Characteristics of the labor market for veterinary technician specialists in 2013

Christopher L. Norkus Department of Emergency and Critical Care, Allegheny Veterinary Emergency Trauma and Specialty (AVETS), 4224 Northern Pike, Monroeville, PA 15146.

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David J. Liss Veterinary Technology Program, Platt School of Medical Sciences, Los Alhambra, CA 91803.

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Linda S. Leighton Department of Economics, Fordham University, Bronx, NY 10458.

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Abstract

OBJECTIVE To determine characteristics of the labor market for veterinary technician specialists (VTSs) during 2013 and identify characteristics significantly associated with pay rate for VTSs.

DESIGN Survey.

SAMPLE POPULATION 351 VTSs.

PROCEDURES A 29-question, multiple-choice survey was sent in early 2014 to all individuals (n = 786) who had been certified as VTSs and for whom an email address could be identified.

RESULTS Weighted mean pay rate for respondents was $23.50/h; 51.3% (180/351) of respondents received a raise after obtaining VTS certification. Being male, having attended graduate school, having > 4 years of VTS experience, holding a supervisory or management position, being employed by an academic employer or referral practice, and working in the Northeast or outside the United States increased the overall odds of receiving a higher pay rate as a VTS, once other variables were controlled.

CONCLUSIONS AND CLINICAL RELEVANCE Results suggested that gender, work experience, and job characteristics were significantly associated with pay rate for VTSs.

Abstract

OBJECTIVE To determine characteristics of the labor market for veterinary technician specialists (VTSs) during 2013 and identify characteristics significantly associated with pay rate for VTSs.

DESIGN Survey.

SAMPLE POPULATION 351 VTSs.

PROCEDURES A 29-question, multiple-choice survey was sent in early 2014 to all individuals (n = 786) who had been certified as VTSs and for whom an email address could be identified.

RESULTS Weighted mean pay rate for respondents was $23.50/h; 51.3% (180/351) of respondents received a raise after obtaining VTS certification. Being male, having attended graduate school, having > 4 years of VTS experience, holding a supervisory or management position, being employed by an academic employer or referral practice, and working in the Northeast or outside the United States increased the overall odds of receiving a higher pay rate as a VTS, once other variables were controlled.

CONCLUSIONS AND CLINICAL RELEVANCE Results suggested that gender, work experience, and job characteristics were significantly associated with pay rate for VTSs.

The NAVTA created its Committee on Veterinary Technician Specialties in 1994 in response to a perceived need for development of veterinary technician specialty organizations. Since that time, NAVTA has developed guidelines to assist groups petitioning for recognition as veterinary technician specialty academies and has been recognized by the AVMA as the body that oversees the development of these academies. Today, 11 academies are recognized by the NAVTA, including the Academy of Veterinary Emergency and Critical Care Technicians, the Academy of Veterinary Technicians in Anesthesia and Analgesia, the Academy of Internal Medicine for Veterinary Technicians, the Academy of Veterinary Dental Technicians, the Academy of Veterinary Surgical Technicians, the Academy of Veterinary Nutrition Technicians, the Academy of Veterinary Clinical Pathology Technicians, the Academy of Veterinary Technicians in Clinical Practice, the Academy of Equine Veterinary Nursing Technicians, the Academy of Veterinary Zoological Medicine Technicians, and the Academy of Veterinary Behavior Technicians. An additional academy, the Academy of Dermatology Veterinary Technicians, has been provisionally recognized by NAVTA but has not yet certified any VTSs. Subspecialties of the Academy of Internal Medicine for Veterinary Technicians include small animal medicine, large animal medicine, cardiology, oncology, and neurology. Individuals completing the certification process for any of the veterinary technician specialty academies receive the designation of VTS.

Although the specific qualifications required to obtain the VTS designation are well-defined by each of the academies, little information exists on employment characteristics of VTSs or on additional pay or employment benefits individuals receive as a result of obtaining the VTS designation. A 2008 survey1 of 163 VTSs found that “the typical VTS was a woman between 26 and 45 years old who worked for a private practice in an urban area in the United States, had been a veterinary technician for 6 to 10 years, and had been a VTS for 2 to 3 years. Mean pay rate was $23.48/h, with most respondents working 31 to 50 h/wk. The typical VTS did not receive a 1-time bonus or pay raise for achieving VTS certification, received 3 weeks of paid time off yearly, and received between $250 and $500/y from their employer for continuing education.” The estimated mean pay rate of $23.48/h for VTSs in 2007 was substantially greater than the mean wage of $13.90/h for veterinary technicians during 2007, as reported by the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, suggesting that for many of the survey respondents, there was a financial benefit to obtaining the VTS designation.

Since 2007, combined membership of the veterinary technician specialty academies has risen by 128%, from 345 to 786. The purpose of the study reported here, therefore, was to update the previous survey by evaluating characteristics of the labor market for VTSs in 2013 and identifying characteristics significantly associated with pay rate.

Materials and Methods

Study design

In early 2014, all individuals (n = 786) certified as a VTS by a NAVTA-recognized veterinary technician specialty academy were sent an invitation to complete a 29-question online multiple-choice survey.a Survey invitations were emailed by each academy and included a letter from the academy president requesting members to participate; additional links to the survey were published in various social media.

Recipients were informed of the purpose of the study, but were blinded to the researchers’ identity. In the body of the survey, recipients were instructed to consider their primary form of employment as a VTS when answering each question and to answer all questions for the 2013 calendar year, using 2013 tax income as necessary. Recipients were instructed that individual responses and contact information would remain confidential.

Access to the survey was open from March to July 2014.

Statistical analysis

Frequency distributions were calculated for all survey questions. For the question on pay rate, respondents were asked to select among 10 pay rate categories. The weighted mean pay rate was calculated by assigning the midpoint for each pay rate category to respondents who selected that category and weighting the midpoints by the proportion of respondents in each category. A midpoint of $53/h was used for the highest pay rate category (ie, > $50/h), and a midpoint of $7.25/h was used for the lowest pay rate category (ie, < $10/h). The χ2 test was used to test for associations between pay rate category (collapsed into 4 categories: < $21/h, $21/h to $25/h, $26/h to $30/h, and > $30/h) and various demographic and employment attributes, including age (25 to 34 years, 35 to 44 years, 45 to 54 years, and > 54 years), gender (male vs female), race (White vs other), highest level of education (high school degree, associate's degree, bachelor's degree, or graduate school), geographic region (Midwest, Northeast, South, West, or outside the United States), employment setting (urban, suburban, or rural), duration of employment with the current employer (< 3 years, 3 to 5 years, 6 to 10 years, 11 to 15 years, 16 to 20 years, or > 20 years), duration of experience as a veterinary technician (0 to 5 years, 6 to 10 years, 11 to 15 years, 16 to 20 years, 21 to 25 years, or > 25 years), duration of experience as a VTS (0 to 1 year, 2 to 3 years, 4 to 5 years, 6 to 7 years, 8 to 9 years, or > 9 years), employer type (academic, general practice, referral practice, or other), management or supervisory position (yes vs no), and specialty academy.

To identify factors associated with pay rate, we postulated that the ordered pay rate categories were a function of demographic and employment attributes. Ordered logit regression analyses were performed, and the model was tested for the proportional odds assumption, which could not be rejected. The dependent variable was the 4 consolidated pay rate categories, and the explanatory variables considered were highest level of education, geographic region, duration of experience as a veterinary technician (6 to 15 years and 16 to 20 years), duration of experience as a VTS (4 to 7 years and 8 to 10 years), duration of employment with the current employer (6 to 15 years and > 15 years), employer type, management or supervisory position, and academy (experience variables were regrouped to limit the number of explanatory variables). Variables for gender and race were also included in the model. Comparisons were examined relative to not being male (ie, female or no response), having an associate's degree, working in the Midwest, having 0 to 5 years of experience as a veterinary technician, having 0 to 3 years of experience as a VTS, having 0 to 5 years of experience with the current employer, not being a supervisor or manager, working for a general practice, and being a member of the Academy of Veterinary Emergency and Critical Care Technicians. All analyses were performed with standard software.b Values of P < 0.05 were considered significant.

Results

A total of 351 surveys were completed by the July 1, 2014, deadline, representing a response rate of 44.7% (351/786). Of the 351 respondents, 159 (45.3%) were members of the Academy of Veterinary Emergency and Critical Care Technicians, 90 (25.6%) were members of the Academy of Veterinary Technicians in Anesthesia and Analgesia, 41 (11.7%) were members of the Academy of Internal Medicine for Veterinary Technicians, and 61 (17.4%) were members of another academy. At least 1 respondent from each of the 11 academies completed the survey.

Of the 351 respondents, 336 (95.7%) were female and 14 (4.0%) were male (1 [0.3%] respondent did not answer the question). One hundred (28.5%) were 25 to 34 years old, 166 (47.3%) were 35 to 44 years old, 59 (16.8%) were 45 to 54 years old, and 26 (7.4%) were > 54 years old. Most (335/351 [95.4%]) identified as White or Caucasian. Eighty-two of the 351 (23.4%) respondents were employed in the Midwest, 81 (23.1%) were employed in the South, 75 (21.4%) were employed in the West, 64 (18.2%) were employed in the Northeast, and 49 (14.0%) were employed outside the United States. One hundred eighty-five respondents (52.7%) indicated they worked in an urban area, 139 (39.6%) indicated they worked in a suburban area, and 27 (7.7%) indicated they worked in a rural area. With regard to highest level of education, 35 (10.0%) respondents had completed high school, 179 (51.0%) had earned an associate's degree, 123 (35.0%) had earned a bachelor's degree, and 14 (4.0%) had attended graduate school.

Most respondents worked in a referral practice (190/351 [54.1%]) or for an academic employer (114 [32.5%]). The remainder worked in general practice (36 [10.3%]) or were self-employed or worked for a research facility or pharmacy (11 [3.1%]). One hundred twenty (34.2%) respondents indicated they had worked for their current employer for 6 to 10 years, 123 (35.0%) had been a veterinary technician for 11 to 15 years, and 87 (24.8%) had been a VTS for 2 to 3 years (Table 1). Most respondents worked 31 to 40 h/wk (163/351 [46.4%]) or 41 to 50 h/wk (145 [41.3%]), with low numbers working < 31 h/wk (27 [7.7%]) or 51 to 80 h/wk (16 [4.6%]). One hundred forty-six (41.6%) respondents held a supervisory or management position; the remaining 205 (58.4%) did not. Most often, respondents earned $21/h to $25/h (139/351 [39.6%]; Table 2). Weighted mean pay rate was $23.50/h (SD, $6.16/h).

Table 1—

Distribution of job experience variables for VTSs (n = 351) who responded to a survey on labor market characteristics during 2013.

VariableNo. (%) of respondents
Duration of employment with current employer
 < 3 y74 (21.1)
 3–5 y48 (13.7)
 6–10 y120 (34.2)
 11–15 y64 (18.2)
 16–20 y25 (7.1)
 > 20 y20 (5.7)
Duration of experience as a veterinary technician
 0–5 y5 (1.4)
 6–10 y77 (21.9)
 11–15 y123 (35.0)
 16–20 y72 (20.5)
 21–25 y30 (8.5)
 > 25 y44 (12.5)
Duration of experiences as a VTS
 0–1 y79 (22.5)
 2–3 y87 (24.8)
 4–5 y70 (19.9)
 6–7 y45 (12.8)
 8–9 y26 (7.4)
 > 9 y44 (12.5)
Table 2—

Distribution of pay rate for VTSs (n = 351) who responded to a survey on labor market characteristics during 2013.

Pay rateNo. (%) of respondents
< $10/h2 (0.6)
$10–15/h7 (2.0)
$16–20/h104 (29.6)
$21–25/h139 (39.6)
$26–30/h67 (19.1)
$31–35/h15 (4.3)
$36–40/h10 (2.9)
$41–45/h3 (0.9)
$46–50/h2 (0.6)
> $50/h2 (0.6)

Most respondents (313/351 [89.2%]) did not receive a 1-time bonus when they achieved VTS certification. Of the remaining respondents, 15 (4.3%) received a 1-time bonus of $1 to $500 and 23 (6.5%) received a 1-time bonus of > $500. About half of the respondents (171/351 [48.7%]) did not receive a pay increase when they achieved VTS certification. For those who did receive an increase, increases were < $1.00/h (75 [21.4%]), from $1.01/h to $2.00/h (56 [16.0%]), from $2.01/h to $3.00/h (27 [7.7%]), or > $3.00/h (22 [6.3%]).

Respondents generally received 1 to 2 weeks (97/351 [27.6%]) or 3 to 4 weeks (151 [43.0%]) of paid time off each year (including vacation time, sick time, personal leave, and all other paid time off), with lower numbers receiving < 1 week (35 [10.0%]) or > 4 weeks (68 [19.4%]). Most (223/351 [63.5%]) received an annual uniform allowance of $1 to $250, with 121 (34.5%) not receiving a uniform allowance and 7 (2.0%) receiving an annual uniform allowance of $251 to $500. Most respondents received an annual continuing education allowance, with 95 (27.1%) receiving an allowance of $1 to $500, 94 (26.8%) receiving an allowance of $501 to $1,000, and 93 (26.5%) receiving an allowance of > $1,000. Only 69 (19.7%) respondents did not receive an annual continuing education allowance. When queried about health insurance, 275 (78.3%) respondents reported that the cost of their health insurance was either partially or completely covered by their employer. Two hundred sixty-nine (76.6%) respondents reported that their employer provided some type of retirement plan, and 219 (62.4%) reported that their employer made regular contributions to their retirement plan.

One hundred ninety-five (55.6%) respondents indicated that they had lectured or instructed wet labs on behalf of their specialty at local, regional, or national conferences. Of these, 51 did not receive any compensation, 44 received compensation of $1/h to $100/h, 53 received compensation of $101/h to $200/h, and 47 received compensation of > $200/h. Three of the 195 respondents who had lectured or instructed on behalf of their specialty did not indicate whether their travel or other expenses were paid for when doing so. Of the remaining 192 respondents, 117 reported that their travel expenses were totally or partially covered by the convention organizers, and 112 reported that their housing and meal expenses were totally or partially covered.

When respondents were asked whether they thought their pay rate was competitive with that for other VTSs, 204 (58.1%) answered yes. When respondents were asked whether they were aware that characteristics of the labor market for VTSs, including mean pay rate and employee benefits, had previously been published, 285 (81.2%) responded that they were either unaware these data had been published or that they were aware the data had been published but had never reviewed it.

In univariate χ2 analyses, pay rate category (< $21/h, $21/h to $25/h, $26/h to $30/h, or > $30/h) was significantly associated with age category (P < 0.001), having a management or supervisory position (P < 0.001), geographic region (P < 0.001), highest level of education obtained (P < 0.001), employer type (P = 0.003), duration of experience as a veterinary technician (P < 0.001), duration of experience as a VTS (P < 0.001), duration of employment with the current employer (P < 0.001), and veterinary technician specialty academy (P = 0.016), but was not significantly associated with gender (P = 0.059). Specifically, weighted mean pay rate was higher for respondents who held a management or supervisory position (mean ± SD, $25.66 ± 6.80/h) than for those who did not ($21.95 ± 5.15/h), for respondents who worked for an academic employer ($24.64 ± 6.98/h) or referral practice ($23.18 ± 5.00/h) than for those who worked for a general practice ($20.99 ± 7.33/h), and for those who worked in the Northeast ($25.48 ± 7.52/h) or West ($23.63 ± 6.35/h) than for those who worked in the South ($22.16 ± 5.97/h) or Midwest ($21.88 ± 4.74/h).

When ordered logit regression was performed to test for changes in the odds of being in higher pay rate categories, the overall logit model was significant (P < 0.001; pseudo R2 = 0.182), with several independent variables found to significantly increase the odds of being in higher pay rate categories, holding all other variables constant. Having attended graduate school significantly increased the odds of being in higher pay rate categories, compared with the odds associated with having an associate's degree (OR, 6.42; 95% CI, 1.79 to 23.06; P = 0.004). In contrast, other levels of education did not increase the odds of being in higher pay rate categories, compared with the odds associated with having an associate's degree. Individuals with 4 to 7 years of experience as a VTS (OR, 2.22; 95% CI, 1.35 to 3.64; P = 0.002) and those with 8 to 10 years of experience as a VTS (OR, 5.87; 95% CI, 3.14 to 10.98; P < 0.001) had significantly higher odds of being in higher pay rate categories, compared with the odds for individuals with 0 to 3 years of experience as a VTS. In contrast, duration of experience as a veterinary technician and duration of employment with the current employer did not alter the odds of being in higher pay rate categories. Holding a supervisory or management position significantly increased the odds of being in higher pay rate categories, compared with the odds for nonsupervisory personnel (OR, 4.58; 95% CI, 2.94 to 7.15; P < 0.001). Being employed by an academic employer (OR, 5.58; 95% CI, 2.43 to 12.79; P < 0.001) or a referral practice (OR, 2.67; 95% CI, 1.19 to 5.95; P = 0.017) also increased the odds of being in higher pay rate categories, compared with the odds for those working in general practice. Working in the Northeast (OR, 4.28; 95% CI, 2.18 to 8.42; P < 0.001) or outside the United States (OR, 6.57; 95% CI, 3.06 to 14.08; P < 0.001) significantly increased the odds of being in higher pay rate categories, compared with the odds for working in the Midwest, but working in the South or West did not. Being male significantly increased the odds of being in higher pay rate categories, compared with the odds for females (OR, 5.15; 95% CI, 1.68 to 15.79; P = 0.005). An indicator for full-time hours (ie, > 30 h/wk) was added to the model to examine the possibility that males worked more hours than females, but was not found to be significant. Membership in a particular specialty academy was not associated with higher odds of being in higher pay rate categories.

Discussion

Requirements for certification as a VTS vary among the veterinary technician specialty academies. However, all academies require that candidates have credentials to practice as a veterinary technician, obtain postgraduate training through clinical training or a mentorship program within the field of specialization (eg, 5,760 hours exclusively in the field of emergency and critical care for certification by the Academy of Veterinary Emergency and Critical Care Technicians), obtain continuing education within the specialty (eg, 40 hours of continuing education for certification by the Academy of Veterinary Technicians in Anesthesia and Analgesia), and document proficiency in advanced nursing skills. In addition, candidates typically are required to submit letters of recommendation, multiple case reports and case logs, and documentation that they are in good standing with professional organizations. Only those candidates who meet these requirements are eligible to take the certifying examination, and only those who pass the certifying examination are awarded the VTS designation.

Response rate in the present study was 44.7% (351/786), and although we cannot compare characteristics of respondents and nonrespondents, respondents were considered representative of the VTS population on the basis of membership data provided by the various VTS academies. Respondents were largely female, as is the case for most graduates of veterinary technician programs (92% of students attending AVMA-accredited veterinary technology programs are female2), and most were ≤ 44 years old, suggesting that obtaining certification as a VTS has been and continues to be an interest for newer graduates. Additionally, respondents were mostly White or Caucasian, as is also the case for most graduates of veterinary technician programs (83% of students attending AVMA-accredited veterinary technology programs are White or Caucasian2). The lack of diversity in the veterinary technician and VTS populations is something academic veterinary technology programs may wish to review.

Surveys for the present study were returned by VTSs from all parts of the United States and by individuals residing outside the United States. Because AVMA-recognized veterinary technology programs lead to an associate's or bachelor's degree, it was not surprising that 86.0% (302/351) of respondents held one of these degrees. Results of our logit regression analyses indicated there was a financial benefit for VTSs who attended graduate school. However, we did not determine whether these individuals had attended graduate school before or after receiving VTS certification or whether their graduate school education pertained to their role as a VTS. Numerous VTSs working outside the United States also reported having obtained a diploma in advanced veterinary nursing, which can be a stand-alone qualification or can be obtained as part of a bachelor's degree program.

Although achieving VTS certification did not typically lead to a 1-time bonus for respondents in the present study, 51.3% (180/351) of respondents received a pay increase when they achieved VTS certification, suggesting, in agreement with results of a previous study,1 that there was an immediate financial benefit to achieving VTS certification.

Weighted mean ± SD pay rate for respondents in the present study was $23.50 ± $6.16/h. By contrast, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics,3 mean pay rate for veterinary technicians in 2013 was $15.27/h ($31,760 annually), and a pay rate of $21.39/h represented the 90th percentile for veterinary technicians. However, the Bureau's classification of veterinary technicians may include both credentialed and noncredentialed veterinary technicians and, potentially, VTSs. In agreement with results of a previous study,1 data from the present study suggested that there was a financial benefit for veterinary technicians to achieve VTS certification. However, investigating the size of any financial benefit was not a specific goal of the present study, and further research into this question is warranted.

Although the nominal mean pay rate for veterinary technicians increased from $13.90/h to $15.27/h from 2007 to 2013, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics,3 after adjusting for inflation, there was essentially no change or a slight decrease in mean pay rate over this period. In contrast, nominal mean pay rate for VTSs in the present study ($23.50/h) was essentially unchanged from the previously reported rate of $23.48/h in 2007.1 After adjusting for inflation, this represented nearly a 10% decrease in actual pay rate.

Of the VTSs who responded to the present study, 55.6% (195/351) reported that they had lectured at local, regional, or national conferences on behalf of their specialty. Although data on the percentage of veterinary technicians who have similarly lectured at conferences do not exist, our findings would seem to show that lecturing is a strong interest of VTSs and may be an additional incentive for obtaining VTS certification. Pay that VTSs received as a result of lecturing in addition to pay received from other sources not examined in the present study (eg, publishing or consulting) could potentially increase overall VTS annual income. Many of those VTSs who reported that their travel, housing, or meal expenses for conferences where they lectured were not covered by the convention organizers indicated that these conferences were typically local and that traveling and other expenses were minimal or nonexistent.

In univariate χ2 analyses in the present study, we did not identify a significant association between pay rate category and gender (P = 0.059). However, in our logit regression analyses, when other variables (eg, job characteristics, experience variables, highest level of education, and region) were held constant, males had significantly higher odds of being in higher pay rate categories than did females. This finding was noteworthy because it implied that employers may pay female VTSs less than their male counterparts with similar characteristics. However, given the small number of male respondents, additional research is indicated to determine whether this finding is true.

Overall, results of the present study suggested that the typical VTS in 2013 was a white woman between 25 and 45 years of age who worked in a nonsupervisory role for a referral practice in an urban area in the United States, had been a veterinary technician for 11 to 15 years, had been a VTS for ≤ 5 years, worked 31 to 50 h/wk, and earned, on average, $23.50/h. The typical VTS did not receive a 1-time bonus for achieving VTS certification, but did receive a pay raise, received 3 weeks of paid time off yearly, had health insurance expenses partially or totally covered by the employer, participated in a retirement plan, received < $250/y for a uniform allowance, and received between $750 and $1,500/y from the employer for continuing education. These data were in agreement with findings from a study1 performed 6 years earlier.

Being male, having attended graduate school, having > 4 years of experience as a VTS, holding a supervisory or manager position, being employed by an academic employer or a referral practice, and working in the Northeast or outside the United States increased the overall odds of being in a higher pay rate category, once other variables were controlled.

Acknowledgments

No third-party funding or support was received in connection with this study or the writing or publication of the manuscript.

The authors declare that there were no conflicts of interest.

ABBREVIATIONS

CI

Confidence interval

NAVTA

National Association of Veterinary Technicians in America

VTS

Veterinary technician specialist

Footnotes

a.

Copies of the survey are available from the corresponding author on request.

b.

Stata Statistical Software, release 10.0, Stata Corp, College Station, Tex.

References

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