Bonnie E. Price
Dr. Bonnie E. Price is the director of Lincoln Memorial University’s master of veterinary clinical care program.Read Articles Written by Bonnie E. Price
DVM, Ph.D., DACVS-LA
Dr. Stacy Anderson is the dean of the Lincoln Memorial University College of Veterinary Medicine.Read Articles Written by Stacy Anderson
We must invest in the field of veterinary technology to meet the increasing demands and expectations of society. A lack of investment in veterinary technicians has led to inconsistencies in credentialing state to state, lack of title protection, poor pay, lack of full skill utilization, and little opportunity for career growth or educational advancement. Solving the problems that plague veterinary technology will require a multifaceted, interprofessional effort, but one critical part of that solution is creating advanced degree options for veterinary technicians.
The field of human nursing has transformed over its history to substantially impact human medicine and patient care. That growth has only been possible from the availability of progressive degree options. The first schools of human nursing were established in 1873; these schools granted certificates and diplomas. In 1947, degree-granting nursing programs were established in colleges and universities. In 2008, the Consensus Model for APRN Regulation was developed, offering guidance to help states bring greater uniformity to advanced practice registered nursing roles. Today, nurses can progress from diploma programs to associate and bachelor’s degrees to master’s degrees, and finally, to doctoral degrees. Along the way, nurses are required to pass general credentialing examinations.
The nursing profession has distinct roles and career opportunities for graduates at each degree level. Bachelor of science RNs can obtain certifications in nursing specializations, such as family practice or gerontology practice. BSN-RNs can also pursue master’s degree programs. A nurse with a master of science in nursing (MSN) or doctor of nursing practice (DNP) can become an advanced practice registered nurse (APRN). State practice acts dictate what nurses can do at each level. APRNs can perform all the duties of an RN as well as more extensive tasks like ordering and evaluating test results, referring patients to specialists, and diagnoses and treatment of disease. Nurses cannot progress to greater autonomy in patient care without earning a degree and passing the next credentialing examination.
What does an educational and career path currently look like for a veterinary technician? Most U.S. veterinary technology programs grant associate-level degrees, either an associate of applied science (AAS) or associate of science (AS). At the bachelor’s level, a technician can earn either a bachelor of applied science (BAS) or bachelor of science (BS). At the time of this writing, the United States has bachelor’s-level technician programs. There is no distinction in accredited essential skills and knowledge between AS or BS degree-level technicians. If an institution offers both an AS and BS degree, only the AS degree is accredited by the AVMA Committee on Veterinary Technician Education and Activities. Because of the lack of distinct accreditation guidelines for BS programs, a BS in veterinary technology does not equate to an equivalent level of higher technician training between programs.
Both AS and BS accredited programs qualify graduates to take the VTNE, a national credentialing examination that affords veterinary technicians professional privileges that vary in their scope and title by the state. A credentialed technician is then either a certified veterinary technician (CVT), licensed veterinary technician (LVT), registered veterinary technician (RVT) or licensed veterinary medical technician (LVMT).
Credentialed veterinary technicians may specialize in one of 16 veterinary technician specialties (VTS). These programs are overseen by the National Association of Veterinary Technicians in America with support from the American Veterinary Medical Association. Becoming a VTS requires a rigorous application process involving a certifying examination and extensive clinical experience in a specialty area to ensure that VTSs are highly qualified professionals. However, these rigorous requirements also serve as a barrier to credentialed technicians not working in settings with qualifying caseloads or qualified supervisors. Moreover, VTS preparation demands intensive self-study, making successful application unattainable for those who learn best in traditional, structured learning environments with the support of peers and faculty.
At Lincoln Memorial University, we have launched the first master’s-level technician program in the United States. The master of veterinary clinical care is designed to build on the knowledge, theory and skills learned in AVMA-CVTEA accredited programs. Credentialed veterinary technicians holding a bachelor’s degree in any field and meeting prerequisite requirements are eligible to apply. The potential benefits to the veterinary profession of adding graduate-level veterinary technicians cannot be understated.
In veterinary medicine, the ability to prescribe, diagnose, prognose and perform surgery is reserved for veterinarians. However, many duties of human medical APRNs can translate to master’s-level and advanced practice veterinary technicians within the current scope of veterinary medical practice. These include:
- Providing critical care.
- Creating differential lists.
- Initiating and ordering diagnostic tests.
- Coordinating care for hospitalized patients.
- Preparing anesthetic plans.
- Surgical assistance, including suturing.
- Executing standing physician orders.
Master’s-level knowledge of clinical theory improves critical thinking and problem solving. This will not only allow for improved patient care but also increased autonomy, which will improve efficiency and workflow in clinics.
Veterinary technicians bring a unique perspective to veterinary health care. This cognitive diversity has been untapped in our profession for too long. In veterinary medicine, there is a deficit in high-quality research in veterinary nursing care. Elevating the knowledge base of technicians beyond the associate and bachelor’s levels creates greater opportunity for technicians to contribute to advances in patient care research.
In human medicine, nurses drive research in the field of nursing. Given the opportunity, veterinary technicians can use their unique understanding of patients and clients to generate original research questions, elevating our entire profession. To truly advance the field of veterinary technology and provide novel and progressive veterinary nursing care, we must engage technicians in research.
Colleges and universities have strict institutional accreditation requirements governing faculty qualifications. These requirements serve as a barrier to advancement for academic veterinary technicians. Because of the structure of higher education, DVMs currently hold much of the responsibility in teaching technicians, particularly in bachelor’s-level programs. We believe this model should be flipped and that credentialed veterinary technicians should have the primary responsibility for educating veterinary technician students as well as the eventual opportunity to hold full faculty appointments in all educational settings. Advanced degrees in veterinary technology can put education of veterinary technicians into the hands of veterinary technicians — where it belongs.
The diversity in ideas and problem solving that advance trained veterinary technicians will bring to research also can fuel advances in veterinary industry. Veterinary technology is a complementary but distinct field in veterinary medicine. Because of this, veterinary technicians bring distinctly different perspectives on patient care, client education, client compliance, diagnostics and medical equipment. Because of their unique role on the health care team, veterinary technicians can bring new ideas to improve drug-delivery methods, create more user-friendly diagnostics and design products that result in improved client compliance.
Many veterinary technicians are hungry for more. There is no scalable approach to creating advancement opportunities for individual technicians or the profession at large that does not include an advanced degree option in veterinary technology. VTS requirements pose barriers for many technicians.
Other advanced degree options include a master’s in business administration, a master’s in education for veterinary technician educators and a biomedical science master’s degree, none of which focus specifically on advancing the knowledge, theory and skills of veterinary technology.
A robust, healthy profession cannot exist without opportunities for educational advancement.