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Davis-based veterinary tech school meets need

By August 2, 2009

Special to The Enterprise

Two local veterinary educators have found a way to help animals, people and the economy all at once.

Veterinarian Al Aldrete of Davis and Alex Henderson, a registered veterinary technician of Dixon, in 2006 founded a school that trains veterinary assistants to become RVTs. There are plenty of veterinary assistants, but not enough registered techs authorized to perform certain medical procedures and operate technical equipment independent of a veterinarianÕs supervision. If a veterinarian doesnÕt have enough registered technicians, they must do the work themselves or risk losing their license.

Veterinarians outnumber veterinary technicians, two-to-one. Veterinary Allied Staff Education fills this need while helping veterinary assistants boost their career and earn a higher income. Published reports say an average unlicensed technician earns about $23,800, while a licensed one earns about $36,200 annually.

VASE first opened in Sacramento and has since expanded to offer classes in Fresno, San Diego and La Mesa.

The 17-week course is accepted by the California Veterinary Medical Board under the California Alternate Route program. The alternate route means the student completes a required number of hours working under the supervision of a veterinarian who certifies they are competent in specific clinical competencies.

The VASE curriculum rounds out the requirements to sit for a state registered veterinary technician licensure exam by offering students the academic portion of the training. Since the school opened, more than 100 students have completed the curriculum with a state exam passage rate of more than 95 percent.

Aldrete, former chairman of the California Veterinary Medical Board, is a retired veterinarian and former instructor at the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine. Henderson is a retired registered veterinary technician. TheyÕve known each other since they were pre-vet students at San Diego City College in 1961.

Henderson helped start the vet tech training program at Western Career College in Sacramento, and ran it for 20 years. Aldrete was a program adviser there for 13 years, and taught some of the classes.

While private veterinary technician programs can cost as much as $27,000, VASEÕs price for the alternate route academic curriculum is $4,000, all-inclusive. Plus, its schedule is attractive to those who canÕt afford to quit their jobs to get the training. While community colleges can offer the training for less, it takes at least two years to complete, and not all of the classes are available at night.

VASE is a 17-week program, with classes from 6 to 10 p.m., Mondays through Thursdays. It prepares students to take the state exam for certification by the California Veterinary Medical Board. The program, based in Davis, rents classroom space locally at 1111 Howe Ave. in Sacramento.

ÒWe try to minimize the cost to keep it affordable for the students,Ó Aldrete said.

Emily Gould was one of the first VASE students when the program began in Sacramento. Today, the 24-year-old not only has an RVT license, sheÕs a first-year veterinary medicine student at UCD.

ÒThe biggest advantage to the course was being able to complete in four months what takes most other programs two years,Ó she said. ÒItÕs taught at a pace meant for people with experience in the field.Ó

Kathy Burns, 51, said itÕs difficult to fit in school when youÕre working full-time and have a family. The VASE format makes it convenient.

ÒTo be able to do it in 17 weeks is awesome,Ó she said. ÒI recommend this for anyone who has constraints with their time.Ó

The demand for the program is increasing, even in the tight economy. Vet assistants want a convenient, inexpensive way to advance their career. Aldrete and Henderson hope to offer the program in more communities, and are getting requests from people in Marin and San Luis Obispo counties.

Veterinarian Jon Klingborg who practices in Merced, said, ÒOur employee who took the VASE course began asking more detailed questions and demonstrating she understood the reason why she was doing the tasks. My confidence in her has grown and now that she has passed the exam, she is being rewarded through new career options and increased compensation.Ó

Department of Labor statistics show the number of veterinary technician jobs is expected to increase 41 percent by 2016. For every technician graduating from an accredited program, there are six to eight jobs available.

The average VASE student has about five years of experience as a veterinary assistant. Often they think they can pass the board exam on their own but soon Òrealize they must know so much more to be successful on the exam,Ó Henderson said.

ÒThey know the mechanics of the task, but not the medical reason. We teach them the ÔwhysÕ of what they are doing so they will be better in their jobs and the care they provide the animals will be better.Ó

Gould agreed: ÒThere are so many things that you do every day as a technician because you know you are supposed to, but you donÕt really know why. VASE was awesome because it showed us why we do a lot of the things we do every day in the veterinary field, and how that relates to the animal’s medical status.Ó

The classes are taught by veterinarians and RVTs, with a maximum of 20 students. Since students are working and donÕt have much time left for studying, the program relies on repetition to build knowledge and understanding. It teaches concepts instead of memorization.

What they learn is applied immediately when they return to work the next day.

ÒThatÕs how you learn,Ó Aldrete said. ÒThis is basically giving them the science behind what they are doing at work.Ó

Burns, an office manager at a Stockton vet hospital, said an RVT license brought with it a new degree of respect Ñ at work and at home.

ÒI am very proud of what I did. Even my little grandson sent me flowers,Ó Burns said.

Sessions begin each year in August and January. Call (888) 499-8273 or go to http://www.vetstaff-edu.com for more information.

Wendy Weitzel

Wendy Weitzel

Wendy Weitzel is a longtime journalist and Davis resident. She is a former managing editor of The Davis Enterprise, working there from 1998-2008. She has written her Comings & Goings business column since 2001. Today, she does freelance writing, editing, marketing and design.
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