Glen Wright, DVM, FAMU vet tech program director, talks about success in recruiting and retaining students.
Veterinary technologists are essential to the art and science of animal health, as they provide necessary medical and clinical support to veterinarians and have a significant impact in animal health, research, bio-defense, and food safety.
The mission of the veterinary technology (vet tech) program at Florida A&M University is to educate students to become excellent veterinary technologists through exceptional academic and practical/technical training. One of only 23 in the nation that offer a four-year degree in the area of veterinary technology, FAMU’s vet tech program places emphasis on regulatory education and training that prepares students to pursue a multitude of careers in the veterinary field.
At the FAMU Animal Complex in Quincy, students learn and apply veterinary terms and concepts, professional skills, and ethical behavior under the guidance of FAMU’s licensed veterinarians and technologists. The complex houses small ruminant, swine, and equine species for use in teaching, research, and extension, and it has a kennel unit capable of housing dogs and cats. FAMU’s vet tech program is accredited by the American Veterinary Medical Association which enables graduates to take the national certification examination.
Recently, CAFS communications met with Glen Wright, DVM, FAMU vet tech program director, to talk about the team’s success in recruiting and retaining students. Following are excerpts from the March 2021 interview:
What are you most proud about this school year about the vet tech program?
Let’s say the elephant in the room is COVID, right? My faculty, staff, and I – collectively, we talked and came to an agreement that we had to try to be “in person” as much as possible, or the program could not survive and function the way that it should. So, we adopted almost a hybrid model, with our lecture didactic classes, which were remote. And as soon as we were allowed to, we had labs in person. I’m just proud of the fact that our faculty and staff were all on board with trying to make the program function as well as possible and still meet our required standards for accreditation, and in-person learning skills acquisition.
What are some of the things students learn when they’re in the lab, with hands-on experience?
We start off with simple things, like proper restraint in handling, how to properly get an animal out of the cage, how to properly put on a leash and collar, how to safely restrain animals – so that none of the team members are bitten or scratched, and those types of things. Safety. Absolutely, safety first. And then we progress to physical exams, normal animal wellness, normal vitals, heart rates, respiratory rates, all of those things. Then we progress to some of the more technical things, like blood draws and diagnostics, x-rays, anesthesia, and all of those types of things. You don’t want a new student to come in and just throw a needle into their hands and say, “go get blood from that dog.” We test their skills, build their skills, following certain progressive levels… their comfort level grows as well.
With our soon-to-be graduates, we’re doing anesthesia right now. Some of them had no clinical experience at all. And this is how it happens at veterinary school, too. When you throw students with no clinical experience into clinical situations, they have no idea what to do. So, it makes us rethink how we want to administer the program. You really, truly want to require clinical hours, each semester of the program; so that when you get to the end, you have hundreds of hours.
Every semester… every year, we reevaluate what we’re doing. And we’re trying to make the program better every single time, every single year, every semester.” In Spring 2021, we have eight graduates. These students are graduating; they’re ready. This is the largest group that we’ve had graduate. We should have at least four more in the summertime, too.
That’s exciting. And are they going on to vet veterinary school or going straight into practice?
Nope. We purposely designed (our program) to not be the conduit to vet school. Our students are trained to be better at diagnosis, which in the profession is a veterinary nurse. It’s more descriptive of what they do. We’re training students for a career as a veterinary nurse or veterinary technician. Most of our students are probably going to go straight from school to work in a clinic. However, we do put an emphasis on non-traditional careers, and that would include: government work, research, pharmaceutical sales, pet food companies – all of those types of things that are either non-clinical or non-traditional. And we absolutely want to emphasize that those careers are out there and are available.
What do you attribute to the success of recruiting and retaining students in the vet tech program?
Early recruiting (included) a lot of groundwork, visiting high schools. We have expanded our recruiting range and targeted it. At the same time, we have to acknowledge some of that early work where our name was being put out there, right into high schools and community colleges within the state. And as time has gone along, I think our students are helping to recruit for us. Graduates are out there. Every student that comes through here has to work in a clinic. We’ve gone to uniforms, and they see our students out there. So there’s branding going on.
We also have collaboration with local hospitals and animal shelters. The more we’re out in the community, the more notoriety we get. And as the students, come through, we get a little bit more recruiting in social media.
Pre-COVID, 40 percent of our courses were at the farm. So, in the curriculum, 60 percent was on campus, 40 percent on the farm. And I think a lot of them, once they get to the farm and start doing animal stuff, they are engaged in the hands on activities. I think that contributes a lot to the retention of the students. They get here, and they want to finish. They want to be involved, and they want to stay involved.
What’s been the biggest challenge over the last year? Was it not being able to have classes in person?
I don’t think that’s the biggest challenge, because once they’re here, they’re engaged in it, and they want to be here. Once the students get here, we talk about risk, and they accept the risk. We go over what we’re supposed to do: masks, social distance… all of that. Them being here, really, that’s the easy part. The challenge is getting them to pay attention on Zoom classes. That’s the biggest challenge! If there were 10 people here, my camera’s off, and I’m doing the work… I’m paying attention. But I’m doing other stuff too, and I think they kind of do that as well. When they do that, they think that they are picking up (information), but they’re not.
What do you enjoy most about working with students and teaching at FAMU?
I enjoy their excitement when they have discovered something in them, when they find out what they think they want to do, or they discover a new career path. Those are the best things. I enjoy the energy, when they are here at the farm. There’s a different energy when the students are here versus when the students are not. I enjoy the energy that the students bring with them. The ones that truly have a love for the animals.
What would you advise students who are not sure what they want to do, but they know that they love animals?
I would say that there are so many opportunities in the animal, veterinary field. I think the mistake that a lot of students make, at least early on, is thinking that becoming a veterinarian is the only thing that you can do. There are so many other things in the animal field that can be pursued. I think that trying to explore those options as early as possible is a good thing.
For example, there was a young lady in vet tech who didn’t want to go to vet school. We discussed doing pre-vet versus vet tech. She decided to do vet tech and also try to pursue vet school. She got into clinic and started doing clinicals, and she came to talk to me and said, “Oh, this is like, really bad.”
I said, “no, this might be the best thing that has ever happened to you… You now get to not waste time and money pursuing something that you don’t want to do.” She’s still on track. She just wants to research, not be in a clinic. That’s totally okay. She loves animals and also likes to research. She has multiple applications to graduate school.
What kind of organizations, clubs or groups would you recommend a student join, to experience more professional growth, while they’re in school?
Particularly, while they’re in school, we do have a vet tech club. We also have an animal science club, with which there’s some overlap. They are distinctly different clubs, but they do some things together.
Minorities in Agriculture, Natural Resources and Related Sciences (MANRRS) has always been a good thing for our students, in learning about opportunity, a place to build their oratorical skills, research, and connect with different employers. We encourage our vet tech students to become a part of the state association – that’s the Florida Veterinary Technician Association – that helps keep them abreast of all of the activities and opportunities.
As you revisit the program and look at how to improve it, what are you focusing on?
I want to do more collaborative things with other institutions. Whether that be on the undergraduate level or the College of Veterinary Medicine level, for the technician side of the profession. With schools that have colleges of veterinary medicine and schools that have veterinary technology programs – I want to develop internships, more opportunities for our students to go and experience veterinary medicine at other places.
For example, pre-COVID, the University of Florida (UF) had a technician shadowing program. The student could schedule to shadow for a day, in any of the specialty services at UF. Over the Christmas break of 2019, we had five students go there and experience multiple services. It was great for them to go and see the hospital.
We’re currently working with the University of Minnesota. We have a collaboration with them for pre-vet students. I also want to get something for the technician students. In certain states, credentialing is required for technicians to do certain things, and in other places credentialing is not required. A lot of the colleges of veterinary medicine, as leaders in their field, want to staff their hospitals with credentialed technicians – formally trained, passed-the-national-exam, certified technicians. So, if we can get our students in the door to these places with internships, this can almost guarantee their employment after they pass their national exam.
Where Are Some of FAMU’s Vet Tech Graduates Now? *
Sachem Crafton – Novey Animal Hospital
Celia Garthwait – Capital Veterinary Specialists
Rachel Graham – State of Florida (Non-animal)
Travares Heath, DMV– Cy-Fair Animal Hospital (Veterinarian)
Keyana Johnson – Novey Animal Hospital
Ajiona Lunsford – VCA Veterinary Care Specialty and Referral Center Albuquerque, N.M.
Kayla Mckethan – Beringer Ingelheim (Top 20 global, pharmaceutical company)
Emily Nolen – FAMU Extension
Krystle Rivera – Birmingham Zoo
Hieu Tran – Jacksonville Animal Shelter
Shearvaris Winn – Jacksonville Community Pet Clinic
*this list does not include 2021 graduates.
For more information on the FAMU Vet Tech Program, CONTACT: Glen Wright, DVM, director of veterinary technology, E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, Phone: (850) 599-8433.