Certified Technicians are in High Demand, but are Veterinarians Willing to Pay for Qualifications?

Despite high turnover rates and a widely acknowledged dearth of certified technicians, few veterinarians are willing to ante up for highly qualified professionals on a short- or long-term basis, say some industry professionals. Two years after starting a technician relief service that pairs clinics with certified technicians, Heather Darbo, LVT, VTS, president of Chicago Pet Relief, has seen that reality firsthand. “Veterinarians definitely want this service, but what are they willing to pay for it?” Darbo said and added, “I don’t think the market can support this service but I can’t give up without proving it.”

Craig Woloshyn, DVM, clinic owner and consultant, told North American Veterinary Conference attendees earlier this month to pay staff members as generously as possible, yet in an interview with NEWStat he acknowledged “that the problem is that we’re in a poor profession. Doctors are poorly paid, so it’s hard for us to understand the rest of the job world.” In comparison to other two-year degree professions, technician salaries rank quite low, Woloshyn said. For example, he compared the average $24,000 for technicians to the average $58,000 salary for dental hygienists.

Darbo charges between $25 and $35 per hour for technicians who are credentialed and trained in surgery, anesthesia, lab skills, fecals, dental exams, CBCs, and more. Her 15 employees are screened for practical skills and commitment level, Darbo said. “The whole concept was to provide high-quality people who cared about what they did, were experienced and could multitask.”

But the reality, said Woloshyn, is that some general practitioners would rather do all of the paraprofessional work themselves. They don’t use technicians properly, he said, so technicians are not as profitable as they could be, and veterinarians don’t see the value in paying more for them. “It’s a doctor problem, not a technician problem,” he added.

Nevertheless, some technicians believe the time has come for part-time employment options that would benefit certified technicians and veterinarians. “Personally I find it [Chicago Pet Relief] to be a very good idea,” said Lisa Chase, RVT, BS, president of National Association of Veterinary Technicians in America. “Especially for those of us with children [because] it would allow us to work and keep our skills current without having to have permanent day care, [it would] allow us to set our own schedules.”

Chicago Pet Relief provides short- and long-term placement for hospitals, and Darbo continues to work with several of her first clients. There are several temporary agencies across the United States that allow technicians to work as independent contractors, but Chicago Pet Relief pays health insurance and taxes from a regular payroll.

Darbo is currently working on a financial analysis to show how Chicago Pet Relief saves hospitals money by eliminating advertising, interview and training time costs. “Let me fill slots for you on a temporary basis instead of just hiring somebody who might work,” she tells clients. “Hire me to fill that slot until you have the time to figure out who is going to fit in, be an asset to your hospital; [someone] who you want to keep instead of just having a warm body; [someone] who you’ll train, and in six months they’ll leave.”