Who is that “other person” in the room with the doctor?

By Dr. Emily Hoppmann

In human medicine we all know about and understand nurses and their jobs. However, in veterinary medicine there is a great deal that is unknown about that “other person” in the room with the doctor – the Veterinary Technician. You may see different faces in exam rooms with me since we operate as a family here and that means all of our staff has gone through extensive training for all the positions they may need to fill. To an outsider it may appear as if the technician is just used to hold the animals while the doctor examines them. While that is a part of their job and with the range of species we see not always an easy part, but it is one of the smallest part!

A veterinary technician and her skills are vital to helping me offer the best quality care to our patients. They have all gone through extensive training on different diseases, including what to look for, what tests might need to be run, running those tests, what possible types of medication will be needed to care for the patient, and what the possible treatment plans are and how the outcomes may vary. They are also educated in pharmacology, or medications, so that they are familiar with common side effects, how drug combinations work together, which drugs can and cannot be used in certain situation, and how to go over administering medication to owners. They act like Elgin Veterinary Hospital’s own personal pharmacy technician when the doctor is getting the treatment plan together.

Surgery is another area where veterinary technicians are very educated and their skills are invaluable. Not only do they help prepare the surgery room for the type of surgery I will be doing, they help get the patient ready for surgery. This means helping with everything from getting an accurate weight, helping the doctor do the pre-surgery physical, helping calculate drug doses that the doctor needs, placing IV catheters, obtaining and running blood work. They are full fledged phlebotomists (people trained in taking blood) – whether it be for blood work before surgery, a sample for a single test, or blood work that is being sent to the outside laboratory. This also means knowing what tubes the blood needs to be placed in, what the test runs off of (whole blood, serum, or plasma), and what forms are needed for each particular test.

Once we have everything ready for surgery, veterinary technicians turn into surgical assistants. They assist in getting the patient intubated (using short-acting medication that will get the patient to the level of anesthesia needed to place the breathing tube that will be connected to the gas anesthesia that will keep the patient asleep), clipping and prepping the surgical site, and monitoring anesthesia during surgery. They act just like the anesthesia nurse at the hospital next to you during any surgery you might have. They also make sure that the patient’s cage is properly heated and padded for them to recover as smoothly as possible from anesthesia.

They are also proficient in radiology or the art of x-rays. We have a digital x-ray system so it requires them to properly measure the patient so the computer can be programmed to get the correct outcome from the radiographs. Many different types of radiographs are needed depending on what I am looking for and they are able to manipulate the body so that I can have the best view possible. My technicians are so good we rarely have to repeat any x-rays, reducing the exposure to your pet.

Their communication skills are also so important to the flow of the day. With so many patients for me to care for and surgeries to do, etc. I am not always able to get to the phone or call people back as quickly as I would like. The technicians can return calls from owners and let them know that if they are concerned then they should bring their pet in, relay information to owners, update them on their pets, follow-up on a recently seen patient, deliver blood work results, go over treatment plans (such as  heartworm treatment), and this allows me to be sure that we can try to answer any questions people might have, while I can deal with all the patients I have in the hospital or in the waiting room. I would love to make every phone call myself or go over every treatment plan and discharge plan, but I had to learn to share the workload so that everyone got the best care possible. I have done this by training my staff and by providing handouts for owners to refer back to if the information they are getting while here is overwhelming

While the actions of everyone are closely monitored by me and nothing happens to a patient without me checking it first and being on-hand as needed, I have the best staff any person could ask for and we run this hospital as a family unit. By all working together to provide the best quality medicine and service for you, who we consider a part of our family, we try to make sure that everyone is taken care of and happy.

Now you know who that person in the room with me is, you can see she is a well-educated veterinarian technician with a wealth of knowledge. She may still check with me before giving advice, but that just shows you how good she is – she knows that there are some things that need to go through the doctor. That does not just apply to questions, but to almost everything she does. It all works wonderful with a great system of checks and balances. As I said before, I have the best staff in the world and we always want to make sure to satisfy your needs and keep you as a happy member of the Elgin Veterinary Hospital family!