Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, the United States has faced shortages of everything from toilet paper to face masks to food and lumber. At the other end of the spectrum, the need for veterinary care – which has increased in part due to the number of pet adoptions during lockdown – has increased significantly. This has resulted in the veterinary industry struggling to meet the need for more veterinary technicians for pet and livestock care.
In response to demand, the University of Missouri in Columbia, Missouri, has aligned with Jefferson College in Hillsboro, Missouri and created a new transfer agreement for veterinary technology students. The “two-plus-two” arrangement is the first program of its kind at a veterinary college and allows students who complete a two-year associate’s degree in veterinary technology at Jeffco to be automatically accepted as juniors into the undergraduate program in veterinary technology at Jeffco MU. Additionally, the program has allowed Jeffco employees with veterinary technology graduates since 1978 to utilize the articulation agreement.
“Veterinary technology education is primarily based on associate-level programs, and that’s what a typical registered veterinary technician will have in terms of educational level,” said Cindy Cravens, director of MU’s Bachelor of Science program in veterinary technology.
She said that in recent years the MU has become aware that veterinary technicians may be interested in going ahead and pursuing either a bachelor’s or master’s degree, but they want the degrees to be in veterinary technology.
“That can be hard to find, especially if they stay in their current job and don’t have to move to attend face-to-face classes,” Cravens explained. “Mizzou started talking about trying to develop an undergraduate program a few years ago. I was hired two years ago to begin the approval process through the university system and this took approximately 18 months to complete and we received program approval in June 2021.”
Cravens said one of the biggest challenges for veterinary technicians who want to transfer to a four-year college to earn a bachelor’s degree is that their veterinary technology associate does not typically transfer. MU decided to develop this new program to solve this transfer problem and allow students to apply these veterinary technology credits so that they can count toward their undergraduate degree.
“So we had to develop these articulation agreements with different associate-level programs like Jefferson College,” she said. “So when they come here, they really just have to do a couple of general education courses and the 40 credits that are specific to the BSVT program and they can graduate with a bachelor’s degree in veterinary technology.”
Jefferson College vice president of instruction Chris DeGeare said the program’s associate of science degree in veterinary technology has had great success for decades, but this articulation agreement with Mizzou allows her students to broaden their horizons and make themselves more valuable to employers .
“With the industry constantly evolving and additional skills to be learned, this undergraduate program is a good next step,” DeGeare said. “As soon as it became available, we began our dialogue with the University of Missouri’s system to create that pathway for our graduates.”
New opportunities for veterinarians
Cravens said there are several reasons why veterinary technicians are interested in the BSVT program, such as: B. a desire to improve their skills in the job they are already in, to move into managerial positions, or to move to other areas of industry or veterinary medicine such as research.
“So far, most of the students who participate in the program just want to broaden their knowledge base and improve their skills in order to stay in their current job,” she explained.
“That’s what we call a career ladder or stackable credentials, where students can come out of our program and gain entry-level employment as a veterinary technician, but then by continuing to earn a bachelor’s degree that stacks on top of their staff, it gives them opportunities for the rise,” he said.
Because few veterinary technicians have bachelor’s degrees and very few surveys have been conducted to obtain data in this area, it is unknown how this new degree will affect salaries. Cravens said as the program grows and produces more graduates, data will be created and graduates will have a better idea of the compensation they can expect after graduation.
“A 2016 NAFTA survey showed that lower salaries were a reason veterinary technicians were not staying in the profession, as was underuse by veterinarians,” Cravens said. “In addition to what we are trying to build in this program, we are also reaching out to various veterinarians to let them know about our program and to encourage them to really try to use their technicians to the fullest extent of their degree.”
In addition to partnering with MU, DeGeare said Jeffco is currently expanding its veterinary technician program because of a demand not only from employers but also from students.
“As a number of regional veterinary schools have closed there have been a number of company schools that have closed which has really created an additional need for training. So where we previously enrolled 24 and then up to 36, we aim to get 48 students a year to come and go through this program,” he said. “As a result, we have invested in upgrading our stable facilities, expanding our kennels, enlarging our classrooms, adding new technology and are working to develop a full clinic in the near future.”
It’s easy to overlook the value of something when there’s a surplus, but when the supply is threatened it’s easy to see the value, whether it’s toilet paper or veterinary techs. Programs like the BSVT show an appreciation and willingness to invest in veterinary medicine and the people who dedicate their careers to animal health and are expected to continue to grow in the future.
“I was pleased to hear that most of the students in our program have received tuition support from their employer, which was very encouraging as it shows that the veterinarians genuinely care about the continuing education of their technicians. ‘ said Cravens. “The university is really excited about this program and the creation of a path to transfer credits that veterinarians have not had in the past.”