New London veterinarian continues push to pass a veterinary technician licensure bill
Dr. Allen Balay, an award-winning veterinarian from New London, believes a licensing process would raise quality of animal care and hopefully keep technicians in the career field.
Editor's Note: Story updated to correct the organization that would do the licensing. It is the Board of Veterinary Medicine.
WILLMAR — The students enrolled in the veterinary technology program at Ridgewater College in Willmar are passionate about animals and work hard to successfully complete the rigorous coursework set to them.
"I want to be around animals; I don't see myself in any other profession," said Sydney Offerdahl, a second-year vet tech student at Ridgewater .
So it can be a bit demoralizing to know the state of Minnesota doesn't acknowledge that hard work by requiring veterinary technicians to be licensed by the Minnesota Board of Veterinary Medicine . It can be especially galling when you consider the state requires a license to cut hair.
"You want to be recognized for how much work you did for school," said Raya Peterson, a second-year vet tech student at Ridgewater.
Minnesota is one of only 10 states that doesn't regulate its veterinary technicians. The Minnesota Veterinary Medical Association does offer a voluntary certification process for vet tech graduates, but there is no mandated requirements that veterinary technicians must complete or meet to be able to practice.
"Veterinarians can hire virtually anybody off the street and call them veterinary technicians," whether they've gone through the schooling or not, said Dr. Allen Balay .
Balay, an award-winning veterinarian from New London, is the president of the MVMA Veterinary Technician Committee , and has been working to help establish a state license for veterinary technicians since he moved to Minnesota in 1995. The quest will require legislation to be passed by the Minnesota Legislature and signed by the governor.
"This is coming from veterinarians and veterinary technicians," Balay said. "Veterinarians believe this is the right thing to do."
Amending the law
The MVMA is proposing to amend the Minnesota Veterinary Practice Act . The changes would include adding a definition for veterinary technician into the statute and requiring that only persons who are licensed by the Minnesota Board of Veterinary Medicine would carry the title of veterinary technician. All other unlicensed workers in a vet clinic would be considered veterinary assistants.
"The public assumes that the person must be competent, must be qualified and had the education," and the proposed law would make that assumption correct, Balay said.
To become a licensed veterinary technician, an individual will need to graduate from an American Veterinary Medical Association accredited program, pass the National Veterinary Technician Examination, pass an open book jurisprudence exam and pass a criminal background check. To renew the license, a veterinary technician would need to obtain at least 15 hours of continuing education credits every two years.
"It is not easy, but it is fun," said Katrina Dummer, a second-year student at Ridgewater, about going through the vet tech program. "It's not just playing with puppies and kittens."
The bill would include a grandfather clause, allowing all current certified veterinary technicians to apply to be licensed, as long as they are practicing, performed at least 4,160 hours of experience (within the previous five years) and have a letter of recommendation from a licensed veterinarian stating their competency. After the grandfather clause expires, anyone wanting to be a veterinary technician in Minnesota would need to go through the licensure process.
Veterinary technicians do much of the behind-the-scenes work at veterinary clinics. A vet tech often administers medication, cares for the animals and acts as an assistant during surgery — including working as the anesthetist. Having the state license veterinary technicians would mean owners could feel comfortable knowing the people helping care for their beloved pet or keeping animals in the food chain healthy are trained to do so.
"It is really hard to ensure the best care for your animal when you don't know who is taking care of them," said Abigail Ronkainen, a second-year vet tech student. "When you walk into a vet clinic, you don't know if the tech went to school. You don't know what they know."
A licensed veterinary technician would need to successfully complete a college program and take 15 hours of continuing education credits every two years. This means they would remain up-to-date on the latest medications, treatments and illnesses, including infectious illnesses, such as canine parvovirus or zoonotic diseases, that can jump from animals to humans or between different species of animals. A licensed veterinary technician would also have training in how to deal with animals coming in with infectious diseases and other emergencies.
"We would hopefully know what to do," Dummer said.
In the next decade, a large shortage of veterinarians is expected to hit the United States, as the baby boomers continue to retire. It will be especially noticeable in care for large animals, such as horses, cows and pigs.
"We are on the cusp of a big shortage of veterinarians. We are expecting a shortage of 10,000 to 15,000 vets by 2030," Balay said. "There are not going to be enough veterinarians to take care of our food supply."
Having a licensed veterinary technician could help with that crushing workload, as techs would be able to do more at the vet's office without the veterinarian having to directly supervise. As long as the veterinarian was available by phone, the veterinary technician could get an animal ready for surgery or start treatment for an illness or injury. It could save time and allow veterinarians to do more and see more animals in a day.
Passing the law
The journey to get a veterinary technician license law passed in St. Paul has been a long one and, as of yet, not successful.
Balay and the MVMA committee were able to get a bill introduced in the House and Senate in 2021, but it never got a committee hearing. This year they are trying again and have reintroduced the bill, HF 1037 .
Over the last few months, proponents of the bill, including Balay, have been meeting with Minnesota legislators from both parties, hoping to grow support. Veterinary health matters must go through not only the Health and Human Services Committee of both the House and Senate but the Agriculture Committee as well.
"We've got to prepare. It is very fluid and dynamic right now," Balay said.
There has been an effort to get more stakeholder support as well. The American Veterinary Medical Association and the National Association of Veterinary Technicians in America have signed letters of support. Balay continues to think up ways to spread the word and encourage people to contact their state representatives and senators in support of the measure.
"If you get enough contact from constituents saying this is a good thing, legislators can be impacted on," Balay said.