What is the state of the U.S. veterinary technician profession?
Dr. Gary Leff, assistant director, AVMA Education and Research Division, responds:
Great opportunities exist for veterinary technicians. There is a shortage, with huge demand not only in small animal practices where the majority of veterinary technicians work, but also in research facilities, educational institutions, pharmaceutical companies, marketing and sales, and equine practices. There are increasing opportunities in production animal medicine as well. With growing concerns about a shortage of production animal veterinarians, veterinary technicians may be able to provide assistance in this underserved area. There may well need to be alterations in state veterinary practice acts to accommodate this, however.
It's worth noting that, of the 149 programs currently accredited by the AVMA Committee on Veterinary Technician Education and Activities, 16 offer BA degrees, and there are also veterinary technician specialties. Both avenues provide additional opportunities.
What's being done to recruit and retain veterinary technicians?
Recruitment takes care of itself. We simply have more positions—more needs for veterinary technicians—than we have credentialed veterinary technicians to fill those spots.
Retention is a huge issue. Unfortunately, there are no verifiable, definitive data available, but the terms we hear for the working life of a veterinary technician range from five- to 10-years. Data from the latest National Association of Veterinary Technicians in America survey indicate for those currently working, tenures are in the 11- to 12-year range. The same survey reports that the major reasons for veterinary technicians to leave the profession are two sides of the same coin: underusage and low pay.
Why do veterinarians tend to underuse veterinary technicians?
I wish we could better understand that. Veterinary technicians cannot diagnose, perform surgery, or prescribe medications. Beyond that, they should be doing the procedures that many veterinarians continue to do. Perhaps many veterinarians are still unaware of the economic impact of fully engaging credentialed veterinary technicians. As a former practitioner, I think one of the issues for veterinarians is that most of them thoroughly enjoy patient contact and are reluctant to turn over functions to someone else.
It might be helpful if more veterinary colleges also had veterinary technology programs; veterinarians and veterinary technicians learning side by side can be great tools to understanding the roles and skills of each.
Some of the goals and tactics of the AVMA Strategic Plan deal directly with the complex issues of appropriate veterinary technician usage and, hopefully, will shed some light on the primary reasons.
What sorts of challenges do veterinary technicians face?
Veterinary technicians face the issues of being able to support themselves within a profession where their skills and knowledge are used not only for the benefit of the animals but also the economic well-being of the practices in which they work. These come back to low pay and lack of full usage.
What is the AVMA doing to help veterinary technicians?
The CVTEA meets yearly with representatives from other stakeholders to discuss matters of mutual concern. In addition, there is an AVMA-NAVTA Executive Board Liaison Committee that meets to consider issues. Six of the 19 members of the CVTEA are veterinary technicians.
The CVTEA, however, as well as the AVMA Executive Board, recognizes that the crucial activity of accrediting programs takes up most of the CVTEA time and efforts, and that the activities portion of the committee charge has been underserved. The AVMA Executive Board approved a strategic planning day for the CVTEA, held in April 2008, to begin to develop strategies to become more fully engaged in veterinary technician activities in conjunction with NAVTA.
As I noted, the AVMA Strategic Plan will hopefully shed light on how to more appropriately integrate credentialed veterinary technicians into successful practices. The National Commission on Veterinary Economic Issues has demonstrated the economic benefits of proper delegation of duties. The veterinary profession needs to embrace the concept that we need to employ and compensate veterinary technicians appropriately, not only because they are good, worthy people, but also because it is crucial to the economic success for veterinary technicians to be used to the maximum.