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December 15, 2020

Veterinary technology educators talk leadership skills

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Experts in veterinary technology education discussed several topics, including the history of the profession of veterinary technology and the need to teach leadership-related skills to veterinary technology students.

The Association of Veterinary Technician Educators moved its symposium online this year. The three-day event, held Aug. 7, Sept. 19, and Oct. 17, focused on the past, present, and future of the profession.

Garnetta Santiago, licensed veterinary technician and president of the New York State Association of Veterinary Technicians, spoke during “Preparing the Pipeline: Cultivating Future Leaders in Veterinary Technology” about how to develop leadership skills in the classroom. Santiago is also manager of academic and professional affairs for Zoetis.

Garnetta's presentation slide: Leadership skills
Garnetta Santiago, licensed veterinary technician and manager of academic and professional affairs for Zoetis, discusses leadership skills during the Association of Veterinary Technician Educators’ symposium this past fall.

“At some point, we are all going to retire from this field, and it is our job—a big part of our job in addition to conveying the clinical information—to prepare them (veterinary technology students) to lead going forward,” she said. “There is no one definition of leadership. It looks different to different individuals. Regardless of how it looks, it is all about influencing one another. We know good leadership can influence in a positive way.”

Santiago suggested educators center on building skills related to emotional intelligence in the classroom.

“Emotional intelligence is an important part of effective leadership,” she said. “It provides a framework for social interactions, and it helps build meaningful human connection and will help manifest physical and psychological well-being.”

Santiago broke down emotional intelligence into the following three pillars:

  • Self-awareness or self-understanding. For example, evaluating whether you are the correct person for a leadership role.
  • Social awareness, or being able to accept and use feedback from others.
  • Self-management, or the importance of building resiliency within.

Dr. Jim Hurrell spoke about the need to teach emotional intelligence or soft skills to veterinary technicians, too, during the session “Leadership Fundamentals and Technician Utilization.” He is director emeritus of the AVMA Committee on Veterinary Technician Education and Activities–accredited distance learning program in veterinary technology at Penn Foster College, a for-profit career school.

He said while there is an increased demand for veterinary nurses, retention is still an issue. A survey from Penn Foster asked 80 practice managers and owners about challenges and goals for 2020. Published in May, results suggested respondents were concerned about filling staff positions because of a lack of skilled veterinary technicians or underdeveloped skills such as communication, customer service, and problem-solving.

Dr. Hurrell said teaching about mindset, or how to approach a situation, is the first part of teaching leadership.

“Mindset is our biggest asset,” he said. “Leadership is a mindset.”

He encouraged session participants to read “Dare to Lead” by Brene Brown, PhD, and “Mindset” by Carol S. Dweck, PhD.

Santiago also encouraged educators to help veterinary technology students identify areas within the profession where people face challenges because that could be the place for the students to be future leaders. She added opportunities are everywhere, especially now because of the COVID-19 pandemic, but advised not getting overwhelmed by a challenge.

“How do we eat an elephant?” she asked. “One forkful at a time. … Students don’t have to solve the whole problem. Avoid the trap of thinking you have to fix the whole thing. Any step is progress.”

The AVMA recently released a resource page dedicated to how veterinary technicians can improve a practice. The page includes tips on how a practice can benefit from better utilizing credentialed veterinary technicians, what their skill sets can include, and ways to offer continuing education and training for veterinary technicians.