Colleges, animal shelters in Minnesota offer programs to address veterinary tech shortage

Jen Charewicz was determined to be a medical technician, but when she came in for an interview for a training program, she had her dog with her. And a request from the interviewer put her down another path: veterinary technician.

“Some people go in all day thinking it’s just puppies and kittens,” Charewicz said. “But it’s that aspect of helping, caring, helping, getting better, helping [with] the connection between an owner and his animal.”

Charewicz, who has been a veterinarian with the Animal Humane Society for 10 years, began her education at the now-defunct Argosy University and finished with the Animal Humane Society. The nonprofit animal welfare organization has launched programs in recent years to prepare more vet techs to fill a staffing shortage as Minnesotans face long waits to bring their pandemic pets to care.

In the state of Minnesota, veterinary technicians are not required by law to be certified. This opens the door to programs like the non-accredited options offered by the Animal Humane Society, where students can learn veterinary skills through supervised hands-on experience rather than having to pay for tuition and their certification.

dr Sara Lewis, senior shelter veterinarian at the Animal Humane Society, said understanding the “why” of veterinary procedures is a big focus in their educational programs.

Some argue that a certification requirement would help animal technicians who attend school in traditional programs earn more money and have more stable jobs.

At least one recent report by Mars Veterinary Health found that tens of thousands of board-certified veterinarians are needed across the country.

dr Kim Rowley, a veterinarian and program manager in the Veterinary Technology Department at Rochester Community and Technical College (RCTC), says the whole country needs more veterinary technicians and veterinarians, but the economy has discouraged people from pursuing these careers. And despite the increasing need for veterinarians, she hasn’t seen a noticeable increase in applicants to the program at the RCTC.

“Unfortunately, depending on where they practice, vet techs don’t get paid very well,” Rowley said. “And right now the economy is such that people can graduate high school and get a job at Costco where they make like $20 an hour, or they can go to school for two years, make little more than that and have to pay off their loans.”

Charewicz of the Animal Humane Society in Golden Valley is also pushing for more veterinary education through an online program. She said she enjoys the flexibility of being able to work and continue studying at the same time.

Dave Burklund, Chavewicz’s colleague at Golden Valley, was a board-certified vet who worked in private practice before his certification expired when he took time off to remain a father. When he wanted to work with animals again, the Humane Society program was more attractive than paying for recertification.

“Here you’re actually on the job during your training,” says Burklund. “Certainly you have classes or a coach to help you with the skills, but you stamp in, it’s your job.”

At the end of the day, Lewis said both accredited programs and the Animal Humane Society’s programs address the need for more veterinary staff across the state.

“I hope we can all understand that we are in this together and that we are really trying to educate individuals so that when they go out they are fully informed and have the skills that can benefit our community,” Lewis said. “The more knowledgeable staff we have to tend to the animals that don’t necessarily have someone else to look after them, the better.”