Dr. Kelly Zeytoonian spoke at the 68th Annual AAEP Convention about the benefits of using veterinary technicians to the maximum of their skillset in her presentation “Maximizing Utilization of Technicians in Veterinary Practice.” She began by reviewing the current state of the industry, citing a 2021 study by Grice in which almost two-thirds of the respondents reported increased appointments, new clients, number of hours worked and emergencies seen. This increased demand was exacerbated by the difficulty in hiring support team members, she continued. Additional data from the AVMA showed that the turnover rate of veterinarians is twice that of MDs. Veterinary technician turnover is also higher than that of RNs.
Quiet Quitting Among Veterinary Technicians
Lack of utilization of veterinary technicians causes decreased engagement, she stated. This leads to the phenomenon known as “quiet quitting.” The number of general workforce employees under the age of 35 who are actively disengaged has grown by 6.5% from 2019-2021, according to a Gallup poll. Younger employees increasingly feel that no one cares about them at work. They feel that nobody supports their development and growth in their work role. This leads to dissatisfaction with their employment.
Ratio of Staff to Veterinarians in Equine Practice
In equine veterinary medicine, one out of six practices have no staff members at all. The average ratio of staff to veterinarians is less than one, Dr. Zeytoonian stated. She contrasted this with the average in companion practices, where the ratio of staff to doctors is more than three. Common salary offerings on job opening postings on the AAEVT job site range from $15 to $24 per hour. Listings describe job duties as lifting heavy equipment, handling patients, controlling inventory, performing lab work and handling emotional/physical stress, she continued. In contrast, she noted, those on the AVMA job site range from $15 to $29 per hour. They offer better benefits and more actively use the licensed technician’s skills. In addition, a recent study by AAEVT members, which included licensed, unlicensed and practice managers, showed that the most common hourly wage category was $15-$20 per hour.
Benefits of Utilizing a Veterinary Technician
The speaker then pivoted to explaining the tangible and intangible benefits of utilizing a veterinary technician. First, she said, the AVMA AAEP Equine Economic study showed that higher numbers of staff members increased mean veterinary compensation. In a personal anecdote, she shared that hiring a second technician increased her revenue by a six-figure amount, even after accounting for the increased expense. Technicians keep veterinarians safe, efficient and happy, she noted. During Dr. Zeytoonian’s recent maternity leave, her licensed technician saw simple appointments independently several days a week. As a result, the technician minimized the loss of revenue that her absence might have caused.
Increasing Technicians’ Responsibilities
Increasing the licensed technician’s responsibilities can be key in increasing their job satisfaction. It also increases their value to an equine practice, she opined. Each state’s veterinary medical board has different requirements for direct and indirect supervision of technicians. Every practice must determine these state-specific guidelines, she reminded the audience. To implement an increase in technician utilization, Dr. Zeytoonian recommended assessing current roles, establishing a communication procedure, determining a regular time for independent appointments, educating clients to increase their comfort, assessing and improving technical skills, and offering a pay increase.
Before implementing independent appointments for technicians, Dr. Zeytoonian advised thinking through the response to how the practice will handle complications, the possible need for permission to administrate medications, and the communication to clients of the legal limitations of the care a technician could provide. She suggested utilizing a spreadsheet for improvement of clinical skills to document progress. She also suggested offering a blog post or client seminar by the licensed technician. This could improve their standing in the clients’ eyes, and increase trust. For those concerned about the practice’s ability to pay a technician, she cited an equation that for each $1 increase in pay, you only need $1.50 in revenue is needed.
Using Staff to Their Highest Capabilities
With the forecasted deficit in veterinarians and veterinary support staff in the coming decade, practices will need to use all of their staff to their highest capabilities, she said. Veterinarians who embrace this change in the practice model will work more safely, efficiently and profitably, she concluded.
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