Are Veterinary Technicians Underutilized?



“People need to realize that when they take their animals to the vet, it’s not just the veterinarian but that there’s an entire veterinary team, including technicians and assistants who are very dedicated and committed to taking care of their pets.”

Kenichiro Yagi, MS, RVT, Chief Veterinary Nursing Officer, Veterinary Emergency Group

The role of veterinary technicians is underemphasized and undervalued, according to a 2021 survey conducted by the National Association of Veterinary Technicians in America and the Veterinary Hospital Managers Association. Veterinary technicians possess a wealth of knowledge and skill, yet they are frequently underutilized within their practices. As the demand for efficient and high-quality animal healthcare escalates, it’s crucial to reassess and address the potential underutilization of veterinary technicians in the industry.

Veterinary technicians are akin to nurses in human healthcare, armed with a comprehensive understanding of animal physiology, disease processes, and treatment protocols: “People need to realize that when they take their animals to the vet, it’s not just the veterinarian but that there’s an entire veterinary team including technicians and assistants who are very dedicated and committed to taking care of their pets,” shares Kenichiro Yagi, chief veterinary nursing officer at the Veterinary Emergency Group.

The underutilization of veterinary technicians is a multifaceted issue with repercussions beyond individual practices. The survey found that it contributes significantly to job dissatisfaction, increased turnover rates, and a widening skills gap in the industry. When technicians are not allowed to perform to their full potential, it can lead to a sense of frustration and stagnation in their careers.

Thankfully, due in no small part to the hard work of experts like Yagi, the underutilization of veterinary technicians is gradually being recognized and addressed: “I think that it’s getting better. If you look at the big picture or the national perspective, progress feels slow. We’re still just talking about it. We’re still trying to create task forces, putting out guidelines, and educating people,” says Yagi. “But there are hospitals, companies, and practice groups pushing the limits. They train people appropriately and then use them to the fullest extent of their license.”

Keep reading to learn more about what underutilization of vet techs looks like, what the causes and ramifications are, and what is currently being done to address it.

Meet the Expert: Kenichiro Yagi, MS, RVT, VTS (ECC), VTS (SAIM)

Kenichiro Yagi

Kenichiro Yagi is an experienced veterinary technician with over 19 years of practice. Currently, he is the chief veterinary nursing officer at the Veterinary Emergency Group.

Throughout his career, Yagi has been dedicated to promoting compassionate and progressive care for patients and their families. His passion for continuous learning led him to obtain his VTS certification in emergency and critical care and small animal internal medicine. He has co-edited the Manual of Veterinary Transfusion Medicine and Blood Banking and has published over 30 text chapters and articles in various publications. He has a bachelor’s of science in animal science from the University of California, Davis, and a master’s in biomedical sciences, veterinary medicine, and surgery from the University of Missouri-Columbia.

What Underutilization Looks Like

Underutilization of veterinary technicians manifests in various forms in veterinary practices. In some practices, credentialed vet techs are relegated to administrative or maintenance tasks, such as answering phones, scheduling appointments, or cleaning facilities, rather than the medical procedures they are trained for. Veterinarians can find themselves encumbered with routine tasks, such as drawing blood or administering medication, which the technicians could handle.

“All the states agree that licensed veterinarians are the ones that can diagnose, provide a prognosis, prescribe treatment, and perform surgery. The limit for what vet techs can do should be right up to that line. They can’t diagnose, do surgery, or prescribe medications, but they can do everything else,” says Yagi.

Unfortunately, not all states have a scope of practice for veterinary technicians, which can make their role a lot less clear: “Utilizing them to their fullest potential looks like allowing them to use their education to assess patients, contribute to treatment plans, administer anesthesia, and monitor the patient and make decisions based on what they know,” he adds.

Unfortunately, most veterinary clinics do not utilize their vet techs to their fullest capacity. Yagi, along with a colleague, conducted workshops in clinics and hospitals where they asked veterinarians to list who performed specific duties: “Is it an assistant, credential technician, or veterinarian doing these tasks? As we did this several times, the average utilization that we saw was only about 30 percent. Since then, we’ve been talking about how do we move that needle? Or what are the things that we need or information that we want to get out there? What are the barriers, and how do we get people over those?” Yagi shares.

Causes of Underutilization

In Yagi’s experience, there are several reasons for the underutilization of vet techs.


One of the causes of underutilization is that veterinary offices and hospitals are understaffed and overwhelmed, so there is little time or space to think critically about business operations: “Many people don’t realize the difference between people being busy and being utilized. We’ve always been busy, especially through the pandemic. Hospitals and clinics have been so strained with the workload and demand, and you have everyone running around crazy trying to get things done, but they’re doing it in a way where it’s a little bit chaotic, and it’s not organized,” says Yagi.

“The right tasks aren’t delegated to the right people, so they’re just trying to get things done. If you ask a hospital, ‘Do you guys have a utilization issue?’ they will say, ‘No, we’re all running around very busy, and we’re always doing things.’ However, if you take the time to delegate to the right people and utilize them to their skill level and training, then workflow becomes more efficient, and you don’t have to be running around busy.”

Variation in Credentialing

The variation in credentialing requirements from state to state also affects utilization. In some states, technicians must have formal education and pass a board exam to become licensed, registered, or certified, while other states have minimal or no requirements: “A veterinary technician can look very different depending on the state. In some states, there is a clear distinction between credentialed veterinary technicians and veterinary assistants in what they are allowed to do. However, in some states, they’re still the same,” explains Yagi.

This lack of differentiation makes it difficult for educated and credentialed vet techs to work at the highest level because they are often regarded the same as someone with no education or training.


Lastly, trust is important in underutilization: “There is a human psychology factor at play,” says Yaigi. “Even if vets understand that they have a utilization issue and they want to use technicians more, they sometimes have a hard time deciding who they should trust to do more versus who they shouldn’t. Their past bad experiences in passing on a certain task to another person can leave them afraid to do that again. Some of these procedures are risky, and ultimately, their supervisor is liable.”

Consequences of Underutilization

As previously mentioned, there are some significant consequences to underutilizing veterinary technicians. “There are studies that demonstrate this can lead to burnout. Taking on tasks that are beneath their expertise, like your janitorial work, factor significantly into burnout and lack of growth in a role,” says Yagi. “They want to do the work they were meant to do and continue to grow in their career. That’s lacking when they’re not utilized appropriately.”

Burnout can lead to decreased job satisfaction and increased turnover rates, ultimately affecting the quality of care provided. When technicians are not utilized to their full potential, it limits their opportunities to advance their skills and knowledge through hands-on experience. Over time, this can cause the level of expertise and proficiency within the profession to decline.

Outcomes of Good Utilization

On the other hand, allowing vet techs to work to their full capacity can have a positive impact: “Good utilization leads to better patient care, better job satisfaction, and fulfillment, and it also leads to practice profitability,” shares Yagi. “When I started talking about utilization, I looked at it very much from the fulfillment side because of the staffing shortage. The average [workspan] of a vet tech is five to seven years. People want a meaningful job where they can help animals and get really good at it.”

He continues, “Now I talk a lot more about the profitability piece. There is a huge amount of potential revenue that hospitals are losing by having doctors perform simple procedures like placing an IV catheter. They’re taking 20 to 30 minutes to do that on a patient while they could be seeing more patients. With better business efficiency, you will be more profitable because the doctor can see more patients while the nursing team takes care of the treatment plan.”

How To Address Underutilization

Simply talking about the underutilization of vet techs won’t fix the program. “There needs to be a mindset shift that it takes years to build trust within a practice. Obviously, trust carefully and trust the right people to work on the right patients with the right tasks in the right kind of environment,” urges Yagi. “But with that said, we have to be more trusting and give people the resources to perform the role they’re meant to perform successfully.”

For Yagi, this starts with ensuring all vet techs are in a workplace where they can grow: “Create a safe environment for people to learn. A big reason people are leaving this field is because they’re in toxic environments, and they don’t feel psychologically safe. They make small mistakes and get yelled at. They feel they can’t ask questions to try to learn things because then they might get looked down on. I’d like to see that mindset change so that everyone is on the same page and working for the same reasons: taking care of the animals and the people they come with and helping each other grow,” he encourages.

Kimmy Gustafson (Writer)

Kimmy Gustafson is a freelance writer with extensive experience writing about healthcare careers and education. She has worked in public health, at health-focused nonprofits, and as a Spanish interpreter for doctor's offices and hospitals. She has a passion for learning and that drives her to stay up to date on the latest trends in healthcare. When not writing or researching, she can be found pursuing her passions of nutrition and an active outdoors lifestyle.