Veterinary schools are nonexistent on Long Island, and until recently, not a single college offered a bachelor’s degree in veterinary technology. That changed last month, when Long Island University Post began offering the degree.
An associate degree is all that’s needed to become a vet technician, but a bachelor’s degree is required to become a vet technologist. And although technicians and technologist learn the same basic skills and can obtain their license to practice after two years of schooling, the pay and opportunities increase for those with a four-year degree. Dr. Robin Sturtz, the director of LIU’s Veterinary Technology Program, said veterinarians prefer those with bachelor’s degrees.
And to work in fields like veterinary pharmaceuticals and nutrition, a bachelor’s is required, too, as it is for those pursuing a career in management.
“A four-year program allows for twice the number of hands-on clinical skills, giving the student more opportunity, including to delve into the ‘why’ of what they’re doing,” said Sturtz, who is also a veterinarian. “Because the student has an extra opportunity in terms of academics, they have an added opportunity to analyze what they’re doing.”
And if something goes wrong, she added, the technologist has the skills to identify the problem and know what to do to fix it.
LIU’s bachelor’s program offers twice as many clinical hours as an associate degree, with 500 hours spent working in clinics and hospitals, in addition to classes in other natural sciences.
And Sturtz is well qualified to lead the program. A 2004 graduate of the University of Georgia’s College of Veterinary Medicine, she also earned a certificate in international veterinary medicine. She is also the president of the Long Island Veterinary Medical Association.
She has been involved in veterinary technology education since 2007, when she became the director of the technology program at LaGuardia Community College, a position she held until 2012. She then became the associate director of the veterinary technology program at Mercy College in Dobbs Ferry, which offers a bachelor’s program, staying until 2016.
Veterinary medicine is Sturtz’s second career. She was a pediatric audiologist for 19 years at what was then North Shore Hospital in Manhasset. She says the two careers have similarities.
“The patient can’t say what’s wrong, and is dependent on a family member,” she said. Then she smiled, and said of both careers, “And they will pee in your lap.”
Veterinary technologists and technicians are important to the industry, providing care to hospitalized patients, and are part of an emergency critical care team. They take X-rays, do lab testing and share counseling on nutrition. They also offer clients their support. “People bond with them,” Sturtz said. “Their biggest role is to help bring the client through the experience at the end of life for an animal.”
Sturtz, who is originally from Brooklyn but now lives in Nassau County, said she believed that the extra schooling of a four-year degree is necessary, because ever-more-complex technology requires more skills. A two-year degree is not enough, she said, and there are plenty of jobs to be found, because there is a shortage of vet technologists in the New York metropolitan area.
Veterinary technology wasn’t a licensed profession until the 1970s, and the field has been populated primarily by women. There is currently one male student in LIU’s program. Sturtz said she believed the program would attract more students, both male and female, once word gets out about it.
Outside Sturtz’s small basement office in LIU’s Life Sciences building, a class was being taught. Instructor Lori Asprea appeared to have the undivided attention of 21 freshmen. After class, still energized from teaching, she stopped by Sturtz’s office.
“It’s very fun to interact with new minds,” Asprea said with a smile. “I’ve worked in the field a long time, and really want to teach them the gold standard from the get-go to be the type of technician I’d want to be with on a daily basis.”
Sturtz said she was looking forward to the addition of a veterinary clinic at the school that will include a dog mannequin. There, students will be able to draw blood, and listen to the “animal’s”
heart and lungs. “We want a student to have critical and analytic thinking skills,” Sturtz explained, “so they can make decisions and think outside the box.”
Katherine Garcia, 19, of Little Ferry, N.J., is majoring in vet technology at LIU. She is also a member of the college’s equestrian team. “I want to go to vet school to learn about horses, and figured, why not start here?” she said, adding that she had originally planned to be a biology major. “I like the labs in this program, because they’re hands-on. We really are learning a lot here.”