May 3, 2019

The Role of Registered Veterinary Technicians in Large Animal Veterinary Medicine

Many companion animal veterinarians know the value an experienced, compassionate, knowledgeable, and well-trained Registered Veterinary Technician (RVT) can bring to their clinic. In fact, it’s been quantified – we recently conducted a study that demonstrated that an RVT can add over $78,000 per year of gross revenue to a practice.

A companion animal technician is competent at performing venipuncture, anesthesia monitoring, lab work, assisting with routine appointments, and much more. Using RVTs efficiently takes key clinic tasks off the veterinarian’s plate so they can see more patients, make more phone calls, and start surgeries sooner – they can spend more time performing the services that generate a large proportion of the clinic revenue.


Translating This to Large Animal Veterinary Medicine

You might expect to see similar uses of RVTs in large animal medicine. But, how many bovine practitioners utilize an RVT in their practice? Not that many. In fact, out of close to 4,000 RVTs in Ontario, there are less than 100 that hold a position in food animal practice. So, if RVTs bring value to clinical practice, why don’t we see the uptake in large animal medicine? Could bovine veterinarians incorporate RVTs to be more successful practices and provide progressive, high quality care to their farm clients? Well, of course!


So Where Does the Disconnect Lie?

Bovine veterinarians are spread pretty thin. Their job is to tend to the health, welfare, and production of several thousand head of both beef and dairy cattle. Compound this with long hours on the road driving from farm to farm, and not having clean hands to grab their phone from their pocket – there’s a lot to do and only so many hours in a day! And this is exactly where opportunity could lie!


The Many Roles of a Large Animal RVT

We know the role an RVT has in a standard veterinary clinic – what value can they add to mobile clinics?

The majority of herd health visits consist of veterinarians preg-checking cows, discussing issues like reproduction, production, and maybe examining an off-feed cow. Vets sometimes rely on their farmers to make mention of a sick animal or bring attention to any issues they are dealing with. But farmers often get pulled in so many directions that inevitably, some areas of the farm are lower priority at certain times of the year or some issues can be forgotten.

Some of the roles an RVT can take on are the following:

  • Disbudding (note the use of this term over dehorning because it is performed at a much more appropriate age!)
  • Calf health monitoring, data collection, benchmarking
  • Assistance with herd health and record keeping
  • Ketosis monitoring programs
  • Vaccination programs
  • Ov-synch programs
  • Assistance with surgical procedures
  • DairyComp data entry
  • Udder health lab maintenance
  • Whole herd sample collection for disease monitoring

Let’s look at a few examples:

The Calf Barn

Disbudding and dehorning is a task that is often pretty low priority. That means they might not be monitoring the calf barn more than once every few months. Enter your RVT; a keen and knowledgeable professional that wants to advocate for you and your clients’ animals.

RVTs can ensure that calves are being disbudded at 2-3 weeks of age (best practice), using appropriate pain control protocols. With good record keeping, they can also make a note of any animals that are showing signs of illness or injury, as well as discussing any deviations from proper management practices.

With a fresh set of eyes and ears in the calf barn, issues can be identified and addressed. With this, veterinarians have the ammunition and opportunity to discuss concerns with their client and take a more pro- than reactive approach to youngstock health and performance. This translates to billable hours.


Data Collection

RVTs can also play a role in data and sample collection. Research continues to show the benefits of benchmarking to foster continuous improvements – here’s a great opportunity for routine evaluation of trends!

  • Is a particular farm having an issue with calf health? Have your RVT collect total protein samples for a few months to evaluate existing protocols. While they’re there, why not have them monitor weight to ensure nutritional requirements are being met?
  • Is a farmer unable to make time to implement the vaccine program that was recommended to them? An RVT can handle that.
  • Is subclinical ketosis impacting repro rates? Your RVT would be happy to carry out a monitoring program to add value and take that off your client’s plate.
  • Are you concerned about Neospora on a farm after a few abortions over the last few months? Johne’s after a client bought in a group of heifers? Contagious mastitis after SCC levels spiked on the last DHI test? We’re up to the task! RVTs can sample the herd for blood and milk samples to help monitor disease.

Delegating these tasks allows veterinarians to focus on their clients’ concerns and their animals’ health and welfare, and broadens the scope of services your practice can offer.


The Bottom Line

Food animal medicine is not a major focus in technician school, but with good mentoring, an RVT can become an integral and invaluable team member. Challenge their knowledge and skills, and give them a meaningful and impactful role to keep them engaged. Chances are, they will challenge you to improve the way you do things, and you might learn from them too. The team-based approach can help you broaden your services, improve client relationships, and improve patient outcomes.

The Ontario Association of Veterinary Technicians has developed an infographic highlighting some areas an RVT might help in your practice: How To Utilize a Large Animal RVT




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