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Veterinary technicians serve a variety of functions in a veterinary practice. They work to assist veterinarians in the same capacity that a nurse might serve a doctor. They also may perform basic housekeeping and receptionist duties.
The only things within a practice that veterinary technicians are not able to do according to the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) and the American Association of Veterinary State Boards (AAVSB) are prescribe medication, diagnose conditions, give a prognosis for conditions, and perform surgeries.
The field of veterinary medicine did not originally include trained veterinary technicians. The veterinarian would often practice alone with the help of a layperson to cover receptionist, housekeeping, and basic nursing duties. The profession of veterinary technician did not begin to take shape until the 1950's. In 1951, the United States Air Force developed the first official animal technician training program for enlisted Air Force members.
In 1961, the State University of New York at Delhi established the first animal technician training program for civilians. In 1963, 8 students received their associates degree of applied science from this program, the first of its kind from an institution of higher learning.
In 1965 Dr. Walter E. Collins, DVM, received federal funding to create a model of study for use in the training of veterinary technicians. Spending seven years on the project, Dr. Collins is often honored with the title of "father of veterinary technology".
It was during this time that the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) decided not to support this new and growing movement, and ruled that the adjective "veterinary" should not be applied to technicians or assistants, instead deciding to reserve the adjective for use by doctors of veterinary medicine exclusively. They also ruled that the AVMA would not approve instructional programs for anything less that veterinarians.
1967 - 1968
During the year 1967, the AVMA revoked its decision to have no part in regulating the education and training of veterinary technicians. The AMVA council on education began establishing criteria for animal technician training programs. The judicial program of the AVMA began developing the moral, ethical, and legal guidelines associated with the training of these technicians. Still, they would not refer to the trainees and workers by the name "veterinary technicians".
During the 1970's, many institutions of higher learning chose to implement animal technician training programs. In 1972, the first national continuing education meeting for animal technicians was held at the Western States Veterinary Conference in Nevada. It was during this conference that the AVMA decided to accredit training programs for animal technicians.
The first two programs to be accredited by the AVMA were Michigan State University and Nebraska College of Technical Agriculture in 1973. Still, there was no formal registration or licensing procedures for graduates of these programs. The regulation of knowledge learned and proof that it could be applied was non-existent.
In 1977, the first written state examination for licensure as an animal technician was administered in New York State.
1980's to 2000's
In 1989 the AVMA House of Delegates finally approved the use of the term "veterinary technician" to replace the term "animal technician".
The 1990's was a time of change for the field of veterinary technology, with much restructuring of training, licensing, and trade organizations due in part to the wider acceptance of the need for veterinary technicians.
The new millennium brought about a surge of interest in the field of veterinary technology. The number of AVMA accredited programs in the United States surged to 144 in the year 2007.