Educators weigh in on veterinary industry shortage: ‘We can’t graduate students quick enough’

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EAST PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — The country is experiencing a shortage of people in the veterinary industry, and an instructor at the New England Institute of Technology (NEIT) tells 12 News students aren’t graduating fast enough to make an impact on the workforce.

Nicholas Raimondi, who also sits on the board of the Rhode Island Veterinary Technician Association, said NEIT currently offers the only veterinary technician program in the state.

“Prior to COVID, we would take in a maximum of only 24 students per cohort,” Raimondi said. “We’ve just recently got permission to increase cohort size to 36.”

Raimondi said the program will likely be ready for that student increase as early as March. He also stressed that becoming a veterinary technician isn’t just working with cute animals all day.

“It’s a lot more labor intensive and students need to have a better understanding of medical knowledge than a lot of people realize,” Raimondi said. “As vet techs, we need to know how to do everything the nurses in the hospitals needs to do. We need to know how to do everything the X-ray technologist does.”

It typically takes about two years for an associate’s degree, according to Raimondi, but he said NEIT students graduate from their program within 18 months because they typically take classes during the summer.

“We can’t graduate students quick enough to meet the need in the state,” Raimondi said. “I can’t see us anytime in the near future meeting the demand for vet techs nationally … every practice is looking for technicians.”

Right now, NEIT only offers associate’s degrees for veterinary technicians, but Raimondi said they hope to offer bachelor’s degrees in the future.

Becoming a veterinarian isn’t easy either, and you need at least a bachelor’s degree to get into a veterinary school, according to Alastair Cribb, dean of Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University.

“They [veterinarians] have to be able to do surgery, take X-rays, do diagnostic tests, physical exams, prescribe drugs … do everything and for multiple species,” Cribb explained. “You do need to know about the range of domestic species, so that would be predominantly the farm animals and a variety of companion animals.”

Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University is one of 33 veterinary schools in the country, and the only school for veterinarians located in New England, according to Cribb.

“We normally admit 100 students, we admitted 105 in the fall of 2020,” Cribb said. “Then this fall, we have currently in our first year class, we have 104 students.”

If class sizes were to grow substantially, Cribb said they would need to expand their facilities, add more staff, and for those who are just getting started, he said it will be awhile before they make an impact on workforce.

“If I made a decision to increase my class size this month, I would admit an increased class size next September and then it takes four years to complete the program, so it would would be five years to see an impact,” Cribb explained. “It won’t result in a new graduate for five years.”

Cribb said 10% of students who apply are accepted to Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine, adding that 96 students graduated this year with a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degree.

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