California VMB approves controversial technician exam rule

Unregistered veterinary assistants in California without a formal education have a rare opportunity this year, but not everyone is happy about it.

Under a new regulation implemented by the California Veterinary Medical Board (CVMB), veterinary assistants with at least five years’ experience and 24 hours of continuing education credits can apply for the state’s Registered Veterinary Technician (RVT) exam. Applicants must also have their supervising veterinarian attest to their competence in entry-level technician skills.

However, state and national veterinary groups are at best wary of the regulation, with some organizations voicing strong opposition, saying the rule puts the public and animals at risk.

The CVMB began accepting applications for the exam under the new conditions on Feb. 17, and will stop accepting them on Dec. 31, 2009, a period that is being called the “limited term eligibility window.”

Normally, test candidates in California are required to complete a two-year RVT program; or to pursue an “Alternate Route” program, which requires a combination of post-secondary education and clinical experience.

In an “Initial Statement of Reasons,” the CVMB said the proposal came about as a way to address a shortage of RVTs in the state. The board was debating whether to restrict access to chemotherapy drugs and other controlled substances to veterinarians, RVTs and lay staff under supervision, but many veterinarians said there were not enough RVTs to supervise or administer controlled substances during non-supervised hours (i.e. nights and weekends).

“The Board believes that it is in the consumers’ and the animals’ best interest, to streamline the eligibility categories for registration of a veterinary technician and create a one-time, 12-month pathway for lay staff to apply for the state RVT exam, undergo a full State and Federal background check and become registered, rather than permanently allow full access to all levels of controlled substances to lay staff when there is no supervising licensee on the hospital premises,” the statement reads. 

Other groups weigh in

The California Veterinary Medical Association (CVMA) opposed the measure, according to CVMA Executive Director Valerie Fenstermaker.

“We believe the professional responsibilities of certified RVTs require a combination of education, knowledge, and skills,” Fenstermaker said. “The mission of the VMB is, in part, ‘to protect consumers and animals through development and maintenance of professional standards.’ This regulation does not protect the public, but rather allows people to circumvent the well-established routes to certification, and lowers the standards of the RVT profession.”

She added that about 75 percent of CVMA members who responded during the public comment period were opposed to the new eligibility category.

The National Association of Veterinary Technicians in America (NAVTA) is “strongly opposed” to the regulation, said NAVTA President Cherylann Gieseke, CVT, LATG, in a statement.  

“NAVTA believes that passing this proposal with a mere 24 hours of required education lowers the standards of the examination, the RVT profession, negating the education and commitment of current RVTs and putting the public and animals at risk,” she said.

The group representing California’s technicians, the California Registered Veterinary Technician Association (CaRVTA), said that while it had reservations, it stands by the rule – and the ability of the test to be an accurate measure of an applicant’s abilities.

CaRVTA President Pamela Maurer, RVT, said the limited term eligibility window will allow members of “a very large pool of highly skilled unregistered assistants in California” the opportunity to prove they have the necessary knowledge to become technicians.

“Allowing this group of candidates the opportunity [to take the test] has the potential to increase the numbers of RVTs that so many veterinarians say we are lacking,” she said.

Despite the group’s support of the limited term eligibility window (LTEW), Maurer said the response from CaRVTA’s membership and others in the RVT profession has been “wariness and concern.”

“It is understandable that RVTs who spent considerable time and effort acquiring a formal education would be wary of allowing assistants without the same formal education to take the exam,” Maurer said. “On the flip side, there is an amazingly large response from those who qualify for the LTEW. … A majority of those sending inquiries have been in the industry for more than 10 years.”

CaRVTA is holding a one-day Back-to-School seminar on March 22 at University of California – Irvine. Maurer said she expects that most of the 200 or so registrants for the seminar will be trying to garner CE credits in order to apply for the RVT test.

Maurer echoed the CVMB’s concerns about the limited number of RVTs available to perform high-risk tasks such as administering chemotherapy drugs and controlled substances, even while there are many unregistered assistants who are capable of doing these jobs. She acknowledged that while those individuals are able to perform the high-risk tasks, licensing is necessary to assure the public that they are qualified.

“It is the hope of CaRVTA that once this window has been closed, the distinction between unregistered assistants and RVTs will be clear to everyone and that we can truly move the RVT profession into the 21st century,” Maurer said.

Official positions on California’s “Limited Term Eligibility Window*”

California Veterinary Medical Association (CVMA)

California Registered Veterinary Technician Association (CaRVTA)

National Association of Veterinary Technicians in America (NAVTA)

*Allows unregistered veterinary assistants with five years experience and 24 hours of relevant education to apply for the state Registered Veterinary Technician exam until Dec. 31, 2009.

NEWStat Legislation & regulation