(Battle Ground, Ind., Feb. 20, 2000) – It is probably not a stretch to say that whatever job there is to be done in a veterinary hospital, a veterinary technician has no doubt performed it. From cleaning teeth to administering and monitoring anesthesia, taking x-rays and performing laboratory tests, veterinary technicians administer much of our pets’ health care needs.
As veterinary medicine continues to evolve to meet the challenges of a new century, the technician’s role in our pets’ health care needs looks like it will only continue to grow. It’s a role that will look vastly different from what it did years ago, when veterinary technicians first emerged after the veterinary profession took off in the 1950s. Then the veterinary technician was merely an assistant to the veterinarian, who trained them to perform routine animal health care tasks.
Veterinary technicians are now formally educated professionals with credentials. There are more than 80 college programs for veterinary technicians today that are accredited by the American Veterinary Medical Association. The course of formal study entails at least two academic years, leading to an Associate in Applied Science or equivalent degree with four-year degrees available at some institutions. In approximately 40 states and provinces, veterinary technicians are certified, registered or licensed, and just like any human nurse, candidates are tested for competency through intensive examination processes.
Curriculum programs for veterinary technicians are very similar to human nursing programs. Courses include nutrition, anatomy, physiology, microbiology, chemistry, sanitation and disease control, as well as many other disciplines. The result of all that high-tech training means for most veterinary technicians, opportunities are abundant, and demand is high. In addition to careers in veterinary hospitals, veterinary technicians may find a job teaching, in military service, humane societies, biomedical research, and even veterinary supply sales.
“Licensed veterinary technicians are very hard to come by,” said Dr. Susan Leonard, a board-certified veterinarian and director of emergency and critical care at the Animal Emergency and Critical Care Center in Northbrook, Ill. “And they are invaluable because they come to you with a very solid background in medicine, radiology and lab work, and then we teach them how to apply that knowledge within our own clinic.”
In the modern veterinary clinic, where pet owners have come to expect state of the art diagnostic care for their animals, veterinary technicians primarily function as professional technical support to veterinarians. Like their human medicine counterparts, a veterinary technician provides extra hands during vital medical and surgical procedures, as well as exams, providing treatment, performing laboratory testing and taking x-rays.
“As a practicing surgical specialist, for many years I was indebted and impressed with the level of dedication and hard work of many veterinary technicians. Their role in raising the level of patient care has been incredibly significant in today’s veterinary practice,” said Dr. Stephen Crane, executive director of the Western Veterinary Conference, the world’s largest program for veterinary technicians, and a board certified diplomate of the American College of Veterinary Surgeons.
“Veterinary technicians are invaluable members of the veterinary health care team,” said Patrick Navarre, executive director of North American Veterinary Technician Association, a group that promotes and supports the role veterinary technicians play in veterinary medicine. “While veterinarians are still ultimately responsible for a patient’s health care, a credentialed veterinary technician can be counted on to perform many procedures, patient contact and office tasks that free the veterinarian to see more patients, or spend more time with the patients that they see. This results in better care and healthier pets for pet owners,” said Navarre.
Navarre said that there are an estimated 10,000 veterinary technicians currently in practice today in the United States. “The past 25 years has brought tremendous growth and change to veterinary medicine,” said Navarre. “With veterinary medicine continuing to become more and more sophisticated, veterinarians will need technical support more and more. My prediction is that the number of veterinary technicians in practice will only continue to grow.”
The North American Veterinary Technician Association was organized to represent and promote the profession of veterinary technology. NAVTA, founded in 1981, provides direction, education, support and coordination for its members and works with other allied professional organizations for the competent care and humane treatment of animals. The association is headquartered in Battle Ground, Ind.