Veterinary Staff: The Unsung Heroes

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The District Vet

As a kid I recall watching re-runs of M*A*S*H, late in the evening. The first episode of the series stuck with me. It was filmed from the perspective of a patient brought to the hospital facility. You are placed in the role of the patient and meet everyone there to treat you. While I cannot replicate the mastery of such cinematography, I can lead you on a tour of the hospital, introducing you to the staff that cares for you and your pet. Let’s go!

When you walk through the doors of either of our veterinary facilities, you are greeted by client care representatives. They assist you with scheduling appointments and keeping all medical records up to date and in order. In addition, the front staff processes refills, submits insurance claims, answers client questions, and relays messages and concerns to the doctors. They are the gate-keepers and do all they can to assure a smooth flow for the entire staff and all the clients. The desk staff also maintain the lobby areas and keep everything tidy. They are the chiefs of wearing many hats. Remember, they answer almost every phone call –from the excited person with a new puppy, to the worried elder woman whose cat is failing. I cannot express to you how essential they are to you and the function of the hospital. They also are certain that your dog has been given a yummy treat, if allowed!

The next person you see on your visit is a veterinary assistant. In the lobby or at the front desk, a veterinary assistant meets you and your pet and escorts you to an examination room. If you are with a pup, they weigh it on the way. The veterinary assistants ask questions to ascertain why your pet is here for a visit. Their questions are not trivial, For example, it is important that we know what brand of food your pet eats. Simply saying ‘dry food’ does not help! The VA’s assure that everyone is comfortable and then relay all the gathered information to the veterinarian. Assistants enter the data into your chart and assist the veterinarian with many tasks, including obtaining vaccines, helping with blood samples, filling medications — you name it. And when your visit is completed, they clean the room and wait for the next patient. The assistants are the doctors’ right hand, and sometimes left, too!

When in the treatment room, the assistants utilize the professional skills of our veterinary technicians. Their role is similar to that of a nurse in human medical care and they perform a wide array of duties on a daily basis. The first is to assess any pet that is brought into the room by the assistants – or front desk in an emergency. They are known for their ability to remain calm under pressure. In an emergency situation, they are often the first to see a pet and they provide immediate triage care. Veterinary technicians place IV catheters, draw blood, monitor anesthesia, prepare surgical packs, assist during surgery, take X-rays, scale teeth during dental procedures, administer medications, care for hospitalized patients, maintain all of the equipment, run laboratory tests, and so much more. The technicians also are tasked with discharging patients from the hospital, relaying care instructions and spending time with clients to answer their questions and allay any fears. Knowledge and soothing words are part of their job.

Within the treatment room or at the front desk, but frequently unseen, are the hospital managers. Running a veterinary practice is a complex task –from arranging staff schedules, to ordering supplies, and paying the bills. The managers are jacks of all trades and help the staff in all tasks, too. Aside from keeping the lights on and jumping in when we need them on the floor, they enable all of the staff to do their duties.

The doctors. Why are the doctors here and not at the front of this column? Because they cannot do their jobs without the professionalism and expertise of all the staff. The doctors assess patents, direct treatment plans, order tests, interpret results, and discuss the findings with the pet owner. While the client sees the doctor during the examination, they may not see what else the doctors do: they review past medical histories, review prior lab work, write notes about the current visit, calculate medication doses, follow-up with lab results, communicate with clients between examinations, perform staff training, and more.

A visit by a patient involves so much more than what is seen during the time spent within the hospital. It is a rare moment when any of us in the hospital sit still. There is always a task needing to be completed, a patient needing care and love, a client to comfort, a card to write, a wall to clean. When you check out and leave the building, what we do does not stop.

Veterinary magic does not happen via an app, nor a text, not even by a computer with all the power of the internet. Nope. What we do is based upon human knowledge, compassion, and tenacity. And with all that we do, we are not perfect, either. But it is the passion that doctors, technicians, assistants, client care representatives, and all support staff possess, which heals the infirm, comforts the grieved, and keeps your pet healthy. I speak of the wonderful staff, which I have the pleasure of working with every day.