Profiles in Leadership is a monthly interview that showcases outstanding leaders and bright minds in the veterinary health profession.

Kenichiro Yagi, BS, RVT, VTS (ECC, SAIM)

Ken Yagi is a veterinary technician in the field for 15 years. He is a UC Davis graduate with a BS in Animal Science and is pursuing a master’s degree in Biomedical Sciences, with an emphasis in Veterinary Medicine and Surgery at the University of Missouri. He is employed at Adobe Animal Hospital in Los Altos, CA, as the ICU Manager and the Blood Bank Manager.

Ken also serves as the recording secretary for the Veterinary Emergency and Critical Care Society, the treasurer for the Academy of Veterinary Emergency and Critical Care Technicians, and the NAVTA State Representative Committee chair. He is interested in transfusion medicine, respiratory care, evidence-based medicine and critical care nursing.

The NAVC is delighted that Ken has accepted a position on the board of directors of NAVC’s Veterinary Innovation Council (VIC). This collaborative, industry-wide initiative is focused on leading innovation in global animal health. The VIC was formed to act as the first veterinary organization that works industry-wide to focus on positive change and push the envelope for innovative solutions across professional boundaries. Their mission is to convene the brightest minds in the profession and industry together to tackle innovation opportunities that lift up all animal health care segments including caregivers, academia, suppliers and consumers.

NAVC: Among the transformational topics the VIC Board is considering is how to leverage the training of credentialed veterinary technicians. Tell us what your hopes are on this issue.

Yagi: As I received more opportunities to meet technicians out in the world, I realized that I was quite fortunate in finding my place of work on first shot. I worked through various roles of veterinary technicians from assisting veterinarians with appointments, inducing and monitoring anesthesia, scrubbing in for orthopedic procedures, ICU nursing, emergency receiving and assisting of surgeries, establishing a blood bank, introducing critical care ventilation, to now being in the role as manager. I enjoyed the privilege of autonomy and empowerment to explore my interests while serving the practice.

The word “privilege” is used intentionally here because I realized that this wasn’t the case for everyone as my horizon expanded to the rest of the world. There are credentialed technicians in the field who are neither given much opportunity to contribute to their full capacity nor encouraged to grow. This results from a combination of veterinary technicians feeling helpless in the situation to advocate for themselves to be utilized, and practice owners not realizing the lost potential of leveraging technicians due to a gap in awareness. My hope is that my role at VIC can help produce effective solutions that fill this gap at the practice level, such that my type of experience becomes a norm.

NAVC: You are on record as an advocate for changing the title of your profession from “veterinary technician” to “veterinary nurse”. Why would this change be significant and how’s that movement progressing? What role has your position as State Representative Committee Chair of the National Association of Veterinary Technicians in America (NAVTA) played in advancing this change?

Yagi: The topic is causing quite a debate among veterinary technicians, since our scope of practice at first glance seems broader than human nurse’s scope of practice. With that said, the profession is ever evolving. As we move to performing more focused roles in hospital-like settings and serving compassionate roles encompassing care for the entire family, nursing becomes a more apt terminology. The term “technician” relates to focusing on the mechanical and technological work, also implying an absence of originality, or art in the professional work. The term “veterinary nurse” is more accurate to our role in tending to the unique needs of each patient and family. There also is a need to nationally standardize credential requirements. Under the title we will be able to unify the profession and gain even better understanding and support in our role from the public to create further demand of qualified, educated individuals to care for their pets.

The movement has a tremendous amount of support from various stakeholders, and the veterinary field looks to be ready for this change that many have dreamt of for years. It is no longer a dream, though there is no doubt that establishing the title will be a long term process, requiring determination of the optimal path and collaboration between national and local organizations. Everyone should weigh in, whether for or against, so that we have an accurate picture of what lies ahead.

My role with NAVTA has allowed me to reach out to dedicated and passionate individuals advocating for veterinary technicians throughout the nation, bringing all of us closer together and communicating to be a cohesive profession. Veterinary technician associations are also evolving. By being able to play my part in the strengthening of local activity, I hope to help the profession better tackle large scale goals such as this one.

NAVC: You decided to not pursue your veterinary medicine degree and found fulfillment instead in direct patient care by providing comfort for patients and families, especially in emergency and critical care situations. You are known for insisting on high standards and exceptional mastery of technical skills. To what or whom do you attribute this drive for excellence?

Yagi: I was not aware I had such a reputation! It is true, however, that I feel like every individual should strive hard to make sure we are contributing to the veterinary team in a meaningful way. Asking “Why?” to understand the “What” and “How” of the field, consciously incorporating evidence-based knowledge into our practice will lead to maintaining the latest and highest standards required of us to ensure positive outcomes, whenever possible.

I think that my biggest driving factor comes from personal experience of being on the other side of having a beloved family member being cared for by exceptional nurses, going through emotional ups and downs before finally having to say goodbye. The nurses who cared for us were absolutely amazing in their attentiveness, and while human and veterinary medical care have a gap to be filled, I made a commitment to do all that I can to provide the best care possible. I also stand on many shoulders of kind, humble, and inspiring colleagues and friends to have my current viewpoints.

NAVC: Through your enthusiasm and engaging methods, you have become known for challenging people to think critically to inspire their professional growth. You invite everyone to ask the question of “Why?” to understand the reasons behind the “What” and “How” of your field. What techniques do you use in your speaking and teaching to encourage this deeper inquiry?

Yagi: My students and team members have our chuckle moments when they ask me a question about something, and they say before I even open my mouth, “You’re going to ask me ‘Why do you think?’ aren’t you?” They are usually right, because I’ve always felt that knowledge is something that can be gained through various literature and resources while the ability to think through a problem is what makes an individual bring value to the team. I try to encourage critical thinking.

The other answer I sometimes give is “It depends.” And we discuss the background knowledge which applies to the specific situation to give better understanding of why the patient might be affected in a certain way, while in other situations it might not be the same. While pattern recognition and intuition is very important for veterinary technicians to anticipate the needs of the patient, relying too heavily on typical patterns will lead to us missing details which can be the difference between a positive and negative outcome.

Lastly, I like to break down the topic of discussions into step by step sequences of cause and effect so that individuals can walk themselves to the next step as I ask guiding questions and feed information. I feel that many individuals psychologically limit themselves from thinking past the step they are familiar with and taking those steps together is the best way to gain a better understanding. I think all of us can relate to reading about certain things and feeling like we know how it is, but experiencing it gives another entirely different level of understanding. I try to create the experience as best I can.

NAVC: In addition to your full time job and to pursuing your M.S. in Biomedical Sciences (Veterinary Medicine and Surgery), you are currently an ECC Trainer for PetED Veterinary Education & Training Resources , an instructor/ moderator for the Veterinary Support Personnel Network, and a part time faculty member at Foothill College in Los Altos Hills, CA. You sound like the perfect person to offer us some tips on setting priorities and time management.

Yagi: I consider myself rather fortunate that what I do for my enjoyment and what I do professionally are in very good alignment. Committing to lifelong learning, equipping myself to do my job better, helping others do the same, and taking part in efforts that make a meaningful difference gives me a sense of purpose in life. There is less need to prioritize when activities are all tugging from similar directions. For example, my graduate program is flexible enough with coursework and thesis topic to let me focus on what I am interested in. So I have gained knowledge on critical care, transfusion medicine, and training that I applied in practice and incorporated into my presentation topics.

It is inevitable that the amount of time available becomes limited and eventually runs out. I am definitely no exception to that rule, and have had to make people wait longer than I wish to, or decline on something I am interested in but could not prioritize. Whenever I can, I try to turn some non-productive time into productive time such as having podcasts ready to be listened to during my drive to and from work each day. The length is just right to listen to interesting content (I am hooked on leadership related podcasts right now), and then contemplate how it applies to myself.

Lastly, it is sometimes more important to take a break so the mind can be refreshed and ready to be creative again when back. I can’t say that I am always good at taking my own advice on this, however.

NAVC: What do you do for fun? Any hobbies?

Yagi: Currently, what I do for fun is all about spending time with the kids. We have a 6 and 3 year old, who are a constant source of joy. The outings to the park, the conversations over a meal, bike ride around the neighborhood, reading books together, and even playing with the toy veterinarian clinic set are all things that I look forward to. The wacky treatments they come up with for my made up disease is amusing. I am always told that kids grow up too fast and to cherish the moments, and I’m taking that to heart.

I also have to admit that I do tend to binge watch TV shows on Netflix and play some video games from time to time.

NAVC: You have a lot to be proud of. What accomplishments do you hold most dear? And what are you looking forward to?

Yagi: The biggest sense of accomplishment comes from being pinned as a member of the Academy of Veterinary Emergency and Critical Care Technicians. It wasn’t because of the prestige or the title that I felt proud. It was because it symbolized my relationship to all of the people in the academy and the field that shared the same passion that I have the privilege of walking alongside. We all share similar paths and experiences on a lifelong journey of learning. The anticipation of what we all can accomplish together is a huge source of my motivation. Is it advanced veterinary technology/nursing degrees? Veterinary nurse practitioner-like roles? I am absolutely looking forward to where the field continues to evolve through the future generation of exceptional veterinary nurses that will drive us forward.

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