To Serve—and to Teach
Veterinary technicians are an integral part of the team at the Cummings School

In surgery, a fourth-year student is learning to assess a foal’s condition and administer a safe, practical anesthesia protocol. In the intensive care unit, a new resident is shown advanced monitoring techniques to care for a seriously injured cat. Meanwhile, in a treatment room, a new intern observes as an expert examines a Doberman.


The teacher in each of these instances might very well be a veterinary technician: a veterinary nurse, in other words. Nearly all veterinary technicians in the Tufts New England Veterinary Medical Center’s Henry and Lois Foster Hospital for Small Animals and the Hospital for Large Animals teach not just newer technicians, but also fourth-year students in their clinical rotations, new interns and new residents.

The more sophisticated the technicians’ level of specialized education and skill, the higher their level of clinical responsibility and the more advanced the concepts and techniques they teach. And that’s a good thing at the Cummings School, where the clinical environment is a constant in the learning process. Students rotating through anesthesia, for example, will spend time with a faculty member, but they will also learn intubation technique, catheter placement, epidural administration and case management skills from veterinary technicians.

“Most new interns and residents haven’t seen cases we’ve seen many times before, so it’s a matter of experience to be able to know what to do next in a given situation,” says technician supervisor Michelle Damon. She is a veterinary technician specialist, or VTS, in emergency and critical care, one of five Cummings veterinary technicians who are board-certified in a specialty area.

Specialty-certified technicians draw on their expertise to teach medical knowledge and disease processes as well as clinical techniques to new interns and residents. For instance, Barbara Brewer, a senior technician in cardiology, teaches the basics of echocardiographic anatomy—how disease processes show up on ultrasound—and other advanced topics. Assessing a patient’s condition and formulating an appropriate anesthesia plan to present to the anesthesiologist for review are among the things taught by technician supervisor Susan Bryant, a VTS who was board-certified in anesthesia five years ago.

“Our diagnostic modalities and monitoring technologies allow us to work on large animal cases that 10 or 20 years ago we might have said there’s no hope for, but those tools are only worth as much as the person using them,” says Dr. Melissa Mazan, V93, director of the Issam M. Fares Equine Sports Medicine Program. “So to have a technician with advanced training, both in how to use these tools and how to understand and analyze them, is just fantastic, especially when you have very critical animals that need absolutely the best of what you can offer. It gives us the peace of mind to do the work we need to be doing, and it allows us to work as a team.”

A longer version of this article first appeared in Tufts Veterinary Medicine, the magazine of the Cummings School. This story ran in the December 2007 Tufts Journal.