LVT vs. Assistant

9 Apr

I wrote this at least 5 years ago, so things may have changed since my experiences (I doubt it) so remember that as you read.  I still stand by my assessment of LVTs.

In the modern schools, veterinarians are being taught to only do tasks that require their license.  Staff should do EVERY thing else, in order to be most efficient and practice at the top of the profession.  This philosophy is fine in theory.  In practice (they call it that for good reason) most vet hospitals do not PAY well enough to entice skilled employees to work for them.  With skills and licensing comes demand for better pay–and most vet hospitals are small, privately-owned operations that just can’t make that scenario work.  So what you get is what you pay for a lot of the time.  And that can be very scary if your vet sticks with the same mentality they were instructed to have in school.  Most of the vets I worked for did way, way, way more then just what was required by their license.  Because it’s ultimately their business, and because they cared about the animals and their clients.  They wanted things done right (and sometimes quickly).  When I worked for vets that didn’t do things that their license wasn’t specifically required to do, I thought they didn’t really give an eff.  And I looked down on them.  And I’m sure their clients wouldn’t have loved what they saw many of the times.

Back in the late 90s when I started volunteering in vet hospitals, most of the help were just on-the-job trained.  That’s who vets could find, and that’s who most vets could afford to pay.  As things have slowly tried to go the same way as the human side (and for-profit technical schools started popping up), there were more and more LVTs on the scene.

-Licensed Veterinary Technician (LVT).  It’s veterinary medicine’s effort to standardize care. Which in theory is a good thing. In practice, I’m not sure how great those 2 year tech programs ARE. For example, teaching how to calculate anesthetic doses seems to be a primary portion of programs, but is certainly NOT a primary duty for the majority of teching jobs. If the vet trusts the tech to do it at all (many don’t) it’s like 5 minutes out of an entire day.  There is a big discrepancy between what the technical programs are teaching and what veterinary employers want in a tech (and are able to pay that tech).

I think mostly vets want someone who:

1)  they don’t have to train (there’s no time, they’re probably already short-staffed by the time they get to the hiring process)

2)  someone will will show up.  Availability during peak times (weekends, +/- holidays, +/- nights, and mostly full time (or more) hours.  Willingness to come early, miss breaks, skip lunch, and stay late is a bonus, and sometimes necessity.

3).  Someone self-motivated that they can trust and don’t have to baby-sit.

And the daily skills commonly required on the job are things like:  Restraint times a billion, autoclaving packs, vitals, blood draws, ie simple, repetitive tasks that have to be done with competence, but don’t require any sort of genius.  And CLEANING *pet-peeve alert*.  Always the cleaning.  And everybody in the building needs to help with cleaning–don’t you dare tell me any position in a vet hospital is above cleaning.  It’s one of the most necessary and frequent parts of any of the jobs.

-I think the technical schools have their ideals in the right place, but they also need a substantial program.  If people are PAYING to attend, they have to teach something that requires skill and support it with theory.  And so to make a more legit course-load and take up a decent 2 years, they teach unnecessary things.  Things that aren’t all that useful in the real world.  Unfortunately, the schools also (either directly or indirectly, I’m not sure) teach that LVTs are PROFESSIONALS.  And as such they are 1) superior to “unskilled” assistants 2) anything that doesn’t require their license is beneath them.  Both very, very untrue sentiments.  And detrimental.

Vet hospitals need to rely on EVERYone.  And at the same time everyone is just a body and easily replaceable.  Also, everyone from the vet to the techs to the receptionists need to be able to step up (or down) to do what is needed at that moment.  That means–(again) everyone cleans.  My personal joke:  What is the difference between an LVT and an assistant?  An assistant is willing to clean.  And that comes from direct and varied experiences in multiple types of vet setting and in multiple states.

-Another problem with distinguishing licensed and assistant techs (and the resultant pay-discrepancy) is:  1)  You can’t account for on-the-job experience, nor can you teach all on-the-job skills in a 2 year span.  2)  You can’t TEACH motivation or work ethic.  I would say I was easily the hardest working employee at (at least) half of my jobs–and the ones where I wasn’t the hardest working person, it certainly wasn’t tied with any LVT.  This isn’t a brag, it’s the truth.

Do I think assistants are as good as LVTs?  Mostly.  Sure, missing a formal education taught by accredited instructors may leave gaps in knowledge.  Assistants may not know the whys behind a task.  But I would argue, the LVT often has a shaky idea of what goes on in real vet hospitals.  Often, they have an idealized view of what should happen, verses what actually happens because of realities, and also because of limitations to client money and willingness.  I think vets themselves probably go through this as well, studying what should happen then seeing what really happens.  And I do think assistants come out on top as better employees than LVTs overall because they are trained on the job so you don’t have to un-train any bad habits/expectations, they are more willing to commit longer hours and forgo breaks and come in early, etc… which is a very desirable trait to vets.  And assistants are more willing to jump in wherever necessary (phones, lugging dog food, cleaning) because they don’t have allusions that their license somehow makes certain tasks beneath them.

But it’s beginning to be a new time in the field and the LVTs have saturated the market (and set a precedent for accepting lower wages) so it’s beginning to be easier and easier for vets to require this license for hire.  I would just say–don’t forget the assistants.

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