Specialization is one way the veterinary technicians in your practice might be able to earn more because their increased expertise can save veterinarians time and bring in more revenue.
Photo by Greg Kindred
Wages are one of the top issues confronting team members today. There are large outside forces facing veterinary medicine that can't be easily resolved, but there are options available. Becoming a specialized veterinary technician is one example. The time-consuming process-it can range from two to five years-improves technicians' skills and can foster a sense of professional accomplishment, but the question is whether it influences pay.
The 2014 Firstline Career Path Study detailed the differences between the various types of technicians. On average, veterinary assistants made $14.08 an hour, credentialed technicians made $17.02, and credentialed technicians with a specialty made $21.34. (Click here to see data from the 2015 Firstline Career Path Study to see what your colleagues think about having specialized technicians in their practices.)
Specialized veterinary technicians might be poised for more success if they work in an environment suited for them. They can be valuable assets in specialized practices that tout their expertise to clients. But even in general practices, more services can equate to more patients, more visits can lead to increased revenue, and more money can translate to higher wages.
Ed Durham, CVT, LATG, VTS (cardiology), says, “As always, the salary range for technician specialists varies around the country, but in general a VTS (veterinary technician specialist) does receive a salary increase upon achieving his or her VTS designation. Also, if changing jobs, they can command a higher salary due to their specialty certification. On average, I would estimate that a VTS makes 5% to 10% more than a credentialed technician with the same years of experience without the VTS.”
However, Susan Burns, BS, RVT, VTS (anesthesia), says becoming a specialized technician does not usually mean an increase in pay. “This is something I warn potential candidates of when they inquire about obtaining a specialty. I hope this will change in the future. Veterinary medicine can offer a lot of specialized treatments to our patients that 10 years ago were unheard of in the field. This increase in knowledge will require more specialized training for both veterinarians and technicians. My hope would be that this will translate into pay increases for both specialized and nonspecialized technicians.”
Besides money, specializing offers intangible benefits. The additional capabilities offer veterinarians more resources and can help alleviate some of veterinarians' responsibilities and make operations more efficient.
Liza Rudolph, BAS, CVT, VTS (clinical practice, small animal internal medicine), says, “In my opinion the most common reasons veterinary technicians seek specialty recognition include increasing their knowledge, job satisfaction, and professional opportunities. Veterinary technicians learn so much during the VTS process. This directly affects the quality of patient care, helps raise the bar for co-workers, and increases confidence in their daily practice. Veterinary technician specialists report an increase in recognition and respect from veterinarians and technicians.”
For example, Durham recently helped place a challenging urinary catheter in a dog with a transitional cell carcinoma through the use of a cardiac catheter guide wire. “The application of my advanced knowledge and skill in guide wire manipulation proved useful in providing a positive outcome for the patient, even though it was not a cardiology case. ICU was happy, my doctors were happy because they did not have to stop what they were doing to help ICU, and the dog can empty his bladder now,” Durham says.
Each technician specialty brings its own set of advances to a practice. “Veterinary technicians are at the forefront of the nutrition conversation with pet parents,” says Kara Burns, MS, MEd, LVT, VTS (nutrition), president of the Academy of Veterinary Nutrition Technicians. “Pet parents are becoming more aware of the importance of nutrition in their own health and subsequently will expect a higher standard of nutritional care for their pets.”
Susan Burns explains specialized anesthesia technicians can also help fill in gaps. “There are very few board-certified anesthesiologists in private practice, so in many ways we are the go-betweens. Most veterinarians and technicians shy away from anesthesia because it scares and intimidates them. We can be that cushion for many practices.”
Video: Coffee on the Couch series: Specialized technicians
Watch two technicians discuss specialization.
There are ambitious technicians who will become specialized for their own sake, but the impetus can begin with a hospital's leadership team. Offering incentives for training, explaining the benefits of professional development, and just encouraging continuing education are among the traits of managers and owners that can elevate practices. Below is an overview of the 11 current NAVTA-approved technician specialties and what these credentialed technicians can bring to your practice.
1. The Academy of Equine Veterinary Nursing Technicians (AEVNT)
Mission statement: To advance the education and professional recognition of credentialed equine veterinary technicians who display excellence in, and dedication to, providing superior nursing care to the equine patient.
Year established: Formed in 2009; first exam in 2011
Number currently credentialed: 21
How this specialty can help veterinarians: “Our goal is to make veterinarians' jobs easier, leverage their time, and give them assurance that they have given the care of the patients over to the ‘nurses' who are dedicated professionals in this industry.”-Deborah B. Reeder, RVT, VTS (equine veterinary nursing)
2. The Academy of Internal Medicine for Veterinary Technicians (AIMVT)
Mission statement: The AIMVT will promote the interest in and advance the skills of veterinary technicians within the disciplines of veterinary internal medicine by providing cutting-edge continuing education, working with veterinarians to advocate superior patient care, client education, and consumer protection. The AIMVT will further the recognition of credentialed specialty technicians as leaders in the profession of veterinary internal medicine nursing.
Year established: Achieved specialty academy status from NAVTA in 2008
Number currently credentialed: 124
How this specialty can help veterinarians: These specialists' expertise can increase the veterinarian's productivity by performing certain advanced procedures and providing client education on a wide range of topics. In addition, specialists can assist and supervise team members not yet suited for an elevated level of care.
3. The Academy of Veterinary Behavior Technicians (AVBT)
Mission statement: To promote excellence in the discipline of veterinary behavior medicine. The veterinary technician who becomes certified as a VTS (behavior) will demonstrate superior knowledge in scientifically-and humanely-based techniques of behavior health, problem prevention, training, management, and behavior modification. The AVBT will advance the skills of veterinary technicians within the discipline of animal behavior and further their recognition as critical components of the veterinary behavior team in creating, maintaining, and strengthening the human-animal bond.
Year established: Recognized by NAVTA in 2008; first exam in 2010
Number currently credentialed: 13
How this specialty can help veterinarians: “Behavioral medicine is an excellent consideration as every animal that receives veterinary care is displaying behaviors. Because they are uniquely different from humans, interpreting these behaviors requires advanced knowledge and skill. A VTS (behavior) is better poised to understand patients, provide for their unique needs, support the veterinarian's role, and aid the client as they provide optimal physical and behavioral health.”- Sherrie Yuschak, RVT, VTS (behavior), KPA-CTP, CPDT-KA
4. The Academy of Veterinary Clinical Pathology Technicians (AVCPT)
Mission statement: To advance the area of and promote excellence in the discipline of veterinary clinical pathology.
Year established: 2012 (first technicians credentialed in 2014)
Number currently credentialed: 7
How this specialty can help veterinarians: “The specialty will greatly benefit the veterinary community by serving the niche of those involved in laboratory testing, whether in a clinic, diagnostic or reference laboratory, research or government facility, private industry, or academia. By establishing educational and clinical requirements and credentialing veterinary technician clinical pathology specialists, the AVCPT will benefit the veterinarian, the veterinary technician, the animal owner, and the patient.” - Executive Board of the AVCPT
5. The Academy of Veterinary Dental Technicians (AVDT)
Mission statement: To promote an expansion of knowledge and education of veterinary dentistry among credentialed veterinary technicians and to expand the role of the veterinary dental technician in the workplace. The academy strives to advance the education of the whole dental community through continuing education, mentor programs, journal articles, and textbooks.
Year established: Recognized by NAVTA in 2002
Number currently credentialed: 54 active members
How this specialty can help veterinarians: “I believe one huge benefit of our specialty is having someone in the veterinary clinic who knows anatomy, pathology, instrumentation, and marketing and can provide surgical assistance and patient care. Veterinarians, technicians, and clients all have high expectations when it comes to preventive care, and this is one area where a specialist can excel.”-Pat March, RVT, VTS (dentistry)
6. The Academy of Veterinary Emergency and Critical Care Technicians (AVECCT)
Mission statement: To ensure the veterinary profession and the public that AVECCT-certified technicians possess the knowledge and experience needed to work effectively in a well-equipped and staffed emergency or critical care facility.
Year established: 1996 (first technicians certified in 1997)
Number currently credentialed: More than 360
How this specialty can help veterinarians: “When a technician becomes a VTS, they are at the forefront of their field, similarly to a veterinarian diplomate. Often people wonder why the exam is that tough. It is because that technician truly understands that area of medicine. They understand why the doctor is prescribing that medication and they are there to remind the doctor that the two drugs they ordered cannot be given together. They are there to offer excellent nursing care and have forward-thinking skills.”-Amy Breton, CVT, VTS (emergency and critical care)
7. The Academy of Veterinary Nutrition Technicians (AVNT)
Mission statement: To advance the area of and promote excellence in the discipline of veterinary nutrition. The AVNT provides a process by which veterinary technicians may become certified as a veterinary technician specialist in the field of nutrition, increasing the competence of those practicing in the field of veterinary nutrition. The AVNT mission is to enhance the skills and knowledge of veterinary nutrition technicians and promote technicians as integral members of the veterinary nutrition team.
Year established: 2010
Number currently credentialed: 14
How this specialty can help veterinarians: More and more pet owners are learning to recognize the role nutrition plays in their pets' lives. As more clients take initiative and request nutrition services, technicians will be expected to offer a higher level of care for patients.
8. The Academy of Veterinary Surgical Technicians (AVST)
Mission statement: To increase the competence of those who perform specialty duties in the field of veterinary surgery. The academy will strive to ensure that the veterinary surgical technician possesses superior knowledge and skill in the care and management of surgical cases, surgical instruments, and the surgical suite.
Year established: First certifying examination in January 2013
Number currently credentialed: 20
How this specialty can help veterinarians: “Practicing veterinary surgical care at an advanced skill level helps ensure that veterinary surgical patients receive a level of care commensurate to the advanced surgical procedure provided.”-Heidi Reuss-Lamky, LVT, VTS (anesthesia, surgery)
9. The Academy of Veterinary Technician Anesthetists (AVTA)
Mission statement: To promote interest in the discipline of veterinary anesthesia. The academy provides the opportunity for members to enhance their knowledge and skills in the field of veterinary anesthesia.
Year established: 1999
Number currently credentialed: 190
How this specialty can help veterinarians: Anesthesia is among the top specialties needed in almost every veterinary hospital. With the small number of board-certified anesthesiologist in private practices, these specialties can fill an important niche.
10. The Academy of Veterinary Technicians in Clinical Practice (AVTCP)
Mission statement: To promote excellence in veterinary technology in clinical practice. The veterinary technician who becomes recognized as a VTS (clinical practice) demonstrates superior knowledge in the care and management of a broad range of clinical cases.
Year established: Recognized by NAVTA in 2010
Number currently credentialed: 31
How this specialty can help veterinarians: “The AVTCP was specifically developed to produce highly skilled, knowledgeable, and educated veterinary technicians who currently practice their advanced skills and understanding on a daily basis in clinical practice. These individuals are dedicated and invaluable to multidisciplinary contemporary veterinary medicine. They are truly considered experts in their field.” -Liza Rudolph, BAS, CVT, VTS (clinical practice, small animal internal medicine)
11. The Academy of Veterinary Zoological Medicine Technicians (AVZMT)
Mission statement: To promote excellence in the discipline of zoo medicine.
Year established: Approval in 2009; first exam 2012
Number currently credentialed: 11
How this specialty can help veterinarians: “A more knowledgeable technician is desirable. First and foremost, this specialty was created to benefit zoo technicians. To give them something to strive for.”-Bonnie Soule, BS, CVT, VTS (zoo)