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Integrative training for technicians

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Credentialed veterinary technicians are in short supply. Integrative training helps empower vet techs and strengthens the field overall.

Technicians are leaving the veterinary field in alarming numbers. According to a 2016 survey by the National Association of Veterinary Technicians in America (NAVTA), the industry is dealing with a shortage of credentialed veterinary technicians. A major complaint among veterinary practices is the difficulty in finding new qualified personnel. This trend is apparent in the integrative veterinary practice as well.1

Why are technicians leaving?

Wages are a big factor. Under-utilization is also a common complaint.2 It is my experience that both these issues can be overcome through proper training and a team effort. In a nutshell, none of us will succeed unless all of us succeed. I have found that the practices which embrace this concept are successful. There is more satisfaction among the staff, and everybody benefits. Clients are happier and the bottom line financially is sound.

The practice manager or veterinarian/owner would benefit by recognizing the long-term beneficial effects of training technicians, thereby empowering them in the practice, having them continuously learning new skills, and thereby increasing their desire to stay.

Certification and training programs for vet techs

Nutrition

There’s a revolution happening in the pet food industry, and it’s being driven mostly by millennials.3  This generation is starting to question how we have been feeding pets for the past 50+ years, and are not as willing to blindly accept what veterinarians tell them is best for their animals’ nutrition. They are making more of their own decisions about how to feed their pets, which leads to some good decisions as well as some very bad ones.

Raw pet food is currently the fastest growing market in the pet food industry.4 Given the popularity of PetFooled, a documentary that came out early in 2017, I suspect this trend will continue. In general, interest in integrative veterinary options continues to grow at a rapid pace.5

Join any Facebook raw feeding group and you will see the good, the bad and the ugly of this movement. Many are doing it right, but even more are doing it wrong. Regardless of how you feel about this type of diet, it is imperative that we stay on top of this as veterinary professionals, and be able to offer healthy, balanced ways to feed raw and fresh food.

The extreme need for proper nutritional education opens a gaping hole that can be filled by technicians. A nutrition technician, expertly trained in how to properly balance a diet, can be invaluable, not only in an integrative practice, but also in a conventional practice that is trying to retain millennial clients who don’t want to feed their pets out of a bag or can.

A number of certification programs can address this need:

  • Royal Animal Health University (RAHU): Founded by Drs. Barbara Royal and Natasha Lilly, this university launched in April of 2017. It plans to offer modules covering many aspects of integrative medicine, including nutrition, restraint, herbal medicine and more. Classes will be offered both online and in classroom format throughout the year. There will be certification offered for RVTs, DVMs and pet parents.
  • Companion Animal Nutrition and Wellness Institute (CANWI): Founded by Drs. Karen Becker and Donna Raditic, this organization will be offering a certification program in nutrition for RVTs, DVMs and pet parents. CANWI is also doing clinical studies on pet food.
  • The College of Integrative Veterinary Therapies (CIVT): This international university offers a Natural Nutrition Program, which can be taken by DVMs, technicians and receptionists. This is not a certification program. Susan Wynn’s recent lectures will soon be available as webinars/podcasts, along with a course on the east coast next year. A number of webinars on real food nutrition, nutrigenomics, etc. are available for purchase from their library.

Herbalism

Herbs can be incredibly beneficial for dogs, cats, horses and other animals. Whether Chinese, Western or Ayurvedic, education in this area can create great opportunities for technicians.

  • The Chi Institute: This prestigious school of Chinese Medicine has been around since 1998. Founded by Dr. Huisheng Xie, it offers a certification course in TCVM for veterinary technicians. This class is offered once a year and fills up quickly. Classes are both online and onsite. Technicians can also take courses in business management.
  • College of Integrative Veterinary Therapies (CIVT): This college is government-accredited and offers opportunities to learn a number of different integrative therapies, including Western herbs, environmental animal health, nutrition, anatomy, physiology and professional communications. The courses are accredited and some are at the post-graduate level. Classes are offered both online and onsite. This school offers an excellent curriculum and world-renowned teachers.

Rehabilitation

Technicians drawn to this path do well if they like lots of interaction with clients. Unlike some other technician roles, the rehabilitation tech spends a lot of time not only with the patient, but also with the pet parent. Sometimes you are seeing these patients multiple times a week. This sets up wonderful continuity and the opportunity to really bond with the patient. It is also important to understand that there is a lot of hospice-type work that comes with rehabilitation. A good strong back is a plus! Here are some certification programs for canine and equine rehabilitation:

  • University of Tennessee Certification Program: This program has many opportunities for veterinary technicians to excel. There are also certification courses in pain management, nutrition, rock taping, business management and more. Technicians work side by side with DVMs and physical therapists in these classes. Technicians need to be licensed to take these courses, but in rare cases, exceptions can be made.
  • Canine Rehabilitation Institute (CRI): Full disclosure – this is the certification course I took and I absolutely loved it! It was an incredibly positive experience for me, and set me up very well for my career in canine rehabilitation. Technicians work alongside DVMs and physical therapists. This class is very popular and sells out quickly. Following the coursework, technicians do a 40-hour internship with a CRI-approved rehab facility.
  • Full Spectrum Canine Therapy: Physical therapist Patricia Kortekaas has been teaching these wonderful classes since 2006. She has a passion for helping technicians understand the importance of proper handling techniques for pets under anesthesia, having blood draws, or undergoing dental work. A technician properly trained by Patricia would be a great asset to any veterinary practice. This school offers osteopathy as well as craniosacral therapy.

Homeopathy

Created by Dr. Samuel Hahnemann in the late 1700s, homeopathy is a safe and effective form of alternative medicine for animals. It can be incredibly rewarding to observe an animal’s response to the correct homeopathic remedy. Technicians working in a clinic can actually manage cases even if the veterinarian is not trained in homeopathy. More and more clients are requesting this deep healing modality.

Professional Course in Veterinary Homeopathy: The veterinary world is blessed with an amazing classical homeopathic teacher, Dr. Richard Pitcairn. He created this year-long (five weekends) training course for DVMs, vet techs and a few other professionals.

Muscle testing/applied kinesiology

Muscle testing, also known as applied kinesiology, is based on the concept that the body’s energy field will be strong in the presence of something that is good for it, and weak in the presence of something that is not.

This modality is gaining ground in the veterinary world. I have seen some excellent results and know of some veterinarians who use muscle testing almost exclusively. I also know of technicians who are getting into this unregulated area. A good muscle-testing technician could be priceless in the right practice.

  • Morphogenic Field Technique (MFT): This technique was developed by Frank Springob, DC. He travels around the country giving seminars and offering certification courses.
  • Nutrition Response Testing (NRT): Developed by chiropractor Freddie Ulan, NRT teaches a 13-step process of muscle testing. Classes are taught at locations around the country.

Acupressure

  • The Tallgrass Institute: Founded by Amy Snow and Nancy Zidonis, Tallgrass offers a 300-hour certification program in acupressure.

Massage

  • The Lang Institute for Massage: Canine and equine massage courses are offered here. Located in Lovelend, Colorado, it’s the only state-approved training program offering veterinary medical massage. There is a 663-hour class requirement — four days are hands-on and the rest is done through videos, books and DVDs. Students study at their own pace.
  • Canineology and Equinology: This school offers four different progressive levels of Equinology Equine Body Worker certification. It also has two Caninology Canine Body Worker certification programs. The school offers both onsite and distance programs.
  • Equissage: Students who successfully complete this program will receive 50 CE hours through The National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork. (Note — this is not veterinary CE.)

Reiki

Reiki classes are available in most communities and online. This therapy is used in many human shock trauma centers and hospitals and is practical for pain relief and emotional support. Many shelters have increased adoption rates through the use of Reiki – find out more at ShelterAnimalReikiAssociation.org. Meanwhile, a new research project will study pre- and post-op use of Reiki on animals (visit AnimalReikiAlliance.com).

  • Animal Reiki Source: A pioneer in Animal Reiki, Kathleen Prasad offers training, classes, workshops and more.

Healing Touch

Investing in your technician

My own experience is a great example of how investing in your technician will yield great results. In 2005, I was offered a job at a veterinary practice with a canine rehabilitation component. I had only recently graduated from RVT school and had student loans to pay. The DVM owner I worked for had the foresight to see my potential and made an agreement with me. The practice would pay for half my education to become a CCRA plus the airfare to attend school. I had to complete my certification within a specific period of time. If I left the practice within 12 months of completing my certification, I would be responsible for paying back a portion of the tuition. I stayed at the practice for six years and it was a win for all of us.

There is a veterinary practice in Northern California that I greatly admire. It consists of an integrative veterinarian and her assistant. The practice always has a waiting list, and is very well-respected in the community. The veterinarian/owner realized early on the importance of having a well-trained assistant, and has supported continuing education for the six years that the assistant has been there. This assistant now has certification and/or skills in craniosacral therapy, massage, Tui na, acupressure, osteopathy, Reiki, and animal communication. The veterinarian in this practice feels supported, and says it has taken a lot of pressure off to have such a knowledgeable assistant who can step in and provide these valuable treatments. The assistant feels empowered, is making more money, and has a sense of ownership. The clients feel safe and taken care of, and trust the assistant to understand the details of their pets’ issues. A continuity of care resonates through the entire practice.

Both of the above examples are easily achievable. There are plenty of technicians, assistants, receptionists, etc. who would jump at the chance to be trained. It’s important to think outside the box when looking for staff. Some of the finest integrative staff I have seen are career change individuals. I was 43 years old when I went to school to become an RVT and truly feel my maturity gave me an extra advantage with working in veterinary practice. Wisdom and compassion grow with age and life experience.

Summary

Poll your clients and staff to see which of these many modalities are most desired, and create incentive programs for carefully-selected technicians/receptionists. Because integrative medicine is still a fairly new area for technicians (the Maryland Technician program has been teaching an integrative required class for over a decade), I have started a Facebook page called “TheTribe – A Community of Integrative Veterinary Technicians”. There are currently 421 members, all technicians who either work in integrative veterinary medicine or have an interest in it. This is a much-needed forum on which you can safely discuss any holistic issues.

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1“Why Vet Techs are the Veterinary Profession’s Backbone”. Veterinary Practice News. veterinarypracticenews.com/why-vet-techs-are-the-veterinary-professions-backbone/ Oct 11, 2016.

2Velasquez LVT J, 2016, Nov 27. “Four Reasons Techs Leave the Field”. drandyroark.com/four-reasons-techs-leave-the-field/.

3Wall T, 2017, Apr 27. #tbt “Raw pet food growth continues despite concerns” petfoodindustry.com/articles/6431-tbt-raw-pet-food-growth-continues-despite-concerns.

4“PetLife: Millennial Pet Owners Leading Charge in Rapid Growth of Holistic Pet Care”. Business Wire. businesswire.com/news/home/20170324005105/en/PetLife-Millennial-Pet-Owners-Leading-Charge-Rapid, Mar 24, 2017.

5”PetLife: Holistic Pet Health is Next Big Trend in Veterinary Medicine”. Business Wire.  businesswire.com/news/home/20170412005301/en/PetLife-Holistic-Pet-Health-Big-Trend-Veterinary, Apr 12, 2017.

Ms. Joni Kamlet worked in integrative veterinary practices in Northern California, becoming certified as a Canine Rehabilitation Assistant and in Applied Clinical Nutrition. She then spent six years as the Northern California Veterinary Representative for Standard Process/MediHerb. Joni is currently developing content on integrative veterinary medicine for VetBloom (vetbloom.com). She lives in South India and is doing humanitarian work with Amma (amma.org).