Oct 10 to 16 is National Veterinary Technician week in the US. Veterinary technicians are basically the same as Animal Health Technicians in Canada. Depending on where a person went to school, their designation could be AHT or VT. This event leads up to International Laboratory Animal Technician Week, which usually occurs in the early part of the year.
Certified VTs or AHTs are hard to come by in animal research and this is unfortunate. It’s also hard to find animal techs with a university background in science. I really think that a good educational background in science and ethics is vital for a person working with laboratory research animals.
A good animal health tech knows how to recognize the signs of distress and pain in animals and knows the difference between, for example, a fight wound and ulcerative dermatitis. They know how to administer drugs properly and may have surgical skills. They are the ones who will recognize when an experiment has gone on for too long and animals are suffering.
But if we are being honest, most AHTs and VTs want to work in veterinary offices rather than be animal techs. And most people with Bachelors of Science would rather work in a research lab than be an animal tech. As a result, there is a deficit of animal technicians with appropriate post-secondary education.
I remember once, when I was in the animal facility a few years ago, I had to calm a hysterical animal tech because a mouse cage had two litters. (This happens sometimes when the previous litter is not weaned before the next litter is born) She refused to touch the mice, had no idea what to do, and ranted and raved for a good 5 minutes without doing anything useful while baby mice were being trampled. I don’t blame her – she was never trained to handle animals and never had a science background outside of high school. I blame the hiring policies which favour in-house promotion, without giving these people enough opportunity for eduation and training. It’s great to hire in-house and give people the chance to move up… but it needs to be accompanied by the appropriate, standardized training.
So if you’re a researcher with competent animal technicians working in your facility, whether they are AHT”s, VT’s, BSc’s or just someone who’s worked their way up – remember to say thanks next week 🙂