"I want veterinarians to be able to see financial figures explaining the correlation of greater revenue with employing veterinary technicians. It should start in veterinary school."
— CHERYLANN GIESEKE, PRESIDENT,
NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF VETERINARY
TECHNICIANS IN AMERICA
Cherylann Gieseke is president of the National Association of Veterinary Technicians in America. She has worked at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., for nearly 20 years. Currently, she is coordinator for the clinic's institutional animal care and use committee.
Gieseke graduated from the University of Minnesota-Waseca with an associate degree in veterinary technology. She continued her education at the College of St. Benedict, earning a bachelor's degree in biology. Gieseke has been involved with the Minnesota Association of Veterinary Technicians and the AVMA Committee for Veterinary Technician Education and Activities, among other organizations.
Gieseke spoke about veterinary technician salaries, new specialties, and her hopes for NAVTA's future, including national testing standards and more state veterinary practice acts mentioning veterinary technicians.
How did you come to be a veterinary technician?
I've always been interested in animals and science. Originally, I had considered veterinary school, but after hearing about a veterinary technology program, I thought I would try that first. The theory was that when I got tired of being a veterinary technician, I'd go to veterinary school. I'm not tired. I still find it very fascinating and challenging and rewarding.
I work with research investigators (at Mayo Clinic) to facilitate their processes and help them determine the best way to handle the animals. I wear another hat with the Minnesota VMA, where I am working with others to get a defined role for veterinary technicians into the state's veterinary practice act.
What do you hope to accomplish as NAVTA president?
One of the things we've really been working on strongly this year has been reaching out to partners in the industry and building relationships. We see veterinary technicians as a vital part of the veterinary team. The relationships between veterinarians, veterinary technicians, and vendors are important. We're trying to solidify those relationships and come up with new ways to help each other in making the team better.
What are veterinary technicians' concerns right now?
One of the most prevalent frustrations among veterinary technicians is not being utilized to their fullest extent. Our training and education are extensive, and people who make it through are good, solid people who want to do what they're educated to do.
How can veterinarians make better use of veterinary technicians, then?
I'm hoping we can somehow start that process within the veterinary colleges. I'm not sure how much business training and team building (veterinary students) get in their curriculum. I want veterinarians to be able to see financial figures explaining the correlation of greater revenue with employing veterinary technicians. It should start in veterinary school. I know the (Association for American Veterinary Medical Colleges) is looking into it. It's vital that veterinary technicians are involved in that so we can have input for the best way of team building.
According to the 2007 NAVTA demographic survey, two-thirds of members say salary is their biggest career problem. How big of an issue is it?
It sort of depends on what aspect of the profession you're in. As a research veterinary technician, or within industry, typically salaries are at a much higher level than, say, a small animal practice veterinary technician.
It's gotten better, but if you want to retain good veterinary technicians, obviously paying them what they're worth is a good investment. With the time it takes to retrain someone ... you can either pay more on the front end or keep doing it on the back end.
Talk about the veterinary technology program accreditation process and whether you think enough programs exist to meet demand.
I think the value of accreditation has become very well-known. The standard the AVMA has set is a gold standard. That's the bar people are shooting for. NAVTA fully believes the accreditation process (by the CVTEA) is the way to go, and we're thrilled that so many programs are putting veterinary technicians out there.
I'm not as concerned about an overall shortage of veterinary technicians as much as where the shortages are occurring. For example, there are 10 veterinary technology programs in Minnesota, and, still, there is a shortage of veterinary technicians in the state. That probably has to do more with pay scale and location, and I don't think metropolitan areas are as hard up as maybe the Iron Range in Minnesota.
How does adding specialties affect the veterinary technology profession?
That's an exciting area—the number of specialties we already have and the number of areas that we are considering. Dermatology has expressed its intent to petition to become a specialty, for example.
I would say it's another really good way to keep veterinary technicians in the field, because they can take advantage of the skills they have from their time on the job and specialize in something and make that a value-added skill.
What are future concerns and issues the veterinary technology profession likely will see?
One of the things the profession has questions about is the need for some sort of national-type standards. There's the Veterinary Technician National Examination, which is the accepted national test, but the issue is whether there needs to be a national credentialing process. ... Right now it's up to each state. So let's say in Minnesota, I'm a CVT, but in California, I would be an RVT.
NAVTA is looking at a national credentialing and how to achieve it. We have other industry partners, technician educators, and the AVMA, including the CVTEA, interested. NAVTA is starting a task force to look into what it can do to achieve national credentialing or get it on the radar. It gets talked about a lot, and it's going to be a huge effort to work with it, but we want to take it on.
Any other concerns?
Another area with a lot of questions is assistants in the profession. Just as veterinary technicians in some states are not included in their veterinary practice acts, there are lots of places where there's no definition of veterinary assistants. We need to figure out who should be doing what and how to categorize it legally. If it's in the veterinary practice act already, I think that keeps things clean and defined, and everyone on the team knows their roles. If it's not in the veterinary practice act, then the list of acceptable roles is a big concern.
It's obvious that every member is valuable for what they can contribute. Having team members' roles defined so they can excel at what they do is the most efficient option for the profession.
For more information about the National Association of Veterinary Technicians in America, visit www.navta.org