Vet Tech Vision Program – Built from Within

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Why one veterinary hospital network is investing in its workforce by covering academic costs for qualified teammates.

When Kassy Sepich thinks about the future of veterinary medicine, she envisions an industry that relies heavily on veterinary technicians to deliver. “The world is shifting, and the needs of clients and pets are shifting,” said Sepich, director of vet tech programs for Southern Veterinary Partners (SVP), a veterinarian owned and operated network of animal hospitals throughout the country. “So, I don’t see a future where we won’t rely heavily on vet techs.”

One of the leading industry conversations over the last five years has been how to upscale the veterinary technician role to better support doctors. “Doctors have high burnout rates; it’s a very stressful position. So, we had to ask ourselves ‘how do we really make their lives easier?’” Sepich said. “Well, part of that is giving them the tools they need to be successful in their role. When you think about tools and equipment, it could be the physical things – making sure the hospital has the newest dental radiographs, and whatever the newest technology may be. So that’s one facet.”


 

Kassy Sepich headshot
Kassy Sepich

 

The other facet is ensuring that veterinarians have the people resources they need. “When we look at the future of veterinary medicine, we see a world where we’re continuing to upskill our veterinary technicians in a way that allows them to do those base-level tasks in the back of the hospital so that our doctors can focus on the higher-level procedures that really require the training and learnings they have,” Sepich said. “When we look at the sheer numbers, it takes less time to get veterinary technicians through school.”

Sepich oversees a team with two different arms. One is to support external partnerships with college campuses across the country that have veterinary technician programs and are AVMA accredited. The second arm is tasked with internal development for teammates, including educational assistance.

Indeed, educational costs are concerning for prospective veterinary technicians. The price tag for vet tech education and certification can vary depending upon what state they live in and what establishment they choose to enroll in. “But I’d say bare minimum, someone could likely spend anywhere from $5,500 to $6,000 at the low end of the spectrum,” Sepich said. “A vet tech could come out of school with upwards of $20,000 to $30,000 in debt.”

The National Association of Veterinary Technicians in America’s (NAVTA) 2022 Demographic Survey confirmed debt as one of the biggest pain points. According to the survey, more than one-third (36%) of respondents have student loan debt. The average student loan debt for respondents in the survey was $29,700, which is slightly higher than the overall average U.S. student loan of $28,950. The average salary of respondents in this survey with student loan debts was $43,000-$46,000/year.

To that end, in February 2021, SVP launched its Vet Tech Vision Program, which covers academic costs in full for qualified teammates to enroll in AVMA-CVTEA-accredited veterinary technician programs. Participants are self-funding initially, and then reimbursed at the end of the semester. Since 2022, SVP has had over 50 teammates graduate that have been supported in some kind of capacity – a number that will quickly increase over the next few years. They also have a partnership with Penn Foster, with a first cohort of students graduating from a self-paced program either the end of this year or beginning of next year.

One team member who has benefited from the program is Ryane B. She attended Jefferson State Community College in Alabama while studying veterinary technology. As she completed her program and was preparing to complete her final externship hours, she reached out to the Vet Tech Vision team to find placement for her specialty hours. She moved cities in 2020 and began working at an SVP clinic (still her current workplace).

“Becoming an LVT was a long-term goal of mine, but not one that was financially feasible right after a big move during a global pandemic,” she said. “I was so excited to learn that after working for SVP for a year my tuition fees could be covered, and I applied for the program as soon as I could. SVP is the reason I have been able to get my degree and my skills have grown exponentially since I started working for my clinic and studying for my license.”

Ryane was able to complete her specialty hours at another clinic in Nashville, Tennessee, alongside not only the hospital team, but also SVP’s head of oncology.

Ryane said she is grateful to work at a clinic that uses its technician/assistant team to the top of their abilities. “Our doctors are always willing to teach and guide us to become proficient in the skills we need for our job,” she said. “Technicians are generally in charge of a patient’s nursing care from intake to discharge, whether for a routine annual visit or a surgery or hospitalization. Technicians routinely draw blood and other sample collection, place IV catheters, induce and monitor anesthesia under the doctor’s supervision, administer medications, and discuss recommendations and at-home care with clients. These are just a few of our daily tasks.

Perhaps most importantly, veterinary technicians often serve as a line of communication between the client and the doctor in many situations. Their ability to educate clients properly and give good information is critical to the job and a vital reason that they need to be educated and earn their licensure, Ryane said. “Being a fully proficient technician also helps the doctors do their job efficiently and provide the best patient care, which helps the whole practice.”

Sepich said developing team members internally will only become more important for veterinary clinics in the coming years. When you look at the numbers of people who are graduating from any type of accredited program, whether as a veterinarian or vet tech, there aren’t enough to supply the demand of the industry. “So, how do we leverage the talent we already have?” she said. “Internally, we have a ton of teammates who come into the industry because it’s a passion of theirs. We want them to stay, and we want them to be successful and grow with us.”

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