This week is National Veterinary Technician Week, and I want to take the opportunity to say “Thank You” to all of the techs who have taught, helped, and inspired me throughout my career.

It’s the dirty, little secret of veterinary education (okay, it’s not much of a secret) that while newbie doctors are chock full of great information, they are often lacking in technical proficiency. What little hands-on training I got in the everyday, practical aspects of veterinary medicine while in school was thanks in large measure to the veterinary technicians who were employed at the veterinary teaching hospital or clinics that I rotated through as a senior student. While the veterinarians who trained me focused on imparting knowledge, the technicians taught me the finer points of animal handling, drawing blood, placing catheters, intubating anesthetized patients, preparing and running lab samples, and so much more.

Once I graduated and was in practice, I continued to learn from the technicians in my practice but also quickly discovered how indispensible they are to providing an optimal level of care to patients and clients. Without technicians, veterinarians could not focus on what we’re really good at – diagnosing disease, performing surgery, and prescribing appropriate medications.

After 15 years in practice, I can now perform most if not all of the duties that technicians do on any daily basis, but the results aren’t always pretty. I remember one day when we were short handed “in the back,” as we say in the clinic. I needed some X-rays taken, and in a well-meaning attempt to lessen the load on the overworked technicians, I grabbed an assistant, donned a lead apron, thyroid shield, and gloves, and took them myself. I even remembered how to use the X-ray processor (this was before digital X-rays were the norm). I was proud of myself, even though the whole thing took at least three times as long as it would have normally.

The results were pitiful. The dog was so crooked that he appeared to be in a position that I might have thought was anatomically impossible if I hadn’t been involved in his positioning. Examining the X-rays was like staring at a foggy seascape through the wrong pair of prescription glasses. As I was trying to figure out what I had done wrong, I heard someone laughing behind me. Doing her best to hide her smirk, the technician asked, “Would you like me to take those again for you, Doc?”

Finally, good technicians have a way of reminding veterinarians why we all do what we do. Doctors can get so wrapped up in the minutiae of a case that we lose sight of the big picture. Sometimes I need a technician to remind me that even if a patient’s lab work doesn’t look fantastic, the fact that she’s finally eating and wagging her tail is worthy of celebration.

So here’s a big “Thank You” to all the technicians out there who make animals healthier, clients happier, and veterinarians better doctors.

Dr. Jennifer Coates

Image: Thinkstock