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Graduate Tampa Bay: HCC's Vet Tech Program Engages Students In Real-World Experiences




Veterinary technicians can be described as nurses for animals. They are often the first point of care an animal receives at a clinic. They perform initial examinations, listen to the owner's concerns and help ease anxieties the animal might have. But unlike in the human medical field, a vet tech's job might include taking x-rays, performing dental hygiene, or assisting with surgeries all in the same day -- and often on more than one species.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, veterinary technician is now the sixth fastest-growing career field in the nation, and is projected to grow 52 percent this decade between 2010 and 2020. 

Hillsborough Community College (HCC)'s Associate of Science Degree in Veterinary Technology provides the general and specialized training needed to meet this workforce need. The two-year program has grown from five students at its inception in 2005 to the second largest program in Florida with a current enrollment of 60 students. The overall workforce for vet techs grew by 25 percent between the program's inception and 2010.

In April, HCC became the sixth institution in Florida to be fully accredited by the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), ensuring it meets the highest standards for quality and certification. The overall number of accredited programs in the U.S. increased by 32 percent between 2010 and 2013.

"It's a source of educated technicians that do a lot of things that veterinarians in the past have had to spend time doing,'' says Dr. Vincent Centonze, director of veterinary technology at HCC. Vet techs do a lot of the prep work to allow veterinarians to focus on diagnosing and treating medical issues.

Graduate Tampa Bay

Programs like this not only meet local workforce needs, but also help increase educational attainment, a goal of the Graduate Tampa Bay (GTB) initiative. GTB is part of the national Talent Dividend competition, in which three metropolitan regions in Tampa Bay are competing for a $1 million prize for the city/region with the largest increase in college degrees by the end of this year.

A 1 percent increase in the number of Tampa Bay residents with college degrees would result in an additional $3 billion for the region in the form of increased productivity, innovation and social benefits.

Community Partnerships

HCC's program focuses on hands-on field work. Through partnerships with local organizations such as Hillsborough County Animal Services (HCAS), students are able to apply techniques learned in the classroom to animals that truly need medical assistance, allowing them to give back to the community. Students observe and assist with spay and neuter surgeries for animals waiting to be adopted. They also work on animals with other health needs such as fractured limbs or bladder stones.

"It's not just an academic exercise,'' says Centonze. "We pride ourselves on doing real time labs.'' 

Other community partnerships include SPCA Florida in Lakeland, Hernando County Animal Services and Critter Adoption and Rescue Effort in Ruskin.

Joining The Workforce

Graduates from the program can be found across Florida, with most remaining in the Tampa Bay region. "We have students all over the map,'' says Centonze. "It makes me proud. It's really wonderful.''

The program has a 92 percent employment rate within one year after graduation.

Students also participate in externships, spending a total of 240 hours doing hands-on preparation.

"It's possibly one of the best experiences I've ever had,'' says student Pavielle Siebold. "Like anything, it's hard work. But, to be successful, you have to put a lot of hard work into anything that you do.''

Siebold is participating in an externship at the SPCA of Florida and will graduate in the spring of 2014. She plans to remain in the Tampa Bay area after graduation. She chose HCC's program, in part, because of the accreditation which mandates real-world skills that are essential in practice.

The program "gives us the ability to help animals that don't have a voice,'' says Siebold. "It's always about the care and love of the animals.''

Megan Hendricks is a native Floridian and longtime Tampa Bay resident who loves the culture and diversity of the region. In her free time she enjoys local restaurants, thrift store shopping and spending time with her family. She earned her masters of business administration from USF Tampa. Comments? Contact 83 Degrees.

Read more articles by Megan Hendricks.

Megan Hendricks is a feature writer at 83 Degrees Media in the Tampa Bay region of Florida.
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