GBCC Veterinary Technology Students Ready for New Demands of Animal Care Field

04/04/2016 by Bob Keyes

PORSTMOUTH - There are many requirements of students who enroll in the Veterinary Technology program at Great Bay Community College.

They have to maintain good grades and perform lab work to certain standards. But by far, the biggest requirement of vet tech students is commitment. “It’s a profession you have to want to do,” said Dr. Peg MacGregor, Veterinary Technology faculty member at Great Bay. “You have to love animals and care about well-being.”

It’s a field with tremendous growth, and is projected to grow by as much as 20 percent over the next decade, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. That makes it among the fastest-growing occupations in the United States.

The reason for the demand is because of changes in society. People are pampering their pets more than ever, opting for surgeries and advanced medical care for their domestic animals. The rise of hobby farming industry, with people raising horses, alpaca and other larger animals as part of small family- farm operations, also contributes to the growth in the field, MacGregor said.

“So many people in the past saw animals differently than we do today,” she said. “Now, they’re family members, and people are treating them as family members and they’re willing to spend money on them. In my day, dogs were treated for fleas. Now, your dog is wearing clothes.”

Dr. Hannah Wells, chief of staff at Health & Wellness Animal Hospital in Hampton Falls, N.H., compared the work of a modern-day vet tech to that of a nurse. As the level of care has increased and services expanded, technicians have taken on more responsibilities.

“The technicians have come a long way. It’s not just about their skill sets,” she said. “It’s very similar to the nurse in the medical profession. They are our nurses. They are the ones who are communicating a lot of the patient care and affirming patient care.”

The jobs have become more sophisticated in the past decade, as pet owners have become more knowledgeable about animal medicine and more demanding of superior specialized care. In addition to helping foster relationships with clients, vet techs assist with surgery, anesthesiology, emergency care and other specialized areas, as well as preventive care.

Health & Wellness Animal Hospital employs four veterinarians and 12 vet techs. Faith McGuire, a Great Bay student, is interning at the hospital and will work there full time after she graduates this spring, Wells said.

MaGuire is typical of Great Bay graduates, Wells said. She is well-prepared and eager to learn. “She has a fantastic attitude and is enthusiastic about her new career. She gets along well with everybody, her skill set is excellent and she has great capacity to learn.”

Salaries begin in the low-$30,000 range, according to labor statistics.

Great Bay offers a two-year associate’s degree. The program is accredited by the American Veterinary Medical Association. Students learn medical, surgical, and laboratory procedures. Graduates are eligible to work in veterinary hospitals, medical laboratories, pet-related industries, zoos, research facilities and pharmaceutics. Enrollment is capped at 40, and the program is always at full enrollment. The program faculty includes two full-time Veterinarians as well as eight certified veterinary technicians.

Elizabeth Carlson graduated from the program last year, and immediately found work in a veterinary medicine office in Londonderry, N.H., using skills she learned at Great Bay. “I love how integrated the ‘real world’ experience was with the academic, in terms of clinical affiliations,” she said.

She chose the veterinary technology after studying zoology at a larger university. She felt unprepared after graduating, and was frustrated after spending “a huge chunk of change” on her education that consisted of a lot of lectures but not a lot of time learning real-world job skills.

“I applied to dozens and dozens of zoos, wildlife centers, research labs, etc., and didn’t get much response apart from a few interviews, because hands-on experience was what was required,” she said.

Veterinary technology was a last resort, she said. “Now I wish it had been my first one,” Carlson said.

Graduates are eligible but not required to take the Veterinary Technician National Exam to become certified or licensed. Most states, including Maine, require veterinary technicians to be licensed. New Hampshire does not.

In the last three years, 96 Great Bay graduates were eligible first-time candidates for the VTNE.  Of those 96, 89 graduates sat for the VTNE.

The vast majority of students are women, and the best students are those who excel in science and math, MacGregor said. With a two-year associate’s degree, graduates can either enter the workforce or transfer to a four-year program. About two dozen U.S. colleges or universities offer four-year programs. The University of Maine at Orono is in the process of becoming accredited so it can upgrade from the two-year program to a four-year program.

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