Veterinary Technician or Veterinary Nurse?

Jennifer Coates, DVM
Written by:
Published: October 16, 2012
Veterinary Technician or Veterinary Nurse?

This week is National Veterinary Technicians Week, and I’d like to use the opportunity to recognize all that veterinary technicians do to improve pet health and wellbeing.

I work in a specialty practice, meaning that I meet many of my clients and patients as a result of referrals from primary care veterinarians. The pet owners I meet often speak very highly of their "regular" veterinarians, but I almost never hear anything about the veterinary technicians that have worked with their animals.

I think one of the reasons that veterinary technicians are undervalued is the very fact that they are called "technicians." Merriam-Webster defines the term as it applies to medical fields as "a specialist in the technical details of a subject or occupation." Okay, that applies to veterinary technicians as far as it goes. Good techs are certainly experts in drawing blood, placing catheters, running laboratory tests, and other "technical details" of veterinary medicine. But what about everything else they do?

Veterinary technicians monitor patients’ conditions, give medications, educate owners, keep patients fed, hydrated, clean and comfortable, and, last but not least, they act as an indispensible extra set of "educated eyes" in the clinic. An untrained assistant might blindly dispense or administer the wrong drug or wrong dose simply because a veterinarian said to. A competent, licensed veterinary technician has the knowledge and confidence to ask a doctor, "Are you sure?"

I think a much better term for these team members is veterinary nurse. Merriam-Webster defines a nurse as "a person who cares for the sick or infirm; specifically: a licensed health-care professional who … is skilled in promoting and maintaining health." Doesn’t that sound a whole lot more like what veterinary technicians do?

I’ve heard the arguments that using the word "nurse" will somehow create confusion between how people fulfilling that role in the human medical and veterinary fields are trained and what they can do, but I don’t really see the problem. Granted, some nurses who work on people have undergone lengthy post-graduate training to develop incredibly specialized skills in a particular aspect of the field, while most veterinary technicians become licensed after completing a two year degree. But the same can be said of primary care veterinarians and some MD specialists. I went to eight years of college while a newly minted pediatric neurosurgeon might have 18 or 19 years of college and training under his or her belt, yet we both are both called "Doctor."

The National Association of Veterinary Technicians of America (NAVTA) seems to understand that the word "technician" is not sufficient to describe what their members do. The poster commemorating this year’s National Veterinary Technicians Week says:

We are Veterinary Technicians

& that’s just the beginning.


Technicians, Educators, Caregivers, Healers

Whatever you chose to call them (within reason!), recognize National Veterinary Technicians Week by thanking these dedicated professionals for their service in support of pet and owner welfare.

Dr. Jennifer Coates

Image: Cat in Veterinary Procedure by Jeffrey Beall / via Flickr

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