Thursday, July 29, 2010

A Short History of Veterinary Technology

I spoke last time about the need to understand where we have been before we can chart a true course for where we want to go. Learning the evolution of veterinary technology helps us to get a more realistic perspective on the issues we face today.

It was in England in 1908 that the first organized effort to train veterinary assistants was made by the Canine Nurses Institute. Fifty-two years later the American Association of Laboratory Animal Science (AALAS) instituted certification of three different levels of animal technicians working in research institution. During the 60s the Council of the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons, the US Army, Ralston Purina and the State University of New York (SUNY) all established training programs for animal technicians.

In 1967 the AVMA began the process of establishing the criteria for acceptable animal technician training programs and in 1972 the first accreditation procedures for animal technician programs was instituted under a standing committee of the American Veterinary Medical Association. Sadly, in 1965, the AVMA had decided that the term “veterinary” should not be used alongside the terms technician or assistant. It was felt at the time that there might be potential client confusion or competition from disreputable people. This decision definitely slowed the acceptance and utilization of technicians. Happily, the decision was reversed, although it took twenty-four years before the AVMA officially adopted the term veterinary technician.

The Committee on Accreditation for Training of Animal Technicians (CATAT) underwent a couple of name changes, the most significant being as result of the urging of Dr. Joe Gloyd who emphatically stated that you “train monkeys and EDUCATE people”. Thanks, Dr. Gloyd, for recognizing that words do matter. The committee is now titled: Committee on Veterinary Technician Education and Activities (CVTEA) and it is through their work that there is such a standard for veterinary education today.

In 1973 Michigan State University and Nebraska Technical colleges were the first two animal technician educational programs to receive accreditation by the AVMA. Today, 37 years later there are 169 AVMA accredited programs in veterinary technology, including 9 distance learning programs. Twenty programs offer bachelor degrees.

In 1981 the North American Veterinary Technician Association was formed; this organization represents all veterinary technicians and has grown into a powerful force in our profession. The name has been changed to National Association of Veterinary Technicians in America and NAVTA works works closely with AVMA to protect, support and promote the profession of veterinary technology. Members of NAVTA serve on many AVMA committees including the CVTEA. NAVTA is also responsible for the development and credentialing of veterinary technician specialties.

This is just a short, VERY short, synopsis of some of the highlights of our profession. Stop and think for a minute…in less than 40 years the number of accredited schools has gone from 2 to 169. In just 30 years NAVTA has experienced a 500% increase in membership and has created a growing list of specialties in which the technician may find career advancement. It is now possible to obtain a bachelor’s degree in veterinary technology. The fearful stance of the AVMA has changed and technicians are now a vital part of veterinary medicine. We have gone from being animal care takers to credentialed specialists and the 21st century promises even greater strides.

There is so much more to report but I am going to stop now and urge you to do your own research. Learn about your chosen profession. Better yet, get involved! Join your local or state association and join NAVTA. Find your voice. Most of all, on those days when you feel “under-appreciated” think about the hard work and sacrifice of those veterinarians and technicians who pioneered the path you are now walking and remember to give them a silent nod of thanks. They earned it…now it’s your turn.

Next time: Some trends on the horizon…

The Dynamic History of Veterinary Technology and Nursing, Lukens, R., Walsh, D.
Clinical Textbook for Veterinary Technicians, 6th Edition. McCurnin, D., Bassert, J.