The Vet Tech Licensing Debate

Posted: Jul 11, 2013
Views: 27308 - Comments: 45

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I’m a little fired up.

DISCLAIMER: Some of you might be offended by this blog. That is not my intention, but this is a touchy subject. I’m apologizing in advance. Please do not threaten my pets, my home, or anyone crazy enough to call me their friend. My family is tough though, they can take it.

Recently NAVTA posted this on their Facebook page

Many of us reside in a state that does not require mandatory credentialing. This can be very frustrating when we see the care of our patients diminishing or not what they should be because the roles of the veterinary healthcare team being utilized correctly or to their fullest potential. Sometimes this is due to the lack of awareness of how truly efficient a team can be if utilized correctly. Not hiring the individuals who are educated and credentialed for each specific role or position in the hospital can be a sore spot amongst team members of the hospital and can lower the quality of care each animal and client receive. Do the states with mandatory credentialing and recognition of the specific roles in the practice acts have more efficient teams? What are the thoughts of all of you in the various roles?

In less than 24 hours there are 86 comments and it has been shared and commented on outside of the NAVTA page. Whoa Nelly, there are some passionate comments. Here’s how I feel.

Our profession is at a critical junction. We have a certain number of old-guard veterinarians who are looking at salary costs over skill and education, and would rather constantly train off-the-street employees to restrain animals and administer vaccines. We will not change their minds. Then we have a large amount of middle-of-the-road veterinarians who have seen the studies on skilled veterinary technicians adding value and increasing efficiency. They want skilled technicians, but are still okay with hiring non-licensed veterinary assistants and putting them into the role of veterinary technician. Then we have a small group of veterinarians who understand the value of an AVMA-accredited veterinary technician program and the benefit of having educated, licensed/registered/ certified veterinary technicians fulfilling their role in hospitals. We need everyone in that last group. Everyone.

In my opinion, the biggest problem we face is within our own group. We are so mired in fighting amongst ourselves about the value of experience over education that we cannot focus on anything else. Let me say it right here. EXPERIENCE IS IMPORTANT. But experience is not everything. Education is vital, and it cannot be replaced by experience. Even years of experience. On-the-job training teaches the “how.” Education teaches the “why.” The why is what allows us as technicians to interpret clinical signs, understand disease processes, and anticipate changes in patients. Education is required, in many states, to obtain a license. I support that. Until we as a profession can support that, we will not move forward.

When I became the technician manager at DoveLewis we had a mixture of licensed technicians and unlicensed veterinary assistants performing the technician role in the hospital. I made it a goal of mine to only have licensed technicians filling those roles. Some of those unlicensed people were very, very talented, but I set the expectation (and thankfully had the full support of the management and DVMs) that they needed to get licensed. At that time Oregon had a grandfather clause and those talented people had to study and pass the VTNE to keep working in that role. When the recession hit and we needed to do forced layoffs (a terrible, terrible time that I hated every second of) the decision of who to lay off was made by CVT vs. not. When someone had to leave, for any reason, they were only replaced by a licensed/certified/registered technician. I mentored a couple people through the VTNE study process and they had time limits set. If they could not get licensed by a certain date, they knew they would not be able to work as a technician at DoveLewis. Harsh? You might think so, but now we have a technician staff of over 20. All of them CVTs. I am immensely proud of that, and of our commitment to education and to patient care.

This needs to happen everywhere. DVMs need to see the value of licensing technicians, and until we can see that ourselves it’s not going to happen. We want our pay to equal our talent and our work. That is not going to happen if doctors are allowed to hire off-the-street and train entirely on-the-job. We want respect from doctors and clients. That isn’t going to happen until we can agree what a technician is and what they are allowed to do. And then educate the public about it.

Every experienced technician who looks down on a new grad because they have education and no experience is pushing our profession backwards. Every on-the-job-trained technician who refuses to admit the benefit of mandated licensing is pushing our profession backwards. We need to stop fighting with each other and start fighting the state laws that don’t care about our knowledge.

We can do this by joining state and national organizations and start looking to standardizing what we are called (CVT, LVT, RVT, what?), what is required for us to get there (AVMA accredited program, grandfather clause, VTNE, state exam?) and what is required for us to keep that title (mandatory continuing education, standard in all medical professions). While doing this, we educate the public on the difference between a veterinary technician and a veterinary assistant and give them the knowledge to ask which one will be monitoring anesthesia on their pet. Is this going to be tough on all of those technicians with experience but who are not licensed? You bet. But it has to be done. No one is saying your experience doesn’t mean anything. I’m saying that for the progression of veterinary technicians your experience can’t mean as much as state certification. You can, and probably do, hate me for that. But we’ve got to think big picture here.

Before you judge me too harshly, I went to a four-year Veterinary Technology program. I put in the time. But I know and work with some amazingly smarty-pants technicians who worked for years, and then put in the work at an online program in order to get licensed. I know techs who studied and took the VTNE many years after starting in practice. We all need to do what we can to get licensed, or demand that the states we live and work in require licensing. That’s when we can start demanding respect and the pay to match. I love what I do and the people who work so hard to provide amazing patient care and want to see the best for the future of our profession. Who’s with me?