Veterinary technicians are a crucial part of the veterinary care team. They not only support veterinarians in the practical care of animal patients, but also offer customer training, take on various administrative functions and even specialize in a certain service area.
While veterinary technicians often acquire and improve on-the-job skills, those who work at the University of Illinois Veterinary Teaching Hospital at Urbana have completed either a two- or four-year accredited program. They have also passed the national veterinary technician exam and must maintain their certification or license by completing the continuing education requirements on a regular basis.
Vet technicians are the backbone of our busy referral hospital, keeping around 20 different specialty services running smoothly. The hospital is staffed with around 80 veterinarians and almost 90 certified veterinary technicians. Together they take care of all animal species and prepare veterinary students for entry into practice.
To demonstrate this diverse, yet challenging career, we spoke to two veterinary technicians, Heather Soder and Alyssa Duncan, who have each worked at the College of Veterinary Medicine for more than 20 years.
Help for schoolchildren and animal sanctuaries
Soder, a certified veterinary technician since 1996, has worked in general medicine as well as in the veterinary teaching hospital. At UI, she was part of several service units, including imaging / nuclear medicine, radiation therapy, and small animal surgery. She currently divides her time between animal shelter medicine and “junior surgery”.
“I help coordinate the junior surgery course,” Soder said, referring to the class where third-year veterinary students learn to perform spay and neuter surgery. “I work with animal shelters in the area to attract patients and help the students with anything from doing physical exams, to blood tests and patient prep, to gloves, donning and draping into surgery.
“When the surgical laboratory is not instructed, I travel to emergency shelters with our Shelter Medicine Service, which does spays and castrations in our mobile surgical unit. I help students calm, intubate, and numb their patients, prepare for surgery, and recover their patients. “
Soder said she always loved working with animals.
“There are so many things that make being a veterinary technician great,” she said. “Working with veterinary students is probably my favorite part. I love to share what I know, and it’s worth helping the students grow and become independent.
“Working with shelter animals is another important aspect of the job. It is really wonderful to help animals regain health and find a home forever. “
The administrative role serves people, animals
Duncan has been a technician at the Veterinary Teaching Hospital since 1992.
“Since I can remember when I was a kid, I’ve always wanted to do something with animals,” she said.
However, after graduating from Parkland College’s Vet Tech program, she wasn’t sure how to approach this area. Then the program director called her about an opening at the University of Illinois.
“I interviewed, got the job, and now they’re stuck with me,” she joked.
Duncan worked in the emergency room and intensive care unit for more than 20 years before moving to her current position as patient services coordinator. In this role, she facilitates relationships between technicians, vets, and other staff across the hospital.
“I fill in the gaps in the services where I’m needed so you just never know where I’ll be,” she said. “I spend a lot of time in meetings and serve on several hospital committees.”
Working in an administrative role means Duncan doesn’t work with animals as much as he used to, but her interests have shifted.
“I’ve worked in emergency and intensive care over the years. I always thought I wanted to keep helping care for animals and alleviating their suffering, ”she said. “Today this (Patient Services Coordinator) is the role I like best. Instead, I can help the people who take care of the animals. “
Advice for future vet technicians
Duncan advises anyone thinking about becoming a veterinary technician to get a clinical experience first.
“This field is very stressful,” she said. “The personalities of humans and animals play with emotions on different levels. You need to know yourself and your break points so that you know when to get help.
“We all do this job to help animals. And what we sometimes don’t realize is that we are helping people too, and that is a very important part of veterinary medicine. “
To learn more about a career as a veterinary technician, visit the National Association of Veterinary Technicians in America website at navta.net.