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A one of a kind veterinary technologist program

published: January 24th 2020
by: Caitlin Richards

Veterinarians voiced a need for support and it was met by Texas A&M Uni-versity – Kingsville’s (TA MUK) veterinary technology (VETT) program. In essence, veterinarians were looking for nurses to support them in their roles at their clinics.
    “We wanted this to be a veterinary technologist program, which would be considered a nursing program geared towards large and small animals,” says the VETT program’s As-sistant Director Christine Hoskinson, M.S., L.V.T., “so, there is someone specifically trained and licensed to help veterinarians.”
    A licensed veterinary technologist (LVT) can legally do everything a veterinarian can except prescribe medication, perform surgery, and give a diagnosis or prognosis of a patient. Hoskinson explained a good practitioner will utilize their technicians as much as possible, allowing them to focus on the four areas specific to veterinarians.
    Many veterinary offices may claim to have veterinary technicians or vet techs, but only those who carry the term “licensed” have received specialized training and knowledge from an accredited Ame-rican Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) program. TAMUK’s VETT program is one of the only 23 accredited programs in the United States that offer a bachelor’s degree. The rest of the programs are two-year certificates or associate’s degrees. It is also the only program of its kind in Texas.
    “Being part of a bachelor’s degree program, in my opinion, gives students more time to mature and gain experience that students in an associate’s degree program will not have,” says Hoskinson. “Our program is also a little different because of all the diverse hands-on opportunities we give our students.”
    The goal for TAMUK’s VETT program is to make well-rounded licensed veterinary technologists. A-side from small and large animal training, which is required by the AVMA, students also receive wildlife, exotic, and marine animal training.
    Their Kingsville location allows for easy access to the Texas State Aqua-rium in Corpus Christi, where students work with sea turtles and learn fish and marine mammal medicine. Additionally, TA MUK has a captive whitetail deer herd on campus. Students go out with campus faculty and researchers to work directly with the deer and other wildlife.
    The program has a state-of-the-art 10,000 square foot teaching facility designed and built specifically for the program in 2016. It is a fully functioning animal hospital, but not open to the public. It includes classrooms, animal housing area, student study area, laboratory spaces, a surgical suite, radiology room and other teaching spaces for all veterinary technology courses.
    “We also have diagnostic capabilities,” says Hoskinson. “So, we have a fully functioning veterinary laboratory with blood machines, fecal analysis, urinalysis, and microbiology capabilities. We have all of the latest and greatest equipment for radiology, other diagnostic imaging equipment, and even a cold therapy laser.”
    The program has animals on-site for the student’s small animal training. They house dogs, cats, reptiles and birds all in their facility. Beyond the teaching hospital, students also have access to TAMUK’s working farm with cattle, sheep, goats and pigs. They also have a great working relationship with the King Ranch, which allows them to work on their cattle and horses. The program also works with Kingsville Animal Control for the students to gain even more small animal training.
    “They are going to come out with so much experience, hopefully enough to give them insight into what they might want to do for a career,” says Hoskinson. “It isn’t all dogs and cats. No matter what they are interested in we have connections everywhere to help them in their careers.”
    With the program’s diverse training opportunities, they encourage students to look at non-traditional roles where they can use their training and skills. Besides working under a veterinarian in a clinic, LVTs can be technicians for state wildlife veterinarians, or an animal health technician with the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). Hoskinson says these agencies prefer actual LVTs and they are in demand.
    The way the program works is similar to other health professional programs like dentistry or nursing. It is a cohort program that only accepts 30 students every fall. Typi-cally, most students start the program the fall of their junior year. The prerequisites for the program are general education requirements that Texas requires for all bachelor degrees, which most students take during their first two years of undergrad.
    “Over the years, the program has become fairly competitive,” says Hoskin-son. “We started really small in 2015. No one really knew we were doing this or that it existed. Our first class had only five students. We have since gone up from there. This coming fall [2020] we expect a full cohort.”
    Initially, every applicant received an in-person interview. Now with a large applicant pool, they have moved to a point system and only a handful receive interviews as part of the selection process. Top candidates usually have good letters of recommendation, excellent essay responses, high GPAs, and previous experience, such as, vet clinic work experience or a certified veterinary assistant certificate.
    Once accepted into the program, students will spend the remainder of their two years in specialized curriculum courses just for the VETT program. During those two years, students will also complete 240 hours of externships. The first externship is over the summer of their junior year, and the second externship is during the winter of their senior year.
    “We leave it up to the students to find their own externships,” says Hoskin-son. “We want them to go somewhere they are interested in whether it is equine, large animal, small animal or anything else. We encourage the students to reach out to new locations.” 
    Interested veterinarians can contact Hoskinson for more information about working with students and to get on their list of veterinary partners. Students will have a different skill level to offer prior to each externship, but the objective of the externship is for the students to apply their skills and training to real-world situations.
    “We can only replicate real life so much in an academic setting,” says Hos-kinson. “We hope the externships help students learn the ropes, gain even more experience, and some insight into the career they may want to pursue.”
    Hoskinson and the director for the veterinary technology program, Clay-ton Hilton, M.S., D.V.M. were among the first staff for the program. They were tasked with building the program from the ground up. Together, they developed curriculum and courses for the program. As the only program of its kind in the state, they seem to have set the bar high.
    “The biggest take away our students will have from our program is a plethora of experience,” says Hos-kinson. “They are touching animals every day. They are not just learning and listening about it. They are doing it every day to build the background, knowledge and skill to be successful later on in their careers.”

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