The demand for veterinary technicians is growing at a faster-than-average rate, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Becoming a vet tech is a good career choice for many; it pays a good salary, and there are a variety of employment options, from working in a clinic or on a farm to working in pharmaceuticals or research.
Vet techs are integral members of the veterinary health care team, according to the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA). With innovative vet tech programs, community and technical colleges are ensuring that students are well educated in the care and handling of animals, the basic principles of normal and abnormal life processes, and in many laboratory and clinical procedures.
In Nebraska, demand is high both from the industry for skilled vet techs and from students eager to train. Northeast Community College admitted 24 students into its program last year — the maximum the college was able to admit.
“We have students from a variety of backgrounds: high school graduates and nontraditional students looking for a career change,” says Dr. Michael Cooper, director of the veterinary technician program.
Northeast’s program has small class sizes and plenty of hands-on practice. There’s an actual working farm, so students can work with cattle, swine and sheep. The college also works with two area animal shelters for small-animal practice.
“Students don’t have to travel great distances to get hands-on experience,” Cooper says.
But students do have to be committed to a demanding program. Vet tech programs run like many health sciences programs: students must learn medical terminology, anatomy and physiology.
There also are laboratory sessions and surgery rotations. There are typically 30 to 40 hours of studying each week outside of class.
Near the end of the program, students take part in internships, working in a clinic for eight weeks.
“It’s a jam-packed program,” Cooper says. “We demand excellence, and a majority of students buy into that and excel.”
In fact, because the selection process to get admitted into the program is so stringent, the attrition rate is low, only about 2 percent, according to Cooper.
Clearing the shelters
Northeast’s vet tech program benefits students as well as animals and their humans. Animals at the shelters that partner with the college get complete physicals and vaccinations from Northeast students so they are prepared for adoption. If something unique is found during a physical, “we use that as a learning experience,” Cooper says.
The program also runs a low-cost spay/neuter program for animals adopted from its partner shelters, and in its surgery lab “we utilize that patient and provide a steep discount,” he says.
Prepared for adoption
Getting animals adoption-ready also is a practice at Mesa Community College (MCC) in Arizona. The college has a resident teaching colony thanks to an agreement with a local animal shelter. Each August, dogs and cats needing homes are brought to the college, where they live for nine months with the resident rabbits, rats and other creatures.
In that time, students are the main caregivers for the rescues. The animals are microchipped, spayed or neutered and given vaccines. Occasionally there are surgeries done or dental treatments performed to get the animals healthy.
There are even behavioral projects, like teaching dogs to walk on leashes. At the end of the spring semester, those in the vet tech program help find the furry friends forever-homes. It’s not uncommon for students to adopt one of the animals in their care.
“We give back to the community by servicing rescue pets,” MCC Program Director Dr. Kimberly Focht says.
Students also work with animals in a variety of other situations through the four internships they are required to complete in different fields (small animal practice, large animal practice, emergency medicine and specialty medicine).