Build a Better Equine Practice: The Value of Veterinary Support Staff

How certified veterinary technicians and veterinary assistants improve equine practices.
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What is an Equine Vet Tech?
Veterinary technicians often assist with providing treatment to patients while assistants often restrain animals for procedures. | Anne M. Eberhardt/The Horse

Certified veterinary technicians and veterinary assistants play a crucial role on the veterinary support staff at equine practices. Depending on the state in which the practice operates, credentialed technicians can help with various tasks to improve practice efficiency, including bandage changes, bloodwork rechecks, suture removal, emergency triage (prioritizing patients based on their condition), and radiology for established patients. In addition, veterinary assistants restrain animals for procedures and help veterinarians and technicians provide treatments, said panelists on the American Association of Equine Practitioners (AAEP) and American Association of Equine Veterinary Technicians (AAEVT) roundtable at the 2023 AAEP convention, held Nov. 29-Dec. 3 in San Diego, California.

The panel consisted of Mike Fugaro, VMD, Dipl. ACVS, owner and founder of Mountain Pointe Equine Veterinary Services, in Long Valley, New Jersey; Bridget Heilsberg, DVM, owner of Crown 3 Equine Veterinary Services, in Whitesboro, Texas; Charlotte Lacroix, DVM, JD, owner of Veterinary Business Advisors, in Whitehouse Station, New Jersey; Travis Otremba, LVT, RVT, lead anesthesia technician at Ocala Equine Hospital, in Florida; Elyse Rowley, MS, veterinary assistant at Riviera Equine Internal Medicine and Consulting, in Santa Ynez, California; and Andrea Whittle, LVT, lead internal medicine technician at Rood & Riddle Equine Hospital in Lexington, Kentucky.

Veterinary assistants provide care for patients under the supervision of veterinarians and technicians. Credentialed veterinary technicians must graduate from a two-year American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) accredited program, and almost every state requires technicians to pass a credentialing examination. As outlined by the AAEVT, technicians cannot diagnose, prescribe, or perform surgery but can assistant in many laboratory and clinical procedures depending on the state in which they work.

How to Improve Veterinary Technician Efficiency

Heilsberg recommends practices, regardless of their size, establish what she refers to as protocol-driven veterinary medicine to develop trust and efficiency within the practice. “Establish protocols and trust your staff to follow them,” she said. “Learn what your state allows technicians to do and what kind of veterinary supervision they need to do it both onsite and offsite.”

Veterinarians should create relationships with clients and establish their technicians as trusted assistants. Only after the veterinarian completes the initial visit should technicians take solo appointments.

To increase practice efficiency, the roundtable panelists and audience members agreed that telehealth appointments could allow veterinarians to meet the needs of more patients and increase revenue for the practice. They said telehealth would be best utilized with diagnostic imaging appointments because technicians could obtain the images in person and send them to the veterinarian, who could have a live telehealth appointment with the owner to discuss the findings. Especially in practices with multiple technicians, veterinarians could significantly increase the number of appointments on their schedule in a single day and boost the value of their technicians.

Appropriate Compensation for Veterinary Technicians

With increased responsibility and value added to the practice, veterinarians must ensure their technicians and assistants are compensated fairly. Panelists agreed practitioners need to empower support staff to advocate for themselves and ask for more training, individualized benefits, or increased compensation. Some panelists and participants have explored profit-sharing or production-based bonuses for their technicians and support staff to increase career satisfaction and commitment to the practice’s success. Other ways to improve technician and assistant compensation can include improved health care benefits, retirement contributions, paid time off, and opportunities for continued education, said Otremba.

Take-Home Message

Many equine veterinary practices thrive due to crucial support provided by veterinary technicians and veterinary assistants. Technicians can help increase practice efficiency by triaging emergencies, removing sutures, drawing follow-up bloodwork, and performing other tasks as defined by the state in which the practice is located. Veterinary assistants can restrain patients for procedures, assist with treatments, administer medications, and educate owners to improve patient welfare. Developing a telehealth appointment schedule and practicing protocol-driven veterinary medicine can help generate revenue for the equine practice and improve the quality of patient care. All the while, practice owners need to compensate technicians and assistants appropriately as their value to the practice increases.


Additional 2023 Wellness Coverage:

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Written by:

Haylie Kerstetter, Digital Editor, holds a degree in equine studies with a concentration in communications and a minor in social media marketing. She is a Pennsylvania native and, as a horse owner herself, has a passion for helping owners provide the best care for their horses. When she is not writing or in the barn, she is spending time with her dog, Clementine.

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