Published by Veterinary Team Brief
October 13, 2015
“If veterinarians knew what veterinary technicians could do, it would blow their minds.” –Jim Hurrell, DVM
Jim Hurrell, DVM,* director of Penn Foster College’s Veterinary Academy, says he has watched veterinary technicians blossom from the first graduating class of 8 in 1963 (from State University of New York, Delhi) to an animal advocate army comprising tens of thousands, many of them specialists. He shares his insights about this rapidly growing profession and the bright future he envisions.
You have been teaching veterinary technicians for nearly 35 years. What are some of the biggest changes you have witnessed in their profession?
The veterinary profession goes back thousands of years. Veterinary technicians have a baby profession that is still growing and evolving. During my first summer as a professor, in 1981, I attended the organizational meeting of the National Association of Veterinary Technicians in America (NAVTA). Gail Wolz, its first president, started the trend of leadership and professionalism among veterinary technicians. I knew her at Michigan State, where she graduated from the veterinary technician program in 1974, the same year I graduated from their veterinary school. We called her “super tech.”
Before there were college-trained veterinary technicians, veterinarians did on-the-job training. The veterinarian hired people, trained them, and paid them cheap. They only knew the skills for that practice. I paid my first technician $4 an hour in 1975. She made such an impact on my practice that I raised her to $5!
Only in the past few years have we been talking in terms of the veterinary health care team. Technicians are vital to good medicine. There has been a tremendous evolution. So many technicians are stepping up in leadership. They’re passing the torch and new leaders are coming up.
How has the education of veterinary technicians changed over the past few decades?
Education is very different from what it was 30 years ago. It used to be about teaching. Now it’s about learning and collaboration more than just listening to the sage from the stage. I’m also the guide from the side, mentoring.
Blended learning—combining face-toface instruction, hands-on coaching, the virtual classroom, and self-paced learning—started happening in the early 2000s. Our program started using discussion boards on Facebook and saw students learning from one another. Technology today allows students to connect with one another 24/7. We now have 3,600 students on our Facebook page.
With the power of online communities, students can learn so much from one another and mentor one another. In my opinion, students online are better than students in the classroom. They learn and retain and apply more. The coolest thing about online discussion forums is that introverted students who would never speak in the classroom will engage in the online forum. Some of the best veterinary technicians are introverted but brilliant.
*Dr. Jim Hurrell is a member of the Veterinary Team Brief Advisory Board.