Dr. Boatright is a 2013 graduate of the University of Pennsylvania. She currently works as a small animal general practitioner and emergency clinician in western Pennsylvania at NVA Butler Veterinary Associates and Emergency Center. Her clinical interests include feline medicine, surgery, internal medicine, and emergency. As a freelance writer and speaker, Dr. Boatright enjoys educating veterinary students and colleagues about communication, team building, and the unique challenges facing recent graduates. Outside of the clinic, she is active in her state and local VMAs and serves on the VBMA Alumni Committee. In her spare time, she enjoys running and spending time with her husband, son, and three cats.Read Articles Written by Kate Boatright
The National Association of Veterinary Technicians in America (NAVTA) released the results of its most recent demographics survey earlier this year,1 aiming to provide up-to-date information about demographics, economics, personal wellbeing, job satisfaction, and challenges faced by credentialed veterinary technicians (CrVTs). The survey, last performed in 2016, usually takes place every 5 years, but was delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. As CrVTs play a critical role in the veterinary team and patient care, it is important for veterinarians to understand the findings and how we can best support our colleagues going forward. Key findings from the latest survey, conducted in January through March 2022, are discussed below.
Finding: Compensation Is Improved but Remains a Problem
The survey revealed a 25% increase in the computed average annual salary since the 2016 survey ($52 000 in 2022 compared to $41 600 in 2016).1 This number is calculated based on the average number of hours worked per week (37.5) and average pay per hour ($26.50). “I’m certainly seeing this [pay increase] with our graduates,” said Kathy Koar, MSEd, CVT, director of veterinary nursing at Harcum College in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. “In our geographic area, it’s more.” She said increased compensation is allowing graduates of veterinary nursing programs to complete school and start “grown-up lives with only one job.”
However, this increase is not profession-wide, especially in more rural areas. Ashli Selke, RVT, CVT, immediate past president of NAVTA, who is based in the Midwest, said, “The average technician I see does not make that.” She shared that the results on compensation were “what our data told us, but we thought it could be a bit skewed.” While the survey was distributed to all NAVTA members and promoted on social media, most survey respondents were attendees at 1 of 2 major national conferences (WVC or VMX). According to Selke, it’s important to ask, “Who are the technicians who are able to go to these conventions?” She hypothesizes that the veterinary nurses/technicians who have the means to attend national conventions are likely in jobs with higher pay and noted an increase in veterinary nurses/technicians employed in research (who have the highest hourly pay) responding this year.
Despite the increase in compensation, low salary is still viewed as the most challenging aspect of the job, with 39% of respondents ranking this both the top challenge currently and the top projected issue for the next 5 years.1 One in 3 CrVTs maintains a second job, often full time,1 suggesting that they need additional income to support themselves and/or their families.
Finding: Mental Health and Wellness Remain Major Concerns
Similar to the 2016 results, the “high volume of colleagues experiencing compassion fatigue” is considered the second biggest problem for the profession in the next 5 years.1 “It’s a very worthy job, but it gets hard,” acknowledged Selke. Despite the fact that the number of practices discussing compassion fatigue has doubled since 2016, 65% of respondents reported experiencing compassion fatigue, and 70% reported professional burnout.1 These findings are in line with the results of the Merck Animal Health Veterinary Wellbeing Study III, which found higher levels of burnout and psychological distress in support staff than veterinarians, though it did not distinguish CrVTs from unlicensed individuals.2
“One of the most compelling [results] to me was that 1 in 3 veterinary technicians knows someone [in the veterinary profession] who died by suicide,” said Selke. Koar calls this a “heartbreaking statistic.” An even larger number (61%) of respondents reported concern about someone in the veterinary community dying by suicide.1
“I think we’re trying really hard,” said Koar, noting that both veterinary schools and veterinary technician/nursing programs are openly discussing wellbeing and mental health issues, including coping skills and where information and help can be found. However, it is clear that efforts to support mental health at the clinic, school, and profession-wide level must continue if we are to see improvement by the next demographics survey.
Finding: Establishing a National Credentialing Standard and Title Protection Is a Priority
The third biggest challenge of the job was listed as lack of title protection. In many practices, the title “veterinary technician” is used to refer to both licensed and unlicensed individuals. Title protection would limit the use of “veterinary technician” to licensed individuals. Selke notes that the challenges around compensation and title protection are closely linked: “If there’s not title protection, we can’t differentiate ourselves from veterinary assistants,” she said. Currently, 31 states have no title protection for CrVTs, and 12 of those states do not define veterinary technician in their practice act.3
The Veterinary Nurse Initiative (VNI) was created by NAVTA in 2016 with several goals, including uniting CrVTs under a unified national title with standardized credentialing requirements and title protection. In the 2022 demographics survey, 83% of respondents indicated a national title is important and 87% felt title protection was important.1 Koar believes the top issue “at a national level is the lack of standardization.” She notes it is a complex issue with rapid legislative changes. “There’s so much going on everywhere,” she said. “We really need to study every single bill to understand what they entail.” When it comes to a standardized title, the number of CrVTs who prefer the term “veterinary nurse” has increased dramatically from 2016. The term is now preferred by 85% of respondents.1 Currently, CrVTs can be denoted by 1 of 4 different credentials depending on the state where they are licensed: CVT, RVT, LVT, and LVMT. “It would be more valuable to the public to be unified under 1 credential,” said Selke.
Finding: Other Challenges Faced by CrVTs Include Staff Retention and Underutilization
Staff turnover was ranked the second most challenging aspect of the job currently.1 Turnover is multifactorial and influenced by concerns around salary and benefits, mental health, proper utilization, and lack of title protection. While turnover affects clinics at the individual level, there is a retention problem in the profession altogether. “I can think of 10 people off the top of my head who were amazing credentialed technicians,” Selke shared, “and they’ve left to go to human nursing because they can’t find that balance or that pay to support their family.”
One strategy to improve retention is better utilization of CrVTs. Only 40% of respondents felt they were fully utilized.1 Major factors that CrVTs viewed as barriers to utilization included lack of trust or confidence in the CrVT skillset by the clinicians, training uncredentialed staff to do the same tasks as CrVTs, and not allowing CrVTs to perform the tasks they are trained for due to perceived control issues.1 “We want to help veterinarians,” Selke stressed. “We don’t want them to be burned out. We want to free them up.”
Koar noted, “We need to be emphasizing how important an education from an AVMA-accredited program is and what is involved and included in that education.” For most states, graduation from an AVMA-accredited program is required for licensing. Both Selke and Koar emphasized that to fully utilize CrVTs, veterinarians must know their practice act and the scope of practice for CrVTs.
How Veterinarians Can Support Their CrVT Colleagues
While efforts around title protection and standardized credentialing require advocacy and legislative changes at the state and national level, veterinarians can help support their CrVT colleagues locally. Selke and Koar suggest the following ways for practices and individual veterinarians to support CrVTs in the clinic:
- Use appropriate titles, reserving the term “veterinary technician” for those with credentials.
- Know the practice act and scope of practice for your state and let your CrVTs perform at their highest level.
- Share business data with CrVTs when discussing compensation packages.
- Invite CrVTs’ opinions into practice protocol development and other decisions.
- Offer student debt relief or assistance as part of a benefits package.
Supporting the CrVTs in your clinic will help them to achieve their professional goals and take a step toward profession-wide improvements in utilization, mental health, compensation, and title protection. Selke reminds veterinarians that “We went to school to try to elevate ourselves and practice with veterinarians.”
- National Association of Veterinary Technicians in America. NAVTA 2022 Demographics Survey Results: Pay and Education Have Increased; Burnout and Debt are Still Issues. February 13, 2023. Accessed April 1, 2023. https://drive.google.com/file/d/11pmYzIouybfL55YsduRbaZ1TtMD1i2DB/view
- Volk JO, Schimmack U, Strand EB, et al. Executive summary of the Merck Animal Health -Veterinarian Wellbeing Study III and Veterinary Support Staff Study. JAVMA. 2022;260(12):1547-1553. https://doi.org/10.2460/javma.22.03.0134
- National Association of Veterinary Technicians in America. NAVTA Survey and Report Confirm:
Title Protection for “Veterinary Technician” Is Needed and Desired, But Absent and Misunderstood in
Most States. Accessed April 16, 2023. https://drive.google.com/file/d/1o2g1-WckMsfpaigazgnz7YpKe1YP8k-y/view
- Fanning J, Shepherd AJ. Contribution of veterinary technicians to veterinary business revenue, 2007. JAVMA. 2010;236(8):846. https://doi.org/10.2460/javma.236.8.846