Tiffany Blackmon had to postpone her interview for this article because she was busy assisting with a cesarean delivery of eight healthy puppies.

While a student at Piedmont Technical College (PTC) in Newberry working toward her associate degree in applied science in veterinary technology, Blackmon is employed full time at Batesburg-Leesville Animal Hospital. “I’m in the middle of a C-section. Can I call you back?” Blackmon said over the phone. To be sure, her role as a veterinary technician in the supervised surgical procedure required a wide range of skills.

“Basically, I get the patient prepped for surgery. I monitor the patient’s temperature, blood pressure, heart rate and respiratory rate as well as manage IV fluids. I clip the hair on the dog’s tummy and, when the doctor is ready to begin, I aseptically open the surgery pack,” she explained. “Once the veterinarian starts pulling out puppies, I am responsible for waking them up. That consists of rubbing them vigorously to stimulate them and suctioning out their nasal passages and mouth so they can breathe.”

PTC Instructor Melissa Entrekin, LVT, VTS (ECC), says Tiffany, who currently serves as class president, exhibits leadership skills, flexibility and a positive attitude.

“Within a very short two years, instructors must expose students to the basic skills and knowledge required to deal with various species of large and small animals (including lab animals) that graduates may be expected to perform. Students must learn everything, from safety and restraint of animal species, diseases, and anatomy to how to collect various types of samples, perform diagnostics, administer medications and perform other general nursing skills,” she said. “They have a large notebook listing all of the required American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) skills that must be mastered before students complete the program. … Some credentialed veterinary technicians may decide to work in a small animal general practice, while others may choose to work exclusively with large animals, in zoo medicine, in emergency medicine, or in a research facility. Large specialized veterinary practices offer opportunities for veterinary technicians who may be interested in a number of specialties, including dentistry, emergency and critical care, internal medicine, behavior, rehabilitation, surgery, anesthesia, and ophthalmology.”

Blackmon, who lives in Aiken, says the most challenging part of the program for her is juggling a full-time veterinary job, attending school, and being a mother to 4-year-old daughter Nora.

“I do a good bit of driving to come to work and to school,” she said. “I’m lucky that I have help,” with a husband, Ryan, who works a flexible-shift job near home and a sister and father who live in the same neighborhood and provide assistance. “I couldn’t do it without this support system.”

Entrekin acknowledged that the clinical side of veterinary technology might not be for everyone, but that should not deter anyone from completing their degree or remaining in the profession. There is a wide variety of non-clinical jobs for which their skills apply.

“Working in a small or large animal general practice is just one of many avenues in which a vet tech degree is utilized,” Entrekin said. “I try to ensure that students understand that the sky is the limit when it comes to career prospects as a Licensed Veterinary Technician.”

These opportunities include roles in scientific research, animal poison control, pet health insurance, and other industry-related jobs.

Some pet owners may not be aware that there are pet poison control hotlines they can call in a crisis. One is the Pet Poison Helpline (petpoisonhelpline.com). Another is the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (aspca.org).

“Animals may have different reactions to toxins and accidental medication ingestions than humans,” she said. “The hotlines can guide pet owners or veterinary staff through various clinical approaches for treating toxicities. They are the first line of defense in a poisoning emergency. … There are some toxins we know very well (such as rat poison or antifreeze), but there are others we don’t see as often. There are always new medications and products being manufactured. The animal poison control experts are valuable resources.”

Entrekin noted that there are employment opportunities available locally with an international company that employs Licensed Veterinary Technicians to care for animals used in their pet food trial research facilities. “In addition to area veterinary clinics, companies such as Diana Pet Food North America will contact us when they are recruiting,” she said.

For now, Blackmon is more than happy to stay on the clinical side of vet tech work. Daughter Nora one day may follow in her footsteps.

“We have three dogs and two cats at home. The youngest dog is a border collie named Luna. Nora often plays ‘vet’ with Luna,” she said. “They are best friends.”

Blackmon says that spending time in the program has only reaffirmed her decision to work in the vet tech field.

“There is a strong demand for vet techs, especially those who are educated and licensed. There is no comparison when it comes to having that education, for sure,” she said. “I take pride in everything I do in this field. I don’t see myself doing anything else for the rest of my life.”

For more information about PTC’s Veterinary Technology Program or to take a virtual tour of the program’s lab, visit ptc.edu/vet.

Submitted by Kristine Hartvigsen