing and monitoring anesthesia, cleaning teeth, and much, much more. They do all of this under the supervision of a veterinarian, but frankly they are often much better at many of these tasks than we vets are.

I have been blessed to work with veterinary technicians who seemingly could get an intravenous catheter into anything. A four pound, 20-year-old, dehydrated cat with invisible veins? A seizuring dog? "No problem, doc. Just give me a second."

Need a blood sample? Don’t ask your vet. More often than not, an experienced veterinary technician can do it faster and with less stress to your pet.

But even more important than their technical proficiency is the ability of a vet tech to act as a quality control monitor in the clinic.

Veterinarians make mistakes. We’re human, it happens. Having another set of well-educated, well-trained eyes involved in patient care is invaluable. I’ve had veterinary technicians question the dose of a drug that I had prescribed, fluid rates that I’ve calculated, whether or not a patient is responding appropriately to therapy, and even diagnoses that I’ve made. Sometimes they are right and sometimes they are wrong, but their input has ALWAYS made me think harder and has ALWAYS been welcome.

We recently had a vibrant discussion (how do you like that euphemism?) here on Fully Vetted about the cost of veterinary care, and the role that licensed veterinary technicians play in higher fees was brought up. When used appropriately however, licensed techs can actually bring down the cost of veterinary care. They free the vets up to do things that only vets can do — diagnosing, surgeries, etc., which allows us to see more patients and makes the clinic as a whole much more efficient. The only time that having licensed techs on staff increases the cost of running a veterinary hospital is when they are relegated to the role of a glorified veterinary assistant — cleaning cages and holding animals (though I have to admit that when I’m examining an "unruly" pet, I still like to call in the big guns).

So even though National Veterinary Technician Week has come and gone for this year, I want to send out a big THANK YOU to all the techs out there who make veterinarians better doctors and immeasurably improve the quality of the care our pets receive.

Dr. Jennifer Coates

Image: Creatista / via Shutterstock