Many practices are finding it difficult to hire — and keep — credentialed veterinary technicians. According to results from a 2016 National Association of Veterinary Technicians in America (NAVTA) survey, more than half of veterinary technicians leave the profession within the first five years. We’ve heard the reasons why, too: the life of a veterinary nurse can be rewarding, but it comes with huge drawbacks, too. After surviving a competitive application process and multiple exams and pursuing what is often a childhood dream, why do veterinary nurses quit their jobs and the profession altogether? Sadly for many, it’s due to low pay, lack of career opportunities, compassion fatigue and burnout, lack of respect, and strenuous physical work that eventually takes a toll on the body.
Still, despite all the negative aspects of the profession, a love for animals drives those who succeed and stay in the profession. We wanted to explore the motivations of both of these groups — those who leave the veterinary profession and those who pursue it as a lifelong career — so we polled our Facebook fans and asked whether they were planning to advance or change their career.
The results — 65% said “yes” and 35% said “no” — weren’t surprising. And the question touched a nerve — of the 764 voters, 158 left comments.
Do you have plans to advance/change your career in the next 5 years? Tell us how in the Comments section.
Why Are Veterinary Nurses Leaving the Profession?
Of those who are planning to leave the profession or who have already left, here were some common responses:
“I’m an RVT, VTS currently. Going back to school for nursing now. I don’t want to have to work 50-70-hour weeks to live well, and I want to be utilized for the amount of work I put into myself professionally. So, I’m leaving the field.”
“Been in the field for over 20 years; looking to change careers. I am burned out, exhausted and tired of the BS. I’ve already had one back surgery and have several other bulging discs. Physically, I can’t keep doing this. The pay is terrible, no benefits and now that I recently got divorced, I don’t have a spouse to fall back on — this is a huge problem as I don’t make enough to support myself. So I’m looking to go into another field but I don’t know what.”
“I plan to leave the profession. I have hit the ceiling professionally with three advanced certifications, I am burned out and can’t afford to live. I’m not finding any help. I never imagined doing anything outside of veterinary medicine and this scares me immensely, but I cannot continue where I am at. The profession is doing so much for veterinarians but what about RVTs? Why are clinic-trained and non-licensed technicians treated with as much respect, financial remuneration and duties (dealing with life and death!) as those who have professional schooling and training and licenses? This wouldn’t happen in any other field! I’m angry. I’m hurt. I’m being taken advantage of by my colleagues and the organizations there to support the profession. Never have I been as disappointed in a profession as I am in veterinary medicine.”
Those Seeking Professional Advancement Weigh In
On the positive side, some respondents are pursuing a long-term career and educational opportunities, including those working on earning various VTS specialties. Some representative comments:
“I’m a VTS (Anesthesia and Analgesia) and going back to school to get a Master’s in Education.”
“Finishing my BAS then moving on to my MS in veterinary forensic science. My hope is to eventually become a consultant for other vet nurses and pursue making VFS a specialty.”
“I went back to school and got my bachelor’s and I am still a CVT. I could not imagine doing anything else. In the field for 20 years too.”
“Just obtained my VTS. Now plan on advancing my career by lecturing and writing articles. Advocating for tech utilization. I love my career. It’s been a long, hard journey and I almost left the field, but kept at it.”
And a love of animals was evident in several responses: “Currently an RVT with an associate’s degree, working towards my bachelor’s and taking a trip to study vet medicine abroad in Africa next year. Also will begin volunteering with the Red Cross internationally.”
When Veterinary Nurses Leave the Profession, Practices Suffer
Many practices are finding it difficult to hire — and keep — credentialed veterinary technicians.
“I believe veterinary nurses love what they do, but there are certain needs that are not being met that human beings seek — decent income, respect, recognition, proper utilization of knowledge and skills,” says Kara M. Burns, MS, M.Ed, LVT, VTS (Nutrition), VTS-H (Internal Medicine, Dentistry) and editor-in-chief of Today’s Veterinary Nurse.
According to results from the NAVTA survey of 2,790 participants, about half (51%) said they are very satisfied with their career and will stay in veterinary technology. A quarter of respondents have worked for their current employer for one to three years. Over half (56.7%) had changed their place of employment within the first five years.
The top six most significant problems that face credentialed veterinary technicians, NAVTA’s survey authors found, were low income, burnout, lack of recognition and career advancement, the underutilization of skills, and the competition with on-the-job trained technicians.
A closer look at the reasons why vet techs leave the profession, according to the NAVTA survey:
1) Poor Pay
The survey authors noted that “the poverty line in the United States for a family of four is $24,300. Well-paid veterinary technicians are only slightly above the poverty line, once income taxes are considered.” According to the survey, most technicians work 30 to 40 hours per week (43%) followed by 40 to 50 hours per week (37.6%). Full-time technicians report a salary between $15 and $20 per hour (44%), or $31,200 to $41,600 for an annual salary at 40 hours a week, whereas part-time technicians indicate $14 to $16 per hour (29%), or $14,560 to $16,640 for an annual salary at 20 hours a week.
More than half — 54% — of survey participants said low pay was negatively impacting their job.
One indication of the impact of low pay on the survey participants: 24% have more than one place of employment and 3.1% have more than two places of employment.
2) Compassion Fatigue and Burnout
Survey respondents were asked whether their practice encouraged conversations about compassion fatigue and offered support. Seventy percent of respondents indicated that the topic was discussed;, but only 23% said their practices offered support for those experiencing compassion fatigue. Almost 2% said a fellow co-worker has committed suicide because of compassion fatigue. Forty-one percent said compassion fatigue was negatively impacting their job.
3) Lack of Career Opportunities
According to the survey, 32% of respondents said they would like more CE opportunities, and 23% would like more advanced diagnostic tools to use in the practice.
The survey asked about participants’ training — 55% have an Associate degree, 30% hold a Bachelor’s degree, and 5.6% earned a Master’s, Ph.D, JD or doctorate in veterinary medicine. Nearly 80% were graduates of an AVMA accredited Veterinary Technology program.
4) Lack of Respect
One of the reasons for leaving practice that was cited in the survey was lack of respect from the employer (20%).
An additional issue is in how the veterinary tech field is regulated. There are 39 states that have the profession regulated by the state veterinary medical board, 10 states that are privately credentialed, and 1 state (Utah) without any credentials for veterinary technicians. NAVTA’s national credential initiative (Veterinary Nurse Initiative) would create a standard credentialing requirement, title, and scope of practice for technicians in all 50 states (in addition to changing the term “veterinary technician” to “veterinary nurse”). The designation would replace the current credentials registered veterinary technician (RVT), licensed veterinary technician (LVT), certified veterinary technician (CVT), and licensed veterinary medical technician (LVMT).
The goal is to help pet owners understand what patient-care-credentialed technicians provide.In the states that have guidelines for vet tech credentialing, you can be certified as a veterinary technician. But in some states, you are either a certified veterinary technician or a veterinary assistant.
“The initiative is fighting for the respect, recognition, and reimbursement for veterinary nurses,” says TVN’s Burns. “So NAVTA, as the association representing the profession, has listened and made the decision to move forward.”
NAVTA expects it will take up to 10 years to implement these changes in all 50 states; sadly, for many veterinary technicians, that will be too late.
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