The backbone of veterinary technology for 50 years

AVMA committee celebrates half-century of accrediting educational programs for veterinary technicians

This July, the AVMA Committee on Veterinary Technician Education and Activities is celebrating its 50th anniversary. The CVTEA accredits educational programs for veterinary technicians across the United States, just as the AVMA Council on Education accredits veterinary colleges.

In July 1972, the AVMA House of Delegates created what was then named the Committee on Accreditation for Training of Animal Technicians. The CVTEA today accredits more than 200 programs in 49 states and in Puerto Rico. These are mostly two-year programs, along with some four-year programs, and include some distance learning programs.

Dr. Janet Donlin, AVMA executive vice president and CEO, began her career as a veterinary technician and provided lead staff support to the CVTEA from 1991-96. She said, “Over the decades, CVTEA has set the standard for excellence, ensuring that credentialed veterinary technicians have all the necessary skills to support veterinary practices so that they can provide top-notch patient care.”

“I really appreciate the foresight that the AVMA had when they created this committee,” said Cherylann Gieseke, who served on the CVTEA from 2000-06 and was the first veterinary technician to be chair. “And I think it’s been really important to the state of veterinary technology that there is a committee like CVTEA out there to oversee the educational component of this process.”

Dawnya Breeding holding a goat
Dawnya Breeding, a student in the veterinary technology program at Lincoln Memorial University in Harrogate, Tennessee, holds a goat in 1989 in the program’s original building, known as the barn. The program received initial AVMA Committee on Veterinary Technician Education and Activities accreditation in 1987. (Courtesy of LMU)

The need for the CVTEA

The 1960s saw a surge in the profession of veterinary technology. In 1961, the State University of New York-Delhi established the first veterinary technology program in the United States. The second group of programs was established in 1968 at Michigan State University in East Lansing, Michigan; Central Carolina Community College in Sanford, North Carolina; Nebraska College of Technical Agriculture in Curtis, Nebraska; and Colorado Mountain College in Glenwood Springs, Colorado, according to “The Dynamic History of Veterinary Technology and Nursing–A Timeline” from the Association of Veterinary Technician Educators’ Committee on the History of Veterinary Technology.

The following year, Nebraska became the first state to credential certified animal technicians.

Dr. Janver D. Krehbiel, a former chair of the AVMA Board of Directors, is a professor emeritus at Michigan State University College of Veterinary Medicine. He is co-authoring a book about the history of the modern veterinary college from the mid-’70s onward, with a chapter about veterinary technology. He notes in the draft that the first eight symposia on the training of animal technicians were held at Michigan State University, starting in 1969, and “were important to the evolution of veterinary technology education.” At the first meeting, “Discussion focused on the need for veterinary technicians and the challenges in establishing training programs.”

Dr. Krehbiel said the use of veterinary technicians in private clinical practice was addressed at the second meeting, and how best to educate veterinary technicians and utilize their skills dominated future symposia. The Association of Animal Technician Educators was formed at the third symposium in 1973.

CVTEA takes shape

With veterinary technology programs growing in number and better recognition of the value of veterinary technicians becoming a focus of discussion across the profession, the CVTEA was born. In 1973, the CVTEA—called the AVMA Committee on Accreditation of Training for Animal Technicians at the time and later renamed the Committee on Animal Technician Activities and Training—accredited its first two programs, at Michigan State and Nebraska College of Technical Agriculture. Seven more programs were accredited in 1974 and eight in 1975. By the end of the 1970s, CVTEA had accredited a total of 47 programs.

Old barn
The Nebraska College of Technical Agriculture converted a dairy barn into facilities for the veterinary technology program, established in 1968. The barn has gone through several remodels over the years and is now a small animal veterinary teaching clinic. (Courtesy of NCTA) 

“As the animal health care delivery system becomes more complex, more technical assistance will be needed to allow for additional professional attention to patients and clients,” wrote Dr. Walter E. Collins in a 1973 piece about the veterinary technology program at SUNY Delhi, where he was director. He wrote that the AVMA “presented a program of professional accreditation in an effort to encourage establishment of quality paraprofessional training programs at all educational institutions involved, and to promote maximum job mobility on the part of graduates.”

Thanks to the creation of the CVTEA, the veterinary profession was assured that programs were graduating veterinary technicians with the needed skills to be able to appropriately support the delivery of quality veterinary services. Accreditation benefited veterinary practices because when they hired a veterinary technician who graduated from an accredited program, they knew they were hiring an individual with a reliable set of skills and the ability to think critically. Accreditation also benefited veterinary technicians because they had confidence in the quality of education they received and would be well prepared for what they would be asked to do in practice.

CVTEA evolves

The AVMA Executive Board voted in 1985 to validate the Professional Examination Service Exam, now known as the Veterinary Technician National Exam. The following year, the AVMA first included a veterinary technician on each of its teams conducting accreditation site visits for veterinary technology programs.

The CVTEA created a subcommittee in the 1990s to review all the accreditation standards, an ongoing process today. In 1995, the committee accredited the first distance learning program, at St. Petersburg College in Florida. There are now 10 distance learning programs.

The CVTEA continued to evolve as Gieseke became the first veterinary technician to serve as chair. Gieseke, who had earned her veterinary technology degree in 1989, has spent her career working in laboratory animal medicine and regulatory oversight at the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota. Looking back, she said the main thing she has seen in veterinary technology is change, and she noted how the CVTEA has adapted to those changes.

When Gieseke served on the committee from 2000-06, she said its members were redoing the entirety of the CVTEA policies and procedures—which include the accreditation standards—to be even more organized and consistent to ensure the accreditation standards met the needs of what a program needed to be going forward.

“Everybody was passionate about veterinary technology and making sure that veterinary technology was done right,” Gieseke said.

As programs increase, CVTEA staff support grows

Dr. Gary Leff served on the CVTEA from 1995-2001 and went on to serve as an assistant director in the AVMA Education and Research Division, providing lead CVTEA staff support from 2001-08. He said the focus of the accreditation process has been to ensure that it is uniform and defensible.

Since about 2000, Julie Horvath has been providing staff support to the CVTEA. She said that while people involved with the CVTEA didn’t quite anticipate the growth in the number of veterinary technology programs, they were pleasantly surprised. Over the 50 years since CVTEA’s inception, the number of accredited veterinary technology programs increased to more than 200, with 27 of them currently offering a four-year degree.

Michigan State University veterinary technology program Class of 1973
Jean Beemsterboer (back row, third from left) provided this 1972 photo of the Class of 1973 at the veterinary technology program at Michigan State University. The program was established in 1968, with Dr. Arnie Pals (back row, far right) as the first director. Beemsterboer went on to work as a licensed veterinary technician at the MSU Veterinary Medical Center for most of her career. Dr. Pals went into small animal practice from 1972 until his retirement in 2001.

With such growth, Dr. Leff could no longer go on all of the site visits as lead CVTEA staff support, so one position was expanded to two. Eventually, staff support required two and a half positions, along with Horvath as CVTEA accreditation manager.

In 2012, Rachel Valentine became the first veterinary technician to serve as an assistant director providing staff support to the CVTEA. Previously, she taught in Tulsa, Oklahoma, at Tulsa Community College’s Veterinary Technology Program, and served as a member of the CVTEA from 2005-12.

Valentine, who earned her veterinary technology degree in 1992, said veterinary medicine mostly has moved away from on-the-job training for veterinary technicians. With the CVTEA, she said, the biggest shift she has seen is the effort to be as consistent as possible among site teams and evaluations.

The qualifications of credentialed veterinary technicians—certified, licensed, or registered—are also better recognized than when she started out. She said, “I think veterinarians are doing better at recognizing what veterinary technicians can really do for their practice.”

Overcoming obstacles

Over the past two years, the COVID-19 pandemic posed a new challenge for the CVTEA. Horvath said some site visits were postponed, while others went virtual.

Directors of veterinary technology programs went to campus to check on animals while campuses were closed, so the CVTEA requested photos and videos, Horvath said. The director would shoot a video while walking through areas such as the surgery suite and kennel, opening drawers and cabinets.

For new programs seeking accreditation, the CVTEA would have to do an in-person site visit when travel was allowed, but virtual visits worked surprisingly well in the meantime, Horvath said. One unexpected benefit was that virtual visits prompted programs to collect more information ahead of time for self-evaluations, which ultimately led to improvements in the process for site visits.

“As we reflect on the process improvements, we’re going to take the good stuff that we’ve learned, going forward, and continue that even as in-person site visits resume,” Horvath said.

The future is bright

Dr. Allen Balay, who served on the CVTEA from 1989-95, went on to become director of the veterinary technology program at Ridgewater College in Minnesota and served as 1999-2001 AVTE president. He said he has been able to see history in the making. He tells graduates, “Yours is a very young profession.”

Having been involved one way or another in the CVTEA for over 35 years, Dr. Balay said he has seen the committee evolve and mature.

The discussions are ongoing about how the education and skills of veterinary technicians can be better utilized by practices, among other issues facing the profession of veterinary technology. Most states now require credentialing of veterinary technicians, but some still do not.

Dr. Leff, the CVTEA staff coordinator from 2001-08, recalled that when he graduated from veterinary school in 1968, there were programs in veterinary technology but no accreditation process. He said, “We’ve come a long way.”

From setting standards for veterinary technology programs to adapting to changes in the field of veterinary medicine to ensure continued relevance, the CVTEA has been an integral part of elevating the education of veterinary technicians for the past 50 years.

“AVMA and CVTEA were essential for the achievements that have been attained within this paraprofessional support group that is so important to veterinary medicine,” Dr. Krehbiel said.

A version of this article appears in the July 2022 print issue of JAVMA.

The first veterinary technology program in the U.S.

State University of New York-Delhi established the first veterinary technology program in the U.S. in 1961. The program was accredited in 1975 by the AVMA Committee on Veterinary Technician Education and Activities. (Photos courtesy of SUNY Delhi)