NAVTA calls for better protection of veterinary technician title

Report describes inconsistent rules and application of titles in U.S.

In most of the U.S., anyone can call themselves a veterinary technician without penalty.

Ashli R. Selke, a credentialed veterinary technician, said many licensed technicians feel undervalued and disrespected by misuse of the title, as though their work toward their education was in vain.

Selke is president of the National Association of Veterinary Technicians in America, which published a report in February that indicates the veterinary practice acts for 29 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rick lack restrictions on who can use the title “veterinary technician,” whether because they do not define the title or they do not specify who can use it. Another 10 states limit who can use titles of “certified veterinary technician,” “licensed veterinary technician,” or “registered veterinary technician,” but they, too, lack restrictions on the more general title of “veterinary technician.”

Veterinary technician working with a bovine patient
A recent report from the National Association of Veterinary Technicians in America indicates some states are currently adding title protections for veterinary technicians and veterinary nurses, but most states do not have such protections. (Photos courtesy of Ashli Selke)

Only 11 states both define the title “veterinary technician” and restrict its use to those who are credentialed within the state, according to the report, “NAVTA Survey and Report Confirm: Title Protection for ‘Veterinary Technician’ Is Needed and Desired, but Absent and Misunderstood in Most States.” Five states have established criminal penalties for misrepresenting oneself as a veterinary technician.

Selke said veterinarians and veterinary clinic managers often call unlicensed employees technicians, and job postings often say clinics are looking for veterinary technicians “licensed or not.” As a result, clients usually don’t understand the work that should go into earning that title.

“It also keeps credentialed veterinary technician salaries way down,” she said.

The median pay for a veterinary technician in the U.S. in 2020 was $36,260 a year, or $17.43 an hour, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Title protection encourages education

Kim Horne, who is a certified veterinary technician with a specialty in dermatology and chair of the credentials committee for the Minnesota Association of Veterinary Technicians, said that in her state the “veterinary technician” monitoring a pet under anesthesia may have received only a few weeks of on-the-job training. Practice managers and veterinarians may not know they are misusing “certified” or “CVT” titles when they apply them across their nonveterinarian clinical staff members, and clients may think the title of veterinary technician reflects regulatory oversight.

Minnesota is among the states cited in the NAVTA report for having no title protection under its veterinary practice act. Horne helped gather veterinary technician participation with the Minnesota VMA for event March 9 to meet with state lawmakers in support of legislation that would set education and licensing requirements to use the title “licensed veterinary technician.”

NAVTA President Ashli Selke working with a canine patient
NAVTA President Ashli Selke (pictured) wants to see more states not only restrict use of the title of veterinary technician but also penalize misuse and ensure licensed technicians know how to report misuse.

The bill includes provisions that would let licensed veterinary technicians supervise unlicensed personnel. It also contains a grandfather clause with a two-year window to allow licensing of veterinary practice employees who have been working as veterinary technicians and have recommendation letters from veterinarians but otherwise would not qualify for licensing. Horne said the lack of title protection contributes to burnout among veterinary technicians.

The commentary article “Are we in a workforce crisis?” published by JAVMA in September 2021 notes that the average annual veterinary technician turnover rate exceeds 25%, which is among the highest rates among health professions. The authors recommend addressing burnout by understanding the duties and skills veterinary technicians are allowed to perform, using them to capacity, and paying them accordingly.

A 2020 study from Colorado State University published in the journal Frontiers in Veterinary Science set out to explore burnout among veterinary technicians and workplace interventions to reduce it. Out of nearly 1,500 veterinary technicians surveyed, 58.3% reported high levels of burnout across all three dimensions of the Maslach Burnout Inventory: high emotional exhaustion, high cynicism, and low professional efficacy.

Dr. Lori R. Kogan and her co-authors also identified six areas the participants said would help prevent burnout and keep them on the job. They are as follows:

  • Full utilization of their skills and knowledge.
  • Greater control over work time and length of shifts.
  • Opportunity for career mobility, professional development, and self-improvement.
  • Respect from co-workers.
  • Knowing that veterinarians are aware of and appreciate the skills that technicians bring to the job.
  • Addressing current compensation.

Selke said NAVTA data indicate to her that title protection and pay are the top concerns among members, many of whom think improved title protection will lead to better pay.

“If we’re not valuing a title, we’re not giving anyone an incentive to go to school or to move forward,” she said.

Current standards for obtaining a veterinary technician credential in the United States involve obtaining an associate or bachelor’s degree in veterinary technology from an institution accredited by the AVMA Committee on Veterinary Technician Education and Activities and passing the American Association of Veterinary State Boards’ Veterinary Technician National Exam.

Standards, penalties wanted

Selke also wants to see more states not only restrict use of the title of veterinary technician but also penalize misuse and ensure licensed technicians know how to report misuse.

The NAVTA report indicates that, among 2,400 NAVTA members surveyed, about 1,500 correctly identified how their jurisdiction restricts use of titles for veterinary technicians. About 10% of those who saw suspected title violations contacted their state veterinary medical boards.

Selke noted that, in 2019, the Tennessee Board of Veterinary Medical Examiners warned veterinarians and other clinic managers that the title “veterinary technician” is a protected title, and the board could discipline those who continue misusing the title. She was on Arkansas’ Veterinary Medical Examining Board at the time the Tennessee board issued that warning, and she saw a crush of responses from veterinary technicians that indicated such title misuse was widespread across the country.

Veterinarians can help by honoring the titles and credentials their employees have earned, she said.

In 2019, the AVMA created the Task Force on Veterinary Technician Utilization, which released a report and recommended solutions in areas such as education, licensing, and wellness. JAVMA News previously reported on the recommendations.

The NAVTA report indicates some states are currently adding title protections.

Utah authorities, for example, established credentialing criteria for veterinary technicians in 2020. And a law recently passed in Montana will require licenses for veterinary technicians and establish a misdemeanor criminal penalty for misuse of the term, starting in 2023.

Though the NAVTA report addressed use of the title “veterinary technician,” Selke also saw potential that some veterinary practices are muddying the waters by broadly applying the term “veterinary nurse” to noncredentialed employees. In 2016, NAVTA leaders started a campaign to rename veterinary technicians as veterinary nurses and establish a national standard for credentials.

In December, NAVTA officials published a statement that encourages employers to reserve use of the job title “veterinary nurse” to those who hold valid veterinary technician credentials.

Read the full report from the National Association of Veterinary Technicians in America, “NAVTA Survey and Report Confirm: Title Protection for ‘Veterinary Technician’ Is Needed and Desired, but Absent and Misunderstood in Most States" (PDF).

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