Many jobs available in animal care
New Equine Health Management program offered at NCTA
By Eric Melvin Reed
When it comes to pairing one’s passion for animals with the need for a job, few options can compete with the unpredictability and excitement that comes with a career in the veterinary field.
Today’s students encounter a limitless range of options when setting out to find a career path. Among those who claim to love animals, an overwhelming number choose careers in veterinary medicine or veterinary technology.
That’s understandable. The demand for jobs in the veterinary industry is just as high, or higher, than the popularity of the profession itself. The U.S. Department of Labor projects the need for veterinarians in the United States to remain at “excellent” for years to come.
Wages for veterinarians also continue to look good. The median annual wage of all veterinarians in the U.S. in 2008 was $79,000. The average starting salary for those working exclusively with large animals exceeded $60,000.
With the number of veterinarian openings expected to increase much faster than the average, it is no surprise that people think of veterinarians and veterinarian technicians when they think of jobs for animal lovers.
Job prospects for veterinarians are extremely good in cities and suburbs, where people in highly populated areas care deeply about their pets and are willing to pay for services once considered unconventional for animals, such as cancer treatment and kidney transplants.
In rural areas, job prospects are even better. That’s because there’s a lot less competition for work in remote environments where people are less willing to live.
In the past, veterinarians have collaborated with human doctors and researchers to find cures and treatments for people around the world.
Veterinarians have played a substantial role in combating malaria and yellow fever and testing new drug therapies and surgical techniques. In fact, a number of surgical techniques now used on humans, including hip and knee joint replacements, were developed by veterinarians.
Given their vast array of skills and knowledge, some veterinarians are also engaged in the security of the nation’s food supply, serving as food safety inspectors, livestock inspectors and advisors.
The nature of veterinary work is changing at a rapid pace. Today’s graduates must stay current with the latest research in animal and medical science. In certain aspects, modern practices now mirror human care. Today’s physicians perform hip replacements, blood transfusions, and work with the latest technology from lasers to magnetic resonance imaging systems and ultrasound devices.
Large animal veterinarians, including those who work primarily with horses, must also stay current in a rapidly changing field. The previous idea of the “horse doctor” is an anachronism. Some of today’s equine veterinarians are among the most highly specialized practitioners in medicine, capable of meeting a range of demands put forth by an equally demanding equine industry that requires veterinarians not just for farms and ranches, but for sports, recreation, and entertainment in public and private enterprises.
Colleges, likewise, have to adapt to a demanding industry and the needs of students from a multitude of backgrounds around the country.
Veterinary and veterinary technology programs in Nebraska
At present, the only Nebraska institution of higher learning to offer a bachelor’s degree with a major in veterinary science or veterinary technology is the University of Nebraska-Lincoln (UNL), which is accredited by the Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges (AAVMC).
The University of Nebraska at Kearney offers a bachelor’s degree in Pre-Veterinary Medicine, but for the small number of Nebraskans who choose to go on and pursue a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (D.V.M.) degree and practice as veterinarians, their only option is to leave the state, though UNL does offer Master of Science (M.S.) and Doctorate of Philosophy (Ph.D.) degrees from its School of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences. Each fall, UNL admits a handful of students to its Professional Program in Veterinary Medicine, a program offered in partnership with Iowa State University.
Many students that like the outdoors and want to work with animals choose a career as a veterinary technician, a position comparable to a nurse in the realm of human doctors, rather than a veterinarian.
Many Nebraskans choose to pursue a degree as a veterinary technician because of the rising costs of tuition and the number of years it takes to become a veterinarian. Their decision may also be influenced by the highly selective admissions processes at the handful of veterinary schools in the United States. Graduates who seek to be full veterinarians must complete a 3-4 year residency program of intensive training and be licensed or board certified to practice.
Students who wish to be licensed veterinary technician assistants (rather than assistants,) must pass a national exam to become licensed as a veterinary technician. Currently, only three colleges in Nebraska are accredited by the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) to offer associate degrees in veterinary technology. The longest running of those programs, accredited since 1973, is the Veterinary Technology program at the University of Nebraska-Nebraska College of Technical Agriculture (NCTA) in Curtis. Northeast Community College in Norfolk and Vatterott College in Omaha also offer AVMA-accredited programs.
NCTA to offer new Equine Health Management Option
This year, the Nebraska College of Technical Agriculture announced a new Equine Health Management Option for students already working in an equine veterinary hospital or wanting to specialize more than the general technician. The new degree program, which has just been implemented and is the first in the state, will provide students with the skills and knowledge they need to better care for and relieve the suffering of horses. This will offer greater opportunities for students hoping to open up career tracks in specialty clinics, race tracks, breeding facilities, training facilities, private industries, equine research facilities, equine veterinary hospitals and veterinary colleges and universities.
The Associate of Applied Science degree will generally take two years to complete or can be added to another NCTA degree with only two or three additional semesters of classes.
Barbara Berg, Division Chair of Veterinary Technology at NCTA, says the college’s new Equine Health Management option will prepare students with very specific equine healthcare training and skills at a time when the nation is being challenged to meet the needs created by a growing number of horses and horse owners.
“These graduates will have an outstanding opportunity to be part of a health care team within many equine industry areas,” said Berg. “Within a veterinary clinic this person could provide much of the daily nursing care, diagnostic testing and surgical preparation of the equine patient as well as client education; thus allowing the veterinarians to see more patients, perform additional surgeries, diagnose and prescribe medicine. The result is higher quality healthcare for an increased number of clients.”
For those who love “hands on” work, NCTA complements classroom study with interactive and participatory learning that utilizes live horses outside of the classroom. NCTA keeps animals, including horses, year round for use in its veterinary technology classes. Student employees help care for the animals.
Students studying under the new Equine Health Management option will be required to complete the college’s standard core classes, which include general education courses, mainly in math, science and communication.
Students will also take a number of equine veterinary technician classes and health and medical classes. The curriculum includes subjects such as equine safety, nutrition, diagnostic imaging, laboratory diagnostics, diseases, pharmacology, reproduction, emergency medicine, anesthesia and surgery.
Students interested in careers as veterinary technicians should prepare in high school by taking as many science, biology, and math courses as possible.
Internships are required as part of every NCTA degree, allowing additional first-hand and “real world” experience. Although most veterinary technicians work in private practices, students under the new Equine Health Management option will not be restricted to internships in private practices.
Many states require veterinary technicians and technologists to pass a credentialing exam following coursework to test their competency and ability to conduct work under the supervision of a licensed veterinarian.
NCTA emphasizes practical skills in a clinical or laboratory setting. As the program grows, students and faculty look forward to major renovations to the college’s veterinary technology facilities set to begin this year, along with other renovations on campus and the building of a new dormitory and a new $9.7 million Education Center that will provide new classrooms, an auditorium, and accommodations for the Horticulture/ Agronomy Systems and Veterinary Technology systems program.