Colleges to expand program in veterinary technology

Classes will increase

students across Maryland can take courses online

June 24, 1999|By David L. Greene | David L. Greene,SUN STAFF

Carroll Community College wants to fix a problem plaguing Maryland veterinarians -- a shortage of qualified veterinary technicians.

This fall, the college will team with the Community Colleges of Baltimore County to offer a two-year degree in veterinary technology. Residents statewide will be able to obtain the degree by taking courses online.

For more than 20 years, Baltimore County's Essex campus was the state's sole institution offering the degree, and many students, especially in Western Maryland, were unable to attend.

With Essex graduating only about a dozen technicians a year, veterinarians have complained that they are short on experienced help.

State law permits veterinary technicians to perform certain tasks -- such as inducing general anesthesia, extracting teeth and stitching wounds -- that noncertified veterinary assistants are not allowed to do.

According to Irvin Herling, a Fells Point veterinarian who coordinates the Essex program and teaches in it, more than 150 recruiters from veterinary clinics in and outside of Maryland come calling each year, and most are turned down.

Certified technicians, Herling said, add an extra hand and an extra-informed opinion to any clinic.

"I can teach anyone to do motor skills," Herling said. "I can teach anyone to draw blood. Veterinary technicians, when they get a result that looks abnormal, can say, `Something's going on here.' "

The few technicians often take research jobs in the U.S. Department of Agriculture or at universities.

Jim Orrell, a veterinarian at Abbey Animal Hospital in Perry Hall, has tried to hire a technician for several years.

"I could work more effectively and efficiently," he said. "Good registered veterinary technicians are hard to find. They get snarffed up by places like [Johns] Hopkins [Hospital], who can pay them better."

Jeff Welsh, a spokesman at the Maryland Higher Education Commission, said the Carroll-Essex partnership marks the first time two community colleges in the state will offer a joint degree.

Only in-state residents can apply to the new program, but students from the state's farthest reaches can participate because much of the course work is in cyberspace.

Students in Garrett County, for example, could enroll in general education and prerequisite science programs at Garrett Community College. They could then take the clinical veterinary courses -- reading notes from professors and turning in assignments -- over the Internet.

Lab work would be done in a private veterinary clinic close to home.

A student, in two years, would receive an associate of applied sciences degree in veterinary technology from both Carroll and the Community Colleges of Baltimore County and be eligible to take the state certification exam.

The courses will be taught by science faculty at Carroll and Essex. Carroll allocated an additional $35,000 in its budget to create a staff position to coordinate the program.

Judy Coen, chairwoman of mathematics, sciences, health and wellness at Carroll and a professor who will be teaching some of the veterinary courses, said students must be accepted into the program, but that no enrollment limit has been set.

The goal, Coen said, it to produce about as many technicians as there are available jobs.

"One of the worst things would be to drag people into a program like this," she said, "when there is nothing waiting for them."

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