A recent study has confirmed what we all already know – RVTs rock!
What was the study about?
More scientifically speaking, the study was a survey of companion animal practices in Ontario. The goal was to evaluate the current utilization levels of veterinary technicians and the value they bring to veterinary practices. The study was commissioned by the Ontario Association of Veterinary Technicians, so bias is certainly a possibility, but it was nonetheless an independent study. It’s also possible that there could have been a bias towards practices who felt there was a benefit to employing RVTs. These practices might have had more motivation to respond to the survey.
What were the main findings?
Quibbles aside, responses from 163 practices were analyzed. The study found a strong positive association between the number of RVTs employed and gross annual revenue. Each RVT per veterinarian increased gross revenues by more than $78,000 per veterinarian. There was also a positive correlation between hourly pay for RVTs and gross annual revenue for the clinic. Practices that allowed RVTs to perform tasks within their core competencies (rather than having the veterinarians carry out these tasks) also had higher revenues.
Is this relevant to shelters?
What does this have to do with shelters? Quite a lot, actually. Obviously our motive is not profit, but we are constantly up against resource limitations and it stands to reason that appropriate skills, improved productivity and higher efficiency will help us better utilize the funds we have and increase our life-saving capacity.
Most shelters in Ontario don’t have full-time veterinarians on staff. Those that do, benefit greatly from having RVTs to carry out the many tasks they are trained for, allowing the (more expensive) DVMs to focus on their own core competencies. This ought to allow the shelter to function with as few veterinarians as possible. Properly balanced vet-tech partnerships allow optimal patient care and the best use of precious funds. An excellent example of the way teamwork allows shelters to function better is high-volume high-quality spay-neuter clinics, which are simply unable to function at optimal capacity without an appropriate ratio of trained technicians and assistants to surgeons.
For shelters without DVMs on staff, having an RVT to monitor the animals, provide appropriate husbandry and care, administer treatments, develop pathway plans and request veterinary care when needed, is invaluable. Many shelters have RVTs in management and administrative roles – this happens naturally because of their medical expertise, organizational skills, resilience and understanding of what shelters and animals need in order to maximize life-saving capacity.
Better pay, better sheltering
The correlation between hourly rates and practice revenues was interesting but not surprising. The report suggested that one possible explanation for this might be higher retention rates of appropriately paid staff. The cost of replacing staff who leave for greener pastures or retire from the field because they are unable to pay their bills, is enormous. In a specialized field like sheltering, high staff turnover is demoralizing, disruptive and exhausting. Training and retraining new people, working with inexperienced technicians and never building a core team of experienced, seasoned, technicians is a massive impediment to effective functioning. Shelters should pay RVTs as much as they are able and take other measures to ensure that their work remains satisfying, they are treated as valued team members, and management works to improve engagement and minimize burnout.
What about non-registered VTs?
The study found that non-registered veterinary technicians did not bring the same perceived financial value to their practices as RVTs. Yet we all know non-registered VTs in shelters who are just as competent and productive as their registered counterparts. The main difference, especially at the hiring level, is that a shelter can be sure in advance of the core competencies of an RVT, while a non-registered VT does not come with that same guarantee.
Dreaming in technicolour
Our dream? A specialist shelter qualification for veterinary technicians. We now have a specialist degree for shelter veterinarians – the American Board of Veterinary Practitioners’ Shelter Medicine Speciality. A technician speciality seems like the logical next step and would be of enormous benefit to quality of care in animal sheltering.
- Exploring the value that Registered Veterinary Technicians bring to Ontario companion animal practices – report prepared for the Ontario Association of Veterinary Technicians, Acer Consulting, January 2019