State OKs controversial veterinary technician apprenticeship

Washington gives provisional approval to program that bypasses AVMA accreditation

Published: October 21, 2022
By Lisa Wogan

VIN News Service photo
Appearing Thursday before a council that oversees apprenticeships in Washington state were (from left) two proponents of a veterinary technician program — Susan Adams, managing director of North Central Workforce Development Board/SkillSource, and Dr. Zack Hambleton, a co-owner of Cascade Veterinary Clinics — and Timothy J. O'Connell, a lawyer representing veterinary associations opposed to the program.

Listen to this story.

Despite a last-ditch effort by leading veterinary groups to block a proposed apprenticeship in Washington state, regulators yesterday approved a veterinary technician training program that will bypass a national accreditation system.

The seven-member Apprenticeship and Training Council unanimously granted provisional registration for a three-year program comprising 6,766 hours of on-the-job training, plus lectures and labs, sponsored by a practice group in Central Washington. After one year, provisional registration may be made permanent or continued as provisional through the first training cycle or rescinded following a compliance review.

In a first in the nation, graduates of the apprenticeship will be allowed to take the Veterinary Technician National Examination (VTNE) and a state licensing test even though the program is not accredited by the Committee on Veterinary Technician Education and Activities or a veterinary medical board. CVTEA was established in 1972 by the American Veterinary Medical Association to develop and implement standards for technician training programs.

Veterinary technicians are staff members who serve as the right hand to veterinarians in a role that's similar to the relationship between physicians and nurses.

The prospect of a technician education program without CVTEA accreditation has provoked concern and anger in the veterinary establishment. Program opponents have said it will undermine a nationwide effort to create uniform standards for technicians, and reduce the veterinary profession's ability to attract and retain technicians.

Dr. Zack Hambleton, a co-owner of Cascade Veterinary Clinics (CVC), the apprenticeship sponsor, argues that the program is a much-needed local, affordable training option. He maintains that creating more ways to achieve licensure could result in more credentialed technicians without degrading their education.

"This is a huge win for Washington state veterinarians who desperately need help addressing the workforce shortage in our industry," Hambleton said in a written statement he provided to the VIN News Service at the end of the meeting. "There is a crisis in veterinary medicine, and the technician training schools, the Washington State Veterinary Medical Association (WSVMA), and the AVMA have failed to provide a solution to the lack of licensed veterinary technicians (LVTs) that are necessary to operate at the level required in our current age."

In brief

Hambleton said when he talked to fellow practitioners about the apprenticeship at the Pacific Northwest Veterinary Conference in September, they were overwhelmingly supportive of the idea.

CVC plans to launch with four apprentices in January.

The veterinary apprenticeship program was one of dozens under consideration during the meeting in a crowded hotel ballroom in Olympia. Other programs reviewed included those training aircraft mechanics, automotive glass technicians, cosmetologists, electricians, machinists and medical assistants.

The council did not review details of any of the apprenticeships on the agenda. The veterinary technician program standards and curriculum had been hashed out over more than three years in partnership with SkillSource, a workforce training agency in North Central Washington, and during multiple meetings with Washington state's Veterinary Board of Governors and the apprenticeship council.

That board voted 5 to 2 in May to support sending the proposed program to the apprenticeship council.

Opponents voice objections

Although the council had determined that the program met its requirements, the smooth road to approval hit a speed bump late Thursday morning when Timothy J. O'Connell, an attorney representing the AVMA, WSVMA, and national and Washington state veterinary technicians associations, spoke in opposition.

In a brief synopsis of the objections, O'Connell maintained that the apprenticeship is contrary to Washington law, and that the council's rules on who has standing to object to the program unfairly exclude his clients. In letters to the board, he laid out the legal case and requested a hearing "to assess the full implications of CVC's request."

At that point, the council chair, Ed Kommers, tabled the vote so the council could review O'Connell's claims with its lawyer in executive session. (Executive sessions are discussions held out of the public's eye.)

When the council reconvened two hours later, Kommers told O'Connell that the board determined that the objectors he represented "do not meet the definition of objector under the rules of apprenticeship," and did not have standing to challenge the program.

Kommers also acknowledged that O'Connell had raised other concerns and issues, and he said the various veterinary and technician associations could appeal the council's decision to the director of the Department of Labor and Industries, of which the council is a part.

He then quickly moved to the vote, which was 7-0 in favor of the program.

WSVMA CEO Candace Joy and Ashley Byrne, past president of the Washington State Association of Veterinary Technicians, also attended the meeting. In a statement provided by email to VIN News later, they said:

"We are disappointed, though not surprised, with today's outcome. The Washington State Apprenticeship and Training Council is not the expert in veterinary medicine and the decision should never have left the Veterinary Board of Governors.

"Licensed Veterinary Technicians in Washington State were failed today by the Washington State Veterinary Board of Governors' inability to recognize and align with the Washington State Association of Veterinary Technicians, the National Association of Veterinary Technicians in America, Washington State Veterinary Medical Association, and American Veterinary Medical Association, the authorities on Veterinary Technicians and the veterinary industry as a whole.

"We remain resolute in our opposition to this program in the absence of AVMA accreditation and in our advocacy for Licensed Veterinary Technicians in Washington State and beyond."

As for taking further action, such as appealing the council decision, they said they had no comment.

Separately, the state veterinary board has indicated it would take further steps to legitimize the program if the council approved it.

"[T]he board intends to undertake rulemaking to clarify that completion of a registered apprenticeship program makes a person eligible to take the required licensing examination," Kim Morgan, VBOG chairperson, wrote in a May letter to the council.

Colorado to register veterinary technicians

Elsewhere in the United States, the push continues to codify the title of "veterinary technician" and establish credentialing of technicians through completing AVMA-accredited programs and passing the VTNE.

Ten states currently do not license, register, establish minimum education criteria for or define a scope of practice for technicians. They are Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Rhode Island, Vermont and Wyoming, according to research by the American Association of Veterinary State Boards.

In states with no requirements or protections, veterinarians can hire untrained, uncertified and unlicensed assistants and call them "technicians." Many in the profession say this creates frustration among those with credentials, drives down pay in the occupation and hurts morale.

Colorado will begin regulating veterinary technicians in January, when new rules specify that only technicians registered with the state Department of Regulatory Agencies will be able to use the title "veterinary technician." The changes were adopted this summer.

Eligible for registration in 2023 will be Colorado technicians who either hold a current certified veterinary technician credential from the Colorado Association of Certified Veterinary Technicians (CACVT) or have completed an AVMA-accredited program and passed the VTNE. Through Dec. 31, 2027, the rules also provide for pathways to registration that do not require completing an accredited training program, for individuals with considerable on-the-job experience and the endorsement of a "qualified individual."

The purpose of providing temporary alternative routes to credentialing is to protect veterinary support staff who have been effectively working as technicians competently over time. "There was a lot of debate around the provisional pathways," CACVT Executive Director Erin Henninger told VIN News by email. "It was important to all stakeholders to retain the individuals currently working in the profession and support them through the transition."

The regulation also requires that, starting in 2023, two registered veterinary technicians be appointed to serve on Colorado's State Board of Veterinary Medicine, along with the five veterinarians and two public members that currently comprise the board.

Henninger explained that states that license veterinary technicians do not uniformly include them on their veterinary regulatory boards. In some cases, they serve on advisory boards. Some have no board role for technicians at all.

The additional board positions in Colorado will help the panel execute its expanded mandate, Henninger said. "[H]aving representation from peers who understand the role of a veterinary technician (including the knowledge and skills expected of veterinary technicians) will serve to bring a veterinary technician's perspective to decisions affecting potential disciplinary action," she added.

Efforts to pass legislation creating a path to licensure for veterinary technicians in Massachusetts and Minnesota have foundered. Minnesota's legislative session ended in May with its technician bill stuck in committee. In Massachusetts, proposed regulation got a joint committee hearing in summer 2021 before moving to the Senate Committee on Ways and Means, where it has stalled since November.

VIN News Service commentaries are opinion pieces presenting insights, personal experiences and/or perspectives on topical issues by members of the veterinary community. To submit a commentary for consideration, email

Information and opinions expressed in letters to the editor are those of the author and are independent of the VIN News Service. Letters may be edited for style. We do not verify their content for accuracy.