This article will focus on the people you'd meet at a basic visit to your primary veterinarian. I'll cover specialists in a different post, click here to read that article.
Let's start at the beginning:
You've arrived at your veterinary office with your pet and you're both greeted by a front staff member who checks you in. The next stop is in an exam room where a staff member takes a history related to why your pet is at the vet and obtains vitals including weight, temperature, heart rate, and respiration rate. The veterinarian will do a physical exam and speak to you about what the plan is for the visit.
A veterinary technician will do the tasks recommended by the veterinarian and return your pet to you. If medications are prescribed by the veterinarian, the vet tech fills the prescription and discussed the medications with you. If you have questions, the vet tech can help get you answers. Check out the article about good things to bring with you to every appointment by clicking the link here.
Then, it's time to leave and either the veterinarian or technician escorts you to the receptionist. The receptionist will process the payment for your visit and help schedule any follow up visits.
Who'd you meet?
The front staff person, or receptionist, is the first person you meet and the last person you see before you head home.
This person will handle setting appointments, help with inquiries of service offered by the practice, accounting, and may perform basic counseling and referral for clients. These staff members ideally are customer service focused and professional.
Depending on the clinic the receptionist may have veterinary medicine training, but this is not required.
Veterinary Assistant or Veterinary Technician/Nurse
The person escorting you into an exam room and getting a history about your pet is likely a veterinary assistant or a veterinary technician/nurse.
Wait. What's the difference you ask? Well, a veterinary assistant is a person working in a veterinary clinic that supports both the veterinarian and/or the veterinary technician/nurse. They typically have on the job training and can perform kennel work, restrain animals, and help with other duties in the clinic.
So, what's a veterinary technician? Vet tech's obtain either an Associates or Bachelor's degree, pass a credentialing exam, and keep their license up to date with continuing education. Depending on the state they practice in they are designated as a licensed/registered/certified technician (LVT/RVT/CVT).
Veterinary technician's are educated in animal handling, basic principles of medical processes, and many laboratory procedures including running blood work and radiology. They have also been trained how to induce and monitor anesthesia, perform specialized nursing care, assist in surgical procedures, perform dental cleaning and prophylaxes, educate pet owners on diseases and medical procedures, and help train practice personal.
In most states there are specific duties that a veterinary assistant can not do that veterinary technicians can. For example in California an RVT directed by a veterinarian may induce anesthesia, apply casts and splints, perform dental extractions, suture gums/gingiva as well as skin and the tissue beneath, they may create a relief hole in the skin to help place an IV catheter, and they may administer controlled substances. (If you'd like to see what is specific to your state check out this document created by the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA here.)
I also mentioned the term veterinary nurse. What's the difference between a technician and a nurse? In the United States currently the legal term is veterinary technician. However, if practicing in the UK or Australia, they are designated as a registered veterinary nurse (RVN). Otherwise, veterinary technician's and nurse's do the same job.
The veterinarian may recommend diagnostics like blood work, radiographs (x-rays), ultrasound, or other medical treatments. These are similar to what is done in human medicine, and many can be done at the same visit.
A Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM) has completed about 8-9 years of school to earn their doctorates. A veterinarian must be licensed in the individual state they practice in. This requires passing a national exam and a state-specific exam. Once licensed they are allowed to diagnose and treat illnesses, provide a prognosis of a disease (what is the outcome of the disease), provide routine preventive care, perform surgery, and prescribe medications.
I hope this article helps describe the duties of the veterinary professionals you meet during your vet visit. If you'd like more information, I recommend checking out the AVMA website here.
The next time you go to the vet you'll know a little more about what the people helping you and your pet do. Take a moment and ask them about their job, most of us will happily tell you about all the cool things we get to do.
Yvonne Brandenburg, RVT, VTS (SAIM) is a Registered Veterinary Technician practicing in California and obtained her Veterinary Technician Specialty in Small Animal Internal Medicine in 2016. She is the founder of InternalMedicineForPetParents.com.
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