Two students from NCTA’s vet tech program in Curtis examine a dog. The nationally recognized program will offer classes in Omaha next year. Courtesy Photo
A branch of the animal health care and education scene will be extending from Curtis to Omaha next year thanks to visionaries seeing a need for more licensed veterinary technicians in the Cornhusker State.
“There are many scenarios where licensed vet techs are the individuals trained and responsible for animal well-being,” says Glenn Jackson, DVM, PhD, and director of Nebraska’s newest Veterinary Technology Systems-Comparative Medicine option, based in Omaha.
“Opportunities are many, right here in Nebraska, for educated individuals to care for animals in facilities used for teaching, research, animal science and production agriculture,” says Dr. Jackson, who joined the faculty at the University of Nebraska – Nebraska College of Technical Agriculture (NCTA) at Curtis in 2012.
In Fall 2014, Dr. Jackson and other NCTA faculty will be teaching the core NCTA Veterinary Technician (Vet Tech) curriculum plus more customized classes, to the first students in the new program to be delivered at the University of Nebraska Medical Center (UNMC) campus in Omaha.
When Tim Berkebile, an incoming senior at Johnson County Central Public School in Tecumseh, heard about Comparative Medicine for vet techs, he was intrigued.
“I’ve always been good with the science stuff and have an interest in medicine,” Berkebile said. “I like working with animals and have experience with large animals, too, so it should be a good program for me.”
To prepare for college, Berkebile landed a summer job at the Tecumseh Animal Clinic. As an NCTA vet tech student studying in Omaha, he hopes to work with Henry Doorly Zoo in Omaha or the Council Bluffs Animal Shelter, two of the potential partners with NCTA.
Facility space at UNMC is under renovation for the NCTA program and will house small animals – mainly rodents, rabbits, cats and dogs. Hands-on education with larger animals will occur at the UNL’s farm and feedlot near Mead, Nebraska, and also with facilities near Lincoln and Omaha, Jackson said.
The two-year ( 76 credits) training program will provide an Associate of Applied Science degree in Veterinary Technology, and will prepare students to take the Veterinary Technician National Exam to become a licensed veterinary technician, as well as certification exams to become an Assistant Laboratory Animal Technician or a full Laboratory Animal Technician.
The Vet Tech option can transfer to the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s Bachelor of Science degree program majoring in Veterinary Technology.
What exactly is “comparative medicine?”
A prime example is insulin for regulating diabetes, notes Dr. Jackson. In studying the pancreas of dogs and how insulin could regulate blood sugar, researchers then took those solutions into human health.
“Comparative medicine is studying physiology in animals,” Jackson says. Other examples include findings from cardiovascular research. There’s the heart valve taken from pigs and used in humans, and perhaps more well-known is the Jarvik-7 artificial heart first tested in cattle. Once perfected in calves and a bull, the Jarvik-7 addressed congestive heart failure for humans starting in 1982.
Although based at UNMC where health research trials occur in UNMC’s programs, the NCTA vet tech students will not engage in research, but will learn how to care for and provide veterinary support for animals in all types of health settings, including laboratories.
Comparative Medicine is conducted by several Nebraska companies and research institutions, primarily in the eastern part of the state, such as in pharmaceutical company drug investigations or livestock and pet animal research and product development. Vet tech jobs are ample in both private and public industries, Jackson says.
“We have continual demand for skilled students in animal health fields, “said Barbara Berg, who heads the NCTA Veterinary Technology Systems division on the Curtis campus. The traditional Vet Tech programs will continue there, four hours down the road west of Omaha, with options such as veterinary technician, veterinary assistant, animal husbandry, animal health management and equine health care. These, also, are two-year programs.
While currently recruiting students for the start-up in 2014, Dr. Jackson also is overseeing the new construction, staffing, program purchases, and forging teaching partnerships. Animal acquisition will be limited, with much of the hands-on learning in the teaching setting with animals from the Council Bluffs Animal Shelter.
“We will be helping manage animal health at the shelter by collecting biological samples to test for health problems and diseases, and spaying or neutering animals,” Dr. Jackson explains. “This educational opportunity for the students will at the same time help prepare the animals for adoption.”
What does the future hold for Tim Berkebile once he graduates in 2016, and becomes a licensed veterinary technician having expertise with laboratory animals?
Employment opportunities will be many, Dr. Jackson says, with wages ranging between $27,000 and $42,000 annually, depending on whether Berkebile goes into a typical veterinary practice, education, or private research and development.