Students with a passion for working with animals are finding their place in the veterinary technology program at Eastern Wyoming College (EWC).
Enrolled students have two options, earning an Associate of Applied Science degree or a veterinary aide certificate.
“Our whole goal is to get (students) licensed in the state, actually pass the VTNE to get their license,” Dr. Colleen Mitchell, veterinary technology department program director at EWC, said. “Vet Tech National Exam is the national test. Once they pass, that allows them to go to any state that they want to and just do an application in that state.”
Mitchell, who has been teaching at EWC since 2014 after a career as a veterinarian in private practice, said the two-year vet tech program requires completion of 74 credit hours both in the classroom and lab as well as three externships for 400 hours at two different veterinary clinics. EWC also offers a vet aide certificate that students can earn in one year by completing 30 credit hours.
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Mitchell said the difference between the two is that a vet aide can work in a clinic or boarding kennel with less clearance for some responsibilities. A licensed vet tech could handle anesthesia or perform surgery assistance for example, while a vet aide could not.
“You have to be a licensed vet tech to give injections in some states,” Mitchell said. “So it varies from state to state for what the requirements are.”
The curriculum covers both large and small animals, throwing in a few exotics when opportunities arise. Mitchell said the majority of hands-on learning is small animals, like dogs and cats, but there are large animal opportunities including extra curriculum offered through the EWC ag programs.
“If students are interested in large animal, we have a couple extra general techniques one and two, they can do for large animal,” she said. “And then they also with the college can take ag classes, like the horseshoeing class is offered through the animal science department. So, since they’re students in the college, they still can take those classes, even though they don’t count for their vet tech degree, but they can get that experience.”
In addition to learning veterinarian practices with dogs, cats and typical large animals, the students take an exotics class and lab. The EWC vet tech department is equipped with vivarium care areas or designated spaces for care and handling of animals that include a typical dog kennel, cat house and large animal facilities as well as rooms specifically designated for birds or rodents. Currently, there is a room with bird species that is home to six birds and another room housing a pair of active white rats, guinea pigs including a hairless variety, and a pair of social, though nocturnal, hamsters. As part of the vet tech program, all students are required to spend time in the vivarium’s practicing animal care.
“We have a vivarium which we have birds and other animals in because that’s what’s going to happen in the clinic they work in,” Mitchell said. “Everybody’s going to do everything so they will have to help out and we want them to know they’re going to be required to do that when they go to most practices. Also with the vivarium, the students get more fulfilled with familiar behavior like what they eat and that type of thing.”
The EWC department works closely with the local shelter to provide animals for students to learn from as well as to place those animals in caring homes per state and USDA requirements.
In addition to vivarium care responsibilities, students have learning time in the classroom and lab time where there will be hands-on learning opportunities.
“They typically will have three hours of lecture and two hours of lab,” Mitchell said. “That’s kind of the average, depending on what class it is, so I would say they spend at least a third of their time doing hands-on.”
Hands-on learning consists of common surgeries such as spay, neuter and tumor removal as well as a vast expanse of laboratory testing skills.
“It’s page after page with the to-do list of lab skills,” Mitchell said. “Like fecal samples, there’s like five different ways that we have to show (students) how to do that.”
At EWC, Mitchell and staff, are proponents of providing every student with the exposure to learn more labor required lab techniques that machines can now do, as well as how to operate older and newer model testing equipment. The department is preparing prospective vet tech students to be ready to fulfill jobs in the most cutting edge practices as well as those that do not have the equipment on-site.
“The machine can give you the information or most of the information,” Mitchell said. “But that technician actually looking at the slide can look for parasites or maybe other things that the machine might not catch. We are really big on teaching them to do the manual ways, as well as knowing how to use the newest machines.”
The program also includes a Vet Tech Club that creates fundraising opportunities throughout the year, like vaccination clinics, cleaning dog parks and dog washes, to earn money to fund student’s tuition or travel to regional veterinary meetings. Mitchell said the focus of the club is to go on furthering education trips and community service.
Alongside Mitchell, Dr. Susan Walker has been teaching in the vet tech program for 21 years and Dr. Monte Stokes, also a veterinarian and head of the ag department, has been at EWC for 20 years.
“I like seeing the students come in, not know a whole lot and then go out and feel really confident in their skills,” Mitchell said.
The EWC program boasts a high success rate for students exiting the program that have taken the VTNE or the national boards. Mitchell said the previous year, eight out of nine students from EWC passed the national exam that has a rough 54% pass rate across the U.S. and Canada.
“I definitely enjoy the teaching part and seeing students’ progress,” Mitchell said. “We average about an 80% pass rate and I am proud of that. Our program is hard but the ones that are successful have no problem passing the national board test and they are getting jobs.”
Nicole Heldt is a reporter with the Star-Herald, covering agriculture. She can be reached at 308-632-9044 or by email at [email protected].