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Spring 2018, Practice Management

Perception Is Often Reality

Heather PrendergastRVT, CVPM

Heather has spent over 25 years in small animal practice, teaches veterinary technology and assistance programs, and is the author of Front Office Management for the Veterinary Team. She lectures on topics ranging from grief management for health care professionals to nutrition, inventory, communications, and veterinary team management. She has also written several articles and participated in published roundtable discussions on these topics.

Currently, Heather provides consulting services for veterinary hospitals and is an instructor for Patterson Veterinary University and VetMedTeam. She serves on several advisory committees and is the Program Chair of the Technician Program at the North American Veterinary Conference. Heather was named the 2014 Veterinary Technician of the Year and Continuing Educator of the Year for 2016 at the Western Veterinary Conference.

Kenichiro YagiMS, RVT, VTS (ECC, SAIM)

Ken has spent nearly 20 years in practice. He obtained his VTS certification in emergency and critical care, as well as small animal internal medicine, and earned his master’s degree in Veterinary Science. He served as ICU Manager and Blood Bank Manager at Adobe Animal Hospital until 2018, and is now Program Director for the RECOVER CPR Initiative and simulation lab manager of the Park Veterinary Innovation Laboratory at Cornell University. He co-chairs the Veterinary Nurse Initiative and serves as a board member of the Veterinary Emergency and Critical Care Society, the Academy of Veterinary Emergency and Critical Care Technicians, and the Veterinary Innovation Council.

Dennis M. McCurninDVM, MS, DACVS

Spanning five decades, Dennis’ distinguished veterinary career has covered small practice, teaching, and publishing. He has won numerous awards, published many papers and articles, and contributed to 11 textbooks, including McCurnin’s Clinical Textbook for Veterinary Technicians, now in its ninth edition. Currently, he serves as director and president-elect of the Western Veterinary Conference (WVC) and consults and lectures in the areas of Veterinary Technology and Practice Management.

Perception Is Often Reality
An increase in pet care spending is the primary source of employment growth of veterinary occupations, projected to nearly triple the average growth through 2026. Photo Credit: Shutterstock.com

Over the past 50 years, veterinary medicine has become highly sophisticated. Many veterinarians find practice goals of simultaneously providing a high level of medical care and attaining acceptable profit margins can no longer be met without the care provided by credentialed veterinary technicians. The veterinary technician has become a skilled practitioner of patient assessment and critical thinking.

Since the Veterinary Technician profession’s inception in the 1960s, professionals were called Animal Health Technicians (AHT). In 1989, the AVMA approved another name change, resulting in the title Veterinary Technician, with the credentials in various states being either certified (CVT), registered (RVT), licensed (LVT) or Licensed Veterinary Medical Technician (LVMT).

In recent years, veterinary-centered television programs have heightened awareness of veterinary medicine and technology, leading to an increased expectation for practitioners and pet owners that animal patients will receive excellent veterinary nursing care.1

Through no fault of its own, the profession has experienced growing pains from lack of regulation.

Although some states do recognize the title of veterinary technician, very few states consistently enforce non-veterinarian practice distinctions. The result is a large number of non-credentialed team members also carrying the title of “veterinary technician” within practice walls, creating controversy, confusion, and misperception among the veterinary industry and public. See “Man on the Street: What Is a Tech?” in which public perception is surveyed.2

In addition to the misperception, the NAVTA demographic study has continuously identified profession challenges since its inception in the early 2000’s.3 The demographic study of 2016 repeats similar identified challenges of 2008 and 2012; lack of professional recognition, low income, underutilization of skills and lack of distinction from on-the-job-trained “technicians.” The challenges leave the credentialed profession understaffed, as individuals with education leave the profession to seek employment opportunities in other career tracks.4

“Imagine that you are a newly graduated veterinarian,” writes K. Adams in the NAVTA Journal. “You have spent years with your nose in a book, accumulated student loan debt that would make Warren Buffet weak in the knees, and you’ve just landed your first job! Excited to put your knowledge to work and optimistic about the mark you will make in your community you arrive at your practice, only to find out that you are going to be used as a glorified technician. You will not be introduced to clients as a veterinarian, you will not be allowed to do surgery and your every move will be watched over by a controlling team member. Others that have not gone through the same formal education you have are calling themselves veterinarians in the practice.”5

The Veterinary Nurse Initiative (VNI) is seeking to reverse the lack of regulation, misperception, lack of recognition, and low income. The most important point to understand is that reversing the trend will not happen overnight and could take several years in states that do not recognize the profession at all. Change must happen before the profession becomes extinct.


1. Bassert, J, McCurnin’s Clinical Textbook for Veterinary Technicians; 9th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Saunders, 2017.
2. “Man on the Street,” DVM 360.com http://veterinaryteam.dvm360.com/man-street-what-tech, (accessed December 2017).
3. Data on file in NAVTA office; NAVTA, PO Box 1227, Albert Lea, MN 56007
4. NAVTA 2016 Demographic Survey; http://www.navta.net/?page=Demographic_Survey, (accessed December 2017).
5. Adams, K, “Reintroduce the Vet Tech,” NAVTA Journal, Dec 2017-Jan 2018.