By SANDY BARNOSKY
Special to The Gazette
The total pet population in the United States is reported to have reached a record high of more than 282 million with 60 percent of all homes having at least one pet. Many pet owners consider their pet to be part of the family and are willing to spend more on their health care than in the past.
Veterinary medicine has become ever more sophisticated and complex, and owners expect state-of-the-art veterinary care with an increased demand for specialty areas like surgical procedures and dental care. Many clinics specialize in ophthalmic, orthopedics, equines, exotics or emergency medical care. As veterinary practices grow to meet the demand for animal care, so will the number of technicians needed to assist them, and studies have shown that techs are in demand across the United States. Animal and Avian Medical Center in Brunswick has several technicians working in their office, with some already registered and others in a veterinary technician program working toward their degrees.
Anyone interested in a career as a vet technician should take as many science, biology and math courses as possible in high school, explained Cheryl Kautz, who takes a veterinary technology program at Cuyahoga Community College while working in the field at Animal and Avian Medical Center. Due to the interaction of the technician with the pet owner, good communication skills should also be developed.
The typical level of training required is a two-year associate degree from the American Veterinary Medical Association from an accredited school. In addition to bookwork, students take courses in clinical and laboratory settings, as well as working at different locations to gain hands-on experience with exotics, birds, reptiles and small and large animals, including livestock.
Jordan Buddner takes a Penn Foster course online and likes it because it allows the him to progress at his own pace. At the end of the second and fourth semesters, 225 hours of practice in a veterinary setting is required, working with all types of animals.
Graduates are tested for competency through a certification examination that includes oral, written and practical portions regulated by the State Board of Veterinary Medical Examiners. Some states also require candidates to pass the Veterinary Technician National Examination before being issued a license to practice. Passing the state exam assures the public the technician has sufficient knowledge to work in a veterinary clinic or hospital.
A veterinarian usually supervises newly hired technicians while they are trained on routine office tasks. As experienced is gained, they perform more complex tasks. They work under the supervision of the licensed veterinarian and typically collect the petâ€™s history from the client, take the petâ€™s heart rate, get vaccines for the doctor, draw blood for heartworm tests and test stool samples for parasites. They may restrain animals during procedures, administer inoculations or sedatives, take blood samples or prepare tissue samples for testing.
They perform laboratory procedures such as urinalysis and blood counts, or expose and develop x-rays and must have knowledge of the medical equipment, such as EKG and x-ray machines and diagnostic equipment. While a veterinary technician can assist in performing a wide variety of tasks, they cannot diagnose conditions, prescribe medicine, perform surgery or engage in any activity prohibited by a stateâ€™s practice act, Kautz said.
A vet tech works in direct support of the veterinarian during surgical procedures by preparing animals, instruments and equipment for surgery and assisting with dental prophylaxis, spaying and neutering, suturing the outer layer of skin, dressing wounds or aiding him in other surgical procedures.
Veterinary technicians may also assist in birthing or in euthanasia as a humane treatment for suffering animals.
Comforting a pet owner through this difficult yet natural transition in an animalâ€™s life cycle provides a beneficial service when it is needed most.
â€œEuthanasia is probably the hardest part of the job,â€ Kautz said, â€œbut when you see an animal come in thatâ€™s really sick and they get better and leave the door wagging their tail and happy, itâ€™s very rewarding.â€
While the majority of veterinary technicians are employed in private practice, the demand for technicians is rapidly expanding to include new employment opportunities.
They can find an increasing number of jobs in wildlife facilities, animal control facilities, spay and neuter clinics, humane societies, biomedical facilities, food safety inspection facilities and zoos. Employment is relatively stable during periods of economic recession, since animals always will continue to require medical care, and the choice of working locations is nationwide.
With the rising population of pets with families willing to provide more advanced medical care, the future holds a greater demand for veterinary care and veterinary technicians.
For a person interested in working with animals, pursuing this career choice could be both rewarding and enjoyable.
Barnosky can be reached at 330-725-4160, ext. 4075, via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by writing The Gazette, 885 W. Liberty St., Medina, 44256.