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TJC vet tech program helps to fill vital need in animal care industry

Tori Buckley has been an animal lover all her life, and she’s turning that passion into her profession.

“It was a childhood dream to care for animals,” she said. “I’ve had too many horses over the years to even count. Right now, I have 14 horses and two cats.”
 
She heard about the Tyler Junior College Veterinary Technician program, which is housed at TJC North in Lindale, from one of her coworkers at a vet practice in Whitehouse.
 

TJC Vet Tech Buckley

TJC vet tech student Tori Buckley gives Peanut, a beagle mix, a thorough dental cleaning. The TJC program works with Lindale and Smith County animal shelters to provide care for their animals in exchange for practical experience for students.

“My practice manager did this program a few years ago,” she said. “I was already a vet assistant at the time, and he talked about the TJC program and how you can learn to do not just the assistant work, like cleaning kennels and holding animals, but the actual vet tech work that is more involved.”
 
Buckley was accepted into the TJC program last fall. Each cohort goes through the entire two-year program together, creating a bonding experience for the students.
 
“It’s been much more than I imagined it to be,” she said. “We’re all really close friends now. I’ve made some of the best friends of my life here. It’s a pretty intense program with a lot of information to learn.”
 
Program director Dr. Louisa Schmid agrees on all counts.
 
“I can’t stress enough about the breadth of what veterinary technicians do,” Schmid said. “For example, today, one student just put in her first IV catheter and another one intubated the animal so it could go under general anesthesia to be spayed. And while the animal is in surgery, they monitor vital signs such as pulse oximetry, end-tidal carbon dioxide and heart rate. Then, they will do vaccines afterward, except for rabies, which is done by a veterinarian. We also have a couple of animals having their teeth cleaned today. This job is part nurse, anesthesiologist, radiology tech, dental hygienist and lab technician.”
 
It’s a much more specialized and skilled profession than ever before, she said.
 
“You can’t just walk in off the street and do this,” she said. “In the past, this was a job that you could learn through on-the-job training. You would find someone in high school and start teaching them how to do kennel work and then bring them in and teach them how to do physical exams, etc.”
 
She continued, “It’s like medical school in two years, so we’re really feeding them Thanksgiving-meal portions of information. And once they finish our two-year program and earn their Associate of Science degree, they have to pass the national exam — and it’s a toughy.”
 

TJC Vet Tech truck

The TJC Vet Tech program has a mobile unit that can be taken to area farms to conduct exams and provide care for large animals.

Schmid adds that the program is gaining even more relevance, due to a shortage of veterinarians, especially for large animals.
 
“Vet practices need someone who can come in and be that extension of the veterinarian because it’s the only way that our large animal vets are going to be able to survive,” she said. “They need someone who can go out and do things because the vets can’t be everywhere at once or out on every farm every day.”
 
Besides tending to the physical needs of the animal, the students are also trained on how to communicate with their human counterparts.
 
“Of all the other tasks veterinary technicians do, one of their primary roles is public education,” Schmid said. “So, when someone brings in their new puppy, the tech is going to be talking about nutrition, behavior, parasites and possible zoonotic diseases. They really are effective in educating about public health issues and why it’s important to spay and neuter.”
 
Job prospects are very favorable, she said, adding, “We’ve had a couple of people recruit our graduates while they were working in other clinics, and one of the emergency clinics in Longview will be hiring three of our current students. There is a great need for skilled vet techs all over the place, and that need is continuing to grow.”
 
For more on the TJC Veterinary Technology program, go to TJC.edu/VetTech.
 

 

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