Veterinary Technicians - An Important Part of Your Pet's Healthcare Team
On a freezing cold winter morning, veterinary technology student Jennifer Graves awoke to a desperate phone call from her grandfather. He had found a tiny kitten abandoned by its mother and left for dead. Jennifer rushed to the kitten, which was barely alive, and determined that it needed veterinary care immediately. Working all day alongside a local veterinarian and, later, alone at her home, Jennifer nursed the kitten back to health. Now named Toss (a.k.a. Princess), that kitten has grown up to be Jennifer’s best friend.
Jennifer, who lives in North Brookfield, Massachusetts, is one of many caring animal lovers who are part of the veterinary technology profession. These individuals are the backbone of the veterinary hospital—responsible for everything from educating pet owners to monitoring anesthesia to cleaning teeth.
But many pet owners are unaware of the field of veterinary technology or don’t realize the advanced medical expertise that many veterinary technicians (also called veterinary technologists) possess. HealthyPet asked several technicians to help us explain what they do, how they receive their training, and why they love going to work each day.
WHAT IS A VETERINARY TECHNICIAN?
According to the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL), veterinary technicians perform many of the same duties for a veterinarian that a nurse would for a doctor. “We can’t diagnose, prescribe, or perform surgery,” says Jesse Freeman, CVT, who works at Blue Cross Animal Hospital in Minneapolis and at a local emergency clinic. “But other than that, we can do pretty much everything that needs to be done at a veterinary hospital.”
“There is a lot of knowledge required to be a technician,” says Cathrin Peets, who also works at Blue Cross Animal Hospital. “Once clients realize how extensive our knowledge is, they tend to use us as resources. Our clients are very valuable assets in taking care of their animals. The more they know, the healthier their animals are going to be.”
This fairly new field (the first technician school was opened in 1961) is quickly expanding, allowing technicians to constantly challenge themselves and advance as medical professionals. In fact, the number of practicing technicians is expected to expand 41% by 2016 (according to DOL), making it one of the fastest-growing professions in the United States.
“Veterinary technology is a wonderful and rewarding career that is constantly changing to meet societal needs,” says Vickie Byard, CVT, VTS (Dentistry), a dental technician who works at Rau Animal Hospital in Glenside, Pennsylvania. “Technicians are employed in traditional clinical settings, yet they also play a critical role in the food animal industry, research, the military, academia, clinical management, and the pharmaceutical industry.”
WHY DO TECHNICIANS LOVE THEIR JOB?
Becoming a veterinary technician requires one thing: an unwavering love of animals. The work can be messy and physically demanding, but the people who are employed as technicians do it because they want to help animals and provide them with the best care possible.
Cathrin was trained on the job and has been working in veterinary medicine for 14 years. She loves the diversity that the job offers and continues to challenge herself by attending continuing education seminars and researching medical topics. “As a technician, you get to jump from area to area. You can be a lab worker, help with surgery, take care of animals, and educate clients,” she says. “Not a lot of jobs allow you the freedom to do so many different things.”
For Jesse, who earned his associate’s degree in veterinary technology at the Twin Cities campus of Argosy University in Minnesota, the best part about being a technician is being able to interact with clients and help them keep their pets healthy and happy. “We get to help clients understand what is going on with their pet because the doctors don’t always have time to do that. I get a lot of joy out of helping someone understand his or her animals a little bit better.”
Vickie obtained her associate’s degree from Harcum College in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania, in 1981 and, almost 20 years later, specialized in dentistry. Since that time, she has gone on to earn the presidency of the Academy of Veterinary Dental Technicians, through which she mentors other technicians who are interested in the specialty and lectures on dentistry at national conferences. On a daily basis, she treats animals with periodontal disease and educates clients about the importance of caring for their pets’ teeth. “Little is as rewarding as hearing that someone’s beloved pet is acting like a puppy or kitten again directly because of my involvement in their care,” Vickie says. “And educating technicians and veterinarians offers me the opportunity to multiply the effects of my efforts many times over to include animals across the country. This is why I get up in the morning.”
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Now that you know some of what goes into this rewarding career, the next time you take your pet to the veterinary hospital, remember to thank the veterinary technicians for all their work in helping your pet stay as healthy and happy as possible.
How Are Veterinary Technicians Trained?
Technicians earn their advanced medical knowledge through schooling, clinical experience, or a combination of the two:
On-the-Job Trained—Some technicians receive their education while working at a veterinary hospital. This trend started because the need for veterinary technicians predates the availability of schools that teach the subject. Many talented technicians with a great deal of medical expertise learned everything they know from hands-on experience. And because technicians aren’t required to be credentialed, this type of training is generally considered an acceptable alternative to academic education. Some states limit the tasks these technicians can perform in a hospital, however, so many of those who have been working in veterinary medicine for years have recently decided to go back to school.
Credentialed—To become a credentialed technician (registered, licensed, or certified, depending on the state in which the technician practices), the individual must pass an examination. To qualify for the exam, most states require an associate’s or bachelor’s degree from a school that’s accredited by the American Veterinary Medical Association—the organization that also accredits universities for veterinarians. After becoming credentialed, the technician has to meet yearly requirements for continuing education.
Specialized—Technicians who have specialized are the most advanced members of the profession. These individuals have achieved all the requirements of a credentialed technician and passed an examination on a certain area of veterinary medicine (anesthesia, behavior, dentistry, emergency/critical care, or internal medicine). This process calls for countless hours of work in the area of specialty as well as pages of case studies and case reports that the individual must write. It can take a technician several years from the beginning of the application process to earning a specialty degree.