If you’re from Idaho, chances are you own an animal or two (or more).
In 2018, the American Veterinary Medical Association ranked Idaho as the number one state for dog ownership, with almost 60% of Idaho households keeping a dog as a pet. The same study showed that 70% of Idaho households have at least one domesticated animal in their home.
On top of that, there are over 2 million cattle in Idaho, and with more than 210,000 head of sheep, a quarter million horses and 7,200 milk goats, animal hooves greatly outnumber human feet in the Gem State.
With scores of scruff to tend to, a shortage of trained veterinary professionals can lead to dire situations for pet and livestock owners. To alleviate the stress placed on animal care facilities in the Magic Valley and throughout the state, the College of Southern Idaho (CSI) in Twin Falls offers an AVMA (American Veterinary Medical Association) accredited veterinary technology program, providing students with an opportunity to combine their devotion to animals with their interest in science and medicine.
Veterinary medicine’s Swiss Army knife
Like a registered nurse, veterinary technicians are para-professionals and the Swiss Army knife of animal care. They are predominantly found in veterinary clinics assisting doctors but may also work in shelters, on dairies or at large animal processing facilities.
“The responsibilities of a vet tech run the gamut from taking blood and x-rays, to putting in catheters and maintaining and monitoring anesthesia and vitals during surgical procedures. Just like a veterinary doctor, they’re familiar with horses, cows, cats, iguanas, etc.,” said Dr. Jody Rockett, a professor in the CSI Veterinary Technology Program and author of Veterinary Clinical Procedures in Large Animal Practice.
In an ideal animal treatment facility, there are three vet techs for every veterinarian. Most states offer one or two veterinary technician programs to help achieve this ratio, but very few specialize in large animal treatment.
“Vet tech curriculums across the country each have their own local flavor,” said Dr. Rockett. “Fortunately, we’re surrounded by rural, ag-based communities, so our students are capable of maintaining horses, cows, goats, alpacas and other livestock and large animals. There are very few programs across the country that do that.”
A hands-on approach to learning
It goes without saying that in order to be proficient in a medical career, hands-on experience is non-negotiable. To provide elite care to animals after completing their coursework, students in the CSI Vet Tech Program must practice their core skills on living, breathing animals. In a state saturated with paw prints, there’s plenty of opportunity to do just that.
“There is no comparison to hands-on coursework,” said Dr. Rockett. “The career field requires a lot of psychomotor skills and through partnerships with the community, we’re able to provide that to our students.”
Community partnerships providing firsthand experience for vet tech students include treating animals at local shelters and performing livestock vaccinations on farms and at processing facilities.
“Once a year the students help me perform blood draws on my Nigerian dwarf goats to monitor herd health and test for CAE (caprine arthritis encephalitis),” said former CSI Vet Tech student Nancy Bohling. “Any additional practice during their coursework is helpful, especially on live animals.”
Shadowing in local veterinary clinics offers another chance for students to learn the ins and outs of their future job, ultimately setting them up for success.
“Having this program in the Magic Valley allows our area veterinarians to meet students and help educate them on the intricacies of our career field,” said Michelle Lewis, a licensed veterinary technician and co-founder of the Magic Valley chapter of the Idaho State Veterinary Technician and Assistants Association. “What a gift it is to have quality expertise in and out of our clinics, helping us all to perform our jobs at the highest standard.”
A growing veterinary community
As is the case in other parts of the country, the Magic Valley faces an ongoing need for accredited veterinary technicians. Between 12-15 students graduate from CSI’s Vet Tech Program each year, and the community college continues to support the program with state-of-the-art equipment, spacious surgery rooms and kennels, treatment stations for dental work, and a large animal facility.
“We educate people so they can do their job well, enjoy what they’re doing and be a part of their community,” Dr. Rockett said. “When you put someone out there who’s not only proficient at their job but also enjoys it, the animals receive a higher quality of care.”
Learn more about the College of Southern Idaho Veterinary Technology Program and enroll in courses at http://www.csi.edu/programs/veterinary-technology