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NICC's new Large Animal Veterinary Technician program meeting growing need in industry

By Jean Caspers-Simmet

Date Modified: 04/11/2013 9:12 AM

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CALMAR, Iowa —Northeast Iowa Community College's new Large Animal Veterinary Technician program is unique among vet tech programs, says Chris Harvey, a licensed veterinarian and program director.

Other Iowa vet tech programs are focused on small animals, but Harvey sees the new NICC program meeting a growing need.

"About 10 percent of vet school graduates are interested in large animals," said Harvey. "One of the big reasons is that they don't make a lot of money, it's labor intensive and lots of hours. The demand for large animal vets is growing, but there aren't a lot of people to fill those shoes. This program is a way to develop a person to help that veterinarian cover more territory and still meet the needs of the client. It's trying to help fill the gaps."

Some livestock farms are getting large enough that they need employees with large animal vet tech skills, Harvey said.

"The American Veterinary Medical Association is in charge of all the certifications," Harvey said. "We meet all the small animal requirements, but then we also have large animal requirements, and we go a step farther. We do more than they ask for on the large animal requirements. We try to make sure our students have a broad-based background in livestock."

Merill Guarneri's Critters and Such Pet Care, a full-service veterinary medical facility in Decorah, is where students receive their small animal experience. Harvey is in charge of the large animal end with the Dairy Center herd. To learn about horses, they go to nearby farms. Ten students participate in labs at the small animal clinic and 10 students are in the large animal labs at the Dairy Center. Part way through the semester, they switch. NICC limits its program to 20 students.

The program, which lasts two years including summers, has two internships with the Iowa State University College of Veterinary Medicine. Students spend two weeks at the vet school's diagnostic lab in Ames and another two weeks at the vet college's Swine Medicine Education Center at Audubon.

"The Swine Medicine Education Center at Audubon is very analogous to the Dairy Center here, and the students will rotate through there for their swine training," said. Locke Karriker, director of the ISU center. "Our swine center is a collaboration with a large swine veterinary clinic at Audubon. We'll work with them to get students on farms and exposed to the most modern production systems available."

Harvey, NICC administrators, many area veterinarians and the ISU Veterinary College collaborated in developing the program.

NICC's program had to meet all the AVMA and Iowa Department of Education qualifications before it could operate, Harvey said. Next fall the program will complete a self-evaluation, and in January 2014, the AVMA will conduct a site inspection before granting accreditation.

Susan Van Metre and Kelli Hovey are certified veterinary technicians with the program, and Amy Humpal-Hoscheit, a licensed veterinarian, teaches part-time.

Large Animal Veterinary Technician students Shannon Wood and Emily Deetz, both of Charles City, said that they came to NICC because they specifically wanted to work with large animals.

"I really like the program," Deetz said. "It's very hands on, and we get a lot of experience."

Deetz said her favorite part of the program is working in the necropsy lab.

"We've examined and dissected a horse and a cow," she said. "It's nice to see it in real life instead of just a picture in a book."