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What is a registered veterinary technician (RVT)?

Categories: Veterinary Exam
Vet tech showing turtle to kids
Summer Sonfag showing zoo campers a western pond turtle

By Alison Mott, RVT

What is a registered veterinary technician (RVT)? The short answer is, we perform a variety of roles that include skills similar to a nurse, anesthesia technician, laboratory technician, radiology technician, dental hygienist, pharmacy technician, rehabilitation therapist, dietician, educator, and caretaker all rolled into one. We are “Jacks of all trades” (or Jill, in our case!).

The Sacramento Zoo employs two full-time RVTs and one on-call RVT in the Dr. Murray E. Fowler Veterinary Hospital. I have been with the Sacramento Zoo for 11 years and started my zoo career as a relief zookeeper. After receiving my license to become an RVT in 2006 and gaining a few years’ experience working with the zoo’s collection, I transferred to the veterinary department and was shortly thereafter named Senior RVT, my current title. Summer Sondag is the newest member of the veterinary department, joining the team in January 2017. Summer started her zoo career at the Santa Barbara Zoo and made her way to the Sacramento Zoo after moving to the area. Julie Clements came to the Sacramento Zoo last November as an on-call RVT, after working several years at the San Francisco Zoo. Summer, Julie and I all had several years of experience in small animal medicine prior to entering the zoo medicine field.

Most RVTs start their careers in small animal medicine. This experience is the foundation we use every day to grow from. During this time, we learned to apply skills that were taught in school such as phlebotomy (drawing blood), monitoring animals under anesthesia, patient care, dose calculation and laboratory tests. From there, RVTs interested in zoo medicine must find opportunities to gain experience with non-domestic species. Examples include volunteering at a local zoo or wildlife rehabilitator or working at a mixed species practice that sees birds, reptiles, and small mammals. As zoo RVTs, we are required to know about every species in our care. That means our general knowledge of cats and dogs must expand to include hoof stock, large carnivores, primates, birds, reptiles, amphibians, and even invertebrates. We also utilize continuing education to learn from other veterinarians and RVTs in the field. The Association of Zoo Veterinary Technicians (AZVT) holds an annual conference each year where we can share new techniques, cases, and experiences with our colleagues from around the world. I even had the opportunity to share Goody the giraffe’s Veterinary case and the unique care she receives at the Sacramento Zoo for her arthritis during the AZVT conference in 2016.

My most memorable case was in 2013. I was part of a 25-member team to help place a ureteral stent in the male Sumatran tiger, Castro. It took a lot of coordination and the use of very specialized equipment to perform the operation. We had specialists from the UC Davis veterinary school as well as human specialists involved in the process. I was a part of “Team Anesthesia” that monitored Castro throughout the procedure. It was rewarding to know that we could help Castro as a veterinary team.

Stop by the Dr. Murray E. Fowler Veterinary Hospital on your next visit to see if you can spot the registered veterinary technicians hard at work.