Being in the Driver’s Seat
For its 2016 Conference, the NAVC asked veterinary professionals to share their stories: What drives you? What inspires you? What moves you? Throughout the year, Today’s Veterinary Nurse will be publishing veterinary technicians’ answers to these questions.
What moves you? Do you have a story you’d like to share? Send it to us at [email protected]. Submissions should be approximately 500 words or less and may be posted on our website or edited for publication in the journal.
Tell us your story!
Renaud “Ren” Houyoux, LVT
Baring Boulevard Veterinary Hospital and Wellness Center
“What moves you?”
At first, this seems like a simple question, and answering it seems like it should be just as simple. Strangely enough, though, it is not a common question, so when I really started to think about it, it became apparent that my answer would be much more involved than I originally anticipated.
In 1998, I passed the Veterinary Technician National Examination after graduating from an American Veterinary Medical Association–accredited program and was on my way to do my part in veterinary medicine. My first job as a credentialed technician was at an American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA)–accredited specialty practice, and the norm for this level of patient care has remained my baseline in doing my job. (Looking back, the people that trained me may have been a little over the top, but they were effective.) I was both excited and scared to death when, after I completed my internship, the owner offered me a position to work the overnight critical care/emergency shift. I voiced my enthusiasm—and concerns—and he told me, “Ren, you’re going to find out real quick whether or not you’re cut out for the job. Do you want the position?” I said yes, and the rest is history.
I quickly discovered that I was one of the lucky few to have found my true passion. I have found that if you are passionate about something, everything will fall into place. Good schooling is an important foundation, but the technician you become is the one you make of yourself by keeping your nose to the grindstone as the years accumulate. There are times when it is very difficult to remain steadfast, but at the end of the day it has been a blessing to me to be a veterinary technician.
A Cornucopia of Motivation
So, what moves me as a technician? Well, everything! We as technicians are responsible in so many aspects of veterinary medicine that a virtual cornucopia of elements moves me. Technicians are the foot soldiers in the trenches, carrying out the doctors’ orders. At any given time, we can be instrumental in reducing pain, delivering therapeutics, keeping a patient safe under anesthesia, cleaning teeth, triaging emergencies, providing client education on how to give subcutaneous fluids or insulin, going over the discharge instructions with a client after a spay, keeping cancer in remission, cleaning that explosive blowout from a parvovirus patient, or just rocking a cat gently as he recovers from a surgical procedure. There are simply too many things we do as technicians to be able to list them all. However, we all have areas we naturally gravitate to as we work.
I am lucky enough to have worked at excellent practices, including general practice and specialty facilities. Currently, I am grateful to be in a practice where we are very progressive. We are able to provide optimal care for our patients with cutting-edge medicine, so I will narrow down my areas of interest to two: laser therapy and chemotherapy.
Laser Therapy: In the Driver’s Seat
My primary devotion is the use of laser therapy delivery platforms. Only approved in the United States for about 10 years, laser therapy has proven itself to be a godsend for our patients. While I understand the limitations of the current science and the physical limitations of individual patients, this modality has shown its value in practice to me. I am a hard sell but also a pragmatist—I want to see results. I have seen those results with laser therapy: a noninvasive, painless tool that minimizes pain, reduces inflammation, and potentiates active tissue healing. We’re not just attenuating symptoms, we are inducing a physical cascade resulting in tissue normalization. Treatments are usually short and require no sedation.
The best part about laser therapy is that the veterinary technician is in the driver’s seat. Just like an ultrasonic scaler, the laser is our tool! We get to educate the client on the modality, we get to perform the treatments, and we get hands-on with patients as we guide them through treatment courses.
Laser therapy is doctor-ordered but technician-driven. I believe that veterinary technicians will be instrumental in the rapid evolution of this aspect of veterinary medicine. While it’s come a long way in the past few years, there remains a lot of untapped potential. We may come to find some benefit in treating malignancy sites, immune-mediated diseases, epilepsy, and many other conditions that are currently untreated for lack of clinical data as to benefit—there are no proven clinical data confirming that laser treatment would do harm in these cases.
Laser therapy remains on the cutting edge of medicine and will continue to evolve as we continue to treat patients and share our successes and failures. This is a unique time to be a veterinary technician—we can help pioneer this technology. In years to come, laser therapy will be mainstream medicine, and it will be a standard of care. For example, AAHA and the American Association of Feline Practitioners recently added laser therapy to their pain management guidelines. Although few veterinary technicians currently perform these treatments, our ability to deliver better treatments will rise as the number of laser operators continues to grow.
Chemotherapy: Treatment Victories
My second area of special interest is chemotherapy. Cancer remains one of the biggest causes of death in veterinary medicine. We must be very careful when dealing with cytotoxic agents, but they can be very useful when handled and delivered appropriately. There is nothing easy about chemotherapy—it is financially taxing, emotionally taxing, and potentially very hazardous to both the patient and the veterinary technician.
If I can keep a cancer in remission to buy any amount of time for a patient while promoting the human–animal bond, I’ll take it as a victory. We as technicians need to be the anchor for clients who are at a loss when presented with the fact that their beloved pet has a terminal disease. Clients inevitably refer to what they know of chemotherapy: hair loss, anemia, oral ulcers, etc. We must reassure them that we would not consider a patient a valid candidate to undergo a chemotherapy protocol unless we believed we could avoid side effects that would reduce quality of life—and yet we are prepared to deal with potential sequelae. We will not sacrifice quality of life for quantity of life, but we will take each and every successful treatment as a victory.
Giving All the Best Care to Animals in Need
Being a veterinary technician can be just as rewarding as it can be absolutely heartbreaking. I try to focus on the positive while dealing with the negative, even when that includes euthanasia. Euthanasia never gets easier, but we learn to deal with it. My rationale is that if it is the last thing that I can do for a patient, then I’m going to make darn sure it is done right. I will not walk away from my patient in its time of greatest need.
So there you have it. What moves me? It’s all providing the best possible medical care for creatures that are better than us. Humans dwell on things and over-rationalize their situation, while our patients will never feel sorry for themselves. They never question why things are the way they are. They just live in the moment and accept everything for what it is. In my mind, this makes them better than us, and I plan on continuing to help them the best I can for as long as I can.
Veterinary technicians should feel blessed to do what we do. Veterinary medicine continues to evolve, and we as technicians are on the forefront of potentiating its applications. The rise of technician specialty academies also shows the way our work is becoming more recognized by the veterinary community. The things we do affect countless lives, including children—some of whom will be our future counterparts. Be prepared. Adapt, improvise, and overcome. But first and foremost, keep your nose to the grindstone. Ad astra per aspera.