It still catches me off guard when people are surprised to find out there is such a thing as a veterinary nurse. Many refer to them as the vet’s “assistant” or think of them as laboratory technicians, when in fact they are so much more than that. To graduate with a degree in Animal Health Technology, students must go through 3 years of a career program. Animal Health Technology is one of the most demanding and difficult Career Programs offered in Cegeps. It is also quite a competitive program and the admission process is very rigorous, including an interview process in order to select the best candidates from the pool of applicants.
Some of the courses they are required to complete include microbiology, physiology, pharmacology, parasitology and they need to complete two clinical internships in their final year. Animal Health Technicians (AHT) are trained to do many things: they perform various laboratory procedures such as blood work and urine analysis; they are trained in radiology, catheter placement and blood sampling. They monitor anesthesia when patients are in surgery, they can also assist in surgery, they know all the instruments in the surgical pack and how to properly sterilize them, and they perform dental cleanings and are well versed in animal behaviour. They can also specialize in specific fields such as physical rehabilitation, dentistry, nutrition, surgery, emergency & critical care, anesthesia, behaviour, oncology, cardiology, neurology, pain management and more.
They are educated in nutrition as well as in animal breeding and reproduction; they also learn about practice management and must demonstrate an ability to effectively communicate and interact with clients. They must express compassion and dedication even when faced with difficult situations. They work weekends and on statutory holidays (even on New Year’s Eve and Labour Day) and often have to work late at night. They go above and beyond to make sure your pets are well cared for. And let’s not forget all the AHT who work in zoos, laboratories, wildlife parks, ambulatory services and so on.
Being an animal nurse is not a job; it’s a vocation. They are an essential part of the professional veterinary team and we couldn’t practice proper veterinary medicine without them. They are invested and hardworking individuals regardless of the fact they are very much underpaid as a profession (let’s be honest, nobody becomes a vet tech for the paycheque). They do it because they love it.
In honour of National Veterinary Technician Week, October 11th-17th 2015, we need to take this opportunity to recognize their contributions to veterinary medicine and their commitment to quality care for their patients. I would personally like to say a big “THANK YOU” to all the nurses we work with on a daily basis: Pamela, Deana, Tanya and Tanya, Valerie, Sabrina, Gabrielle, Emile and last but definitely not least, our Head-Technician Stephanie. We really couldn’t do it without you, and appreciate everything you do
The next time you’re in your vet’s office, take the time to notice the technician taking care of your pet and make sure to say: “Thank you!”