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Veterinarian Technician January 2009 (Vol 30, No 1)

Management Matters — Technician Specialization: Worth the Effort

by Katherine Dobbs, RVT, CVPM, PHR

    Ask any technician with a VTS certification whether the journey toward specialization was worth it, and you will be hard-pressed to find one who says, "No."

    Technicians have come a long way since the first examination was administered by the Academy of Veterinary Emergency and Critical Care Technicians (AVECCT) in September 1998, which led to the first group of veterinary technician specialists (VTS). Ten years later, there are four additional specialty academies: anesthesia, dentistry, internal medicine and, most recently, behavior (see Academy Websites). As the number of specialty academies grows, more credentialed veterinary technicians are considering a specialty career path in their area of interest.

    The specialization process requires a high level of commitment and a year or two of dedication, but technician specialists stand to gain much from this endeavor.

    Career Opportunities

    A VTS designation can expand opportunities for the professional who desires new challenges. Like many of her colleagues, Vickie Byard, CVT, VTS (Dentistry), president of the Academy of Veterinary Dental Technicians (AVDT), has been given opportunities to speak about, publish and teach basic and advanced dental topics. Likewise, Andrea Steele, BSc, RVT, VTS (ECC), executive secretary of AVECCT, has lectured both nationally and internationally. "This is a facet of my career that I never explored before specialization was recognized," she said.

    Christopher Norkus, BS, CVT, VTS (ECC, Anesthesia), a member of the Veterinary Technician Editorial Board, emphasized that VTS certification provides technicians with more options and the flexibility of being in demand, yet they have to realize these opportunities exist and seek the best fit. Chris explained that some practices — especially teaching hospitals — actively search for specialists and encourage specialization for current team members (see VTS Requirements).

    There is perhaps nothing more stimulating than being surrounded by like-minded individuals who share the same interests and professional drive as you have. Specialization enhances opportunities to network with colleagues who can relate to the journey you have taken and are anxious to confront the challenges ahead.

    Having a VTS has made it possible for Vickie to meet and network with "some of the most incredible and influential technicians and veterinarians in the world."

    The opportunity also exists to become an active part of an academy by sitting on a committee or holding an office, which can further enhance your scope of professional networking. "The AVDT is a closely knit group of people who support each other professionally and personally," said Sara L. Sharp, CVT, VTS (Dentistry), secretary of the AVDT.

    Impacting the Profession

    The increase in VTS professionals has an impact on the profession of veterinary medicine. In her role as instructor, Vickie explains that she may help three to six patients a day at her clinic, but when she has the opportunity to teach dentistry to almost 100 technicians, who each then help three to six patients a day, she has increased her personal impact exponentially. "That feels incredible," she admitted.

    Technicians who take the VTS journey demonstrate a dedication to the profession and their specialty that can only serve to improve both the health care of pets and the respect for the veterinary technician's overall role. The future of veterinary technology is evolving along the path of these specialists.


    Specialization has an effect on compensation in several ways. "When I began interviewing for jobs, I found that my credentials were a significant benefit and I have been compensated accordingly," said Amy Campbell, CVT, VTS (ECC), who is affiliated with Veterinary Emergency and Specialty Center of New England in Waltham, Mass.

    Even if your base wages do not increase, the additional opportunities available can add dollars to your bottom line. Vickie discovered that new opportunities "have been lucrative and have added to my financial base more than a raise could have. It requires some extra work, but isn't that what a good raise reflects?"

    Chris recently completed a survey of members from all current VTS academies. The results will be published soon, but preliminary data suggest that technician specialists receive a larger salary than just credentialed technicians do.

    It is important to have a discussion with your current hospital manager before beginning the path to specialization. Find out if there is a need for a technician specialist in the practice and what financial support or assistance the practice can provide. The answers to these questions may not change your decision to become a VTS, but they can help you avoid unpleasant surprises along the way.

    Obtaining a VTS is a personal decision, but that does not discount the importance of the journey itself. "VTS candidates learn that they have inner strength and a better understanding of why they do what they do, and that will enhance the nursing care they provide," said Harold Davis, BA, RVT, VTS (ECC), a member of the Veterinary Technician Editorial Board, one of the cofounders of AVECCT and current president of the Veterinary Emergency and Critical Care Society (VECCS).

    Harold added that even if candidates fail the VTS examination, the knowledge they gained cannot be taken away from them. The VTS designation is the icing on the cake at the end of a rewarding journey, he said.

    NEXT: Picture This! — Where Trouble Goes, Trouble Follows


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