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National Veterinary Technicians Week: Growing Concern Over Tech Shortage

Tuesday, October 13, 2015   (0 Comments)
Posted by: Cristina Keef
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Happy National Veterinary Technicians Week! Technicians are critical to every veterinary team. Their passion, skill, knowledge and dedication should be celebrated everyday! We are passionate about working together to improve the support and advancement of this vocation. Thank you for all that you do!

 

Oregon's veterinary community concerned about certified technician shortage

By Monique Balas

 

Some Oregon veterinarians and those who work in the veterinary community are concerned that certified veterinary technicians are becoming scarcer throughout the state.

"Right now, we have more hospitals looking to hire more CVTs than ever and it often takes months to find just one or two candidates," says Cristina Keef, executive director of the Portland Veterinary Medical Association.

"At any given time, we have about 25 ads for technicians on our website...and they stay up for months." 

Nationally, there isn't a shortage per se, but the field is in high demand. The job outlook for veterinary technologists and technicians is projected to increase by 30 percent between 2012 and 2022, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

 

Why it's a problem

Technicians are "indispensable, just like doctors who rely on their nurses," says Lori Makinen, executive director of the Veterinary Medical Examining Board.

"In many cases, the technician is managing the clinic, doing paperwork and customer service in addition to assisting the veterinarian with all sorts of procedures." 

The scarcity "is not new," says Dolores Galindo, the lead technician and advisor for Portland Community College's Veterinary Technology program.

She has been in the profession for 34 years, and it's been going on for as long as she can remember.

Yet lack of qualified candidates has gotten worse over the past few years because the supply isn't keeping up with demand. One reason for that is the state has done away with a "grandfather clause" allowing people who worked in the field for a certain amount of time to take the board exam without going through an accredited program.

Now prospective veterinary technicians in Oregon must earn a certificate in veterinary technology from an accredited college and pass a national board exam. (Candidates from other states may qualify for a license without going through school if they meet certain professional and academic criteria). There are currently only two accredited programs in Oregon, however, after Sanford-Brown College closed its doors in February of 2014. That leaves only two existing programs: Portland Community College and Central Oregon Community College in Bend. Both are rigorous two-year programs with limited spots. The PCC program caps at 30 each fall, and the Bend program accepts 24 students every two years. Animal lovers eager to get to work may try to get a job as a veterinary assistant – although these candidates are also becoming harder to find.

 "Everybody's reaching into that veterinary assistant pool because they can't find CVTs," ten Broeke says.

Veterinary assistants play many different roles, ranging from cleaning kennels and restraining animals during exams to helping technicians, says Pamela Payne, veterinary assisting program director for Carrington College. Carrington offers a seven-month training program, which covers a range of topics from drawing blood and calculating medications to billing and maintaining medical records. Veterinary assistants may be hired at clinics, doggie daycares, shelters, ranches or private breeders, Payne says. They do many of the things a veterinary technician does, but without a license there are certain functions they legally can't do, like induce anesthesia or administer a rabies vaccine. Assistants don't earn as much as technicians and still must complete an accredited program if they want to become a CVT.

High stress, low pay

While the two technician programs are supplying qualified candidates, the profession also has a high attrition rate, so supply is not keeping up with demand.

"They just don't stay in the field for that long. Five to 10 years is about average," says Becky Smith, a certified veterinary technician at Rose City Veterinary Hospital. "The main reason people leave is low pay, not being utilized, and not being appreciated."

The average salary for an Oregon veterinary technician with a media of 10 years experience is $17 an hour, according to a 2014 survey by the OVMA.  As the cost of rent skyrockets around the Portland Metro area, many veterinary technicians may not be able to afford the cost of living. The profession can also be emotionally draining and physically taxing, which may be surprising to those who think it's an opportunity to play with puppies and kittens all day

.

Impact on veterinary clinics

 

At Gladstone Veterinary Clinic, only two qualified candidates have applied for a certified veterinary technician job posted on July 15, says Dr. Tanya ten Broeke, the clinic's owner.

 "Scheduling is a nightmare, trying to figure out how I can have enough people to provide the standard of care that we believe in," ten Broeke says. "I worry about burning out the rest of the team."

She often calls on her friends at other practices to ask if they'll fill in shifts on their days off, and she herself works as a technician when she can't find a replacement.

"It becomes a burden on clients as well," ten Broeke says, "because they end up having to wait a bit more."

Smith, the technician at Rose City Veterinary Hospital, finds herself working harder than ever in the wake of the technician vacancy at her clinic. After a certified technician left last month to attend nursing school, the hospital staff is struggling to fill the vacancy. Smith comes in as early as 6:15 a.m. and works up until 6 p.m. or later. On Wednesdays – her day off – she's been working from 7:30 a.m. to noon to help out.  Yet despite the hardships, she wouldn't trade her job for anything.

Smith went through an intensive process to earn a Veterinary Technician Specialist certification and feels her skills are valued appreciated. While her job is exhausting, it's rewarding enough to keep her going.

 

"I get up in the morning and am excited to go to work," she says. "My job is fantastic, I like what I do and I feel good at the end of the day - even if I'm tired."

By the numbers:

Currently, there are 1,864 veterinarians practicing actively in Oregon and 1,157 certified veterinary technicians, according to the Oregon Veterinary Medical Examining Board.  More than half of them – a total of 640 – are in Clackamas, Multnomah and Washington counties.

Tips: Becoming a veterinary technician in Oregon   

       

To become a licensed or certified veterinary technician in Oregon, a person must graduate from a veterinary technology program accredited by the American Veterinary Medical Association. There are two programs accredited by the American Veterinary Medical Association in the state: Portland Community College and Central Oregon Community College in Bend. Graduates are then eligible to take the Veterinary Technician National Exam, the board exam for veterinary technicians.

The PCC program has 30 available positions, says Dolores Galindo, the lead technician and advisor. Anywhere from 40 to 100 applicants compete for those spots.

The COCC program accepts 24 students every two years and is open-admission, says Program Director Beth Palmer. Successful applicants will have a strong math and science background and experience in the veterinary field, with a minimum of 40 hours of observation in a veterinary hospital.

--Monique Balas; msbalaspets@gmail.com


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