Invest in their Success: Behind Ohio’s New CVA Program
Empowering your staff to further their knowledge is one of the most impactful ways to support them and contribute to their success—and yours. With a new OVMA program, it’s easier than ever to achieve. On today’s episode, we’re learning more about OVMA’s newly launched Certified Veterinary Assistant training program and getting a glimpse into how the initiative could impact the veterinary profession in Ohio.
Krysten Bennett: Thanks for joining us again for another episode of Fully Vetted. I’m Krysten Bennett, and I’m here with co host Mia Cunningham and OVMA Executive Director Jack Advent.
Mia Cunningham: Jack’s here with us to talk about the OVMA Board approved certified veterinary assistant program. Welcome back to the show, Jack.
Jack Advent: Thank you, Mia and Krysten. Good to be back.
KB: Can you give us a little background on how this program came to fruition?
JA: So it’s important to understand, as members start to hear about Certified Veterinary Assistant Program, what was the impetus for that? So there’s really two pieces to that. One, it’s no secret that there’s a workplace staffing shortage going on in veterinary medicine, as there are obviously in a variety of industries. Part of that is a sense that we want those who work in veterinary offices to feel a little more empowered, trained, and a feeling that they are valued. The Certified Veterinary Assistant Program is one way to help achieve that for those who come in at an entry level into a veterinary office. It gives them a standardized set of training, it makes them feel more confident in what they’re able to do, and it recognizes that with a certification, which I believe that a lot of those individuals will take pride in. So that’s certainly one of the important parts.
Another is a conversation that’s been going on for some time, which is that there has been a shortage of veterinary technicians in Ohio and, really, across the country. The Board has looked at a variety of different ways to try and help mitigate that. One way is to look at those who are already in your office who show an interest in animals and veterinary medicine and to provide them with some initial information and knowledge. And then see if that’s something that serves as an impetus to take them to the next level and say, “Hey, you know what? I think maybe I’d like to go on and become a veterinary technician.”
So, really, the Board saw those two pieces as a way to help, in some respects, not only to make the current veterinary practice team feel more cohesive and valued, but also to hopefully resolve some of the problems we’re experiencing with respect to veterinary workplace shortages. That’s really what the Board had in mind. They took a lot of time to think about it, explore a variety of options, looked at a number of other states which are doing this program, have had success with it, and felt it was the right move to make at this point in time. So we’re excited to roll it out.
MC: Is there a timeline when we can expect this program to launch in Ohio?
JA: It’s actually already officially launched. It’s available. I’m aware of at least one practice that’s already started the process of subscribing to the online educational program and then setting up everything internally with their staff.
We’re going to do some things at Midwest Veterinary Conference to help remind everybody about it. The company that provides the training will be there. You can certainly ask questions, get a little more of a sense of what that looks like in terms of just the curriculum, how it’s presented, those types of things.
We know that it’s going to take a little bit of time to roll it out. It certainly did in some of the other states that have done it. Yes, we’d like to have it up in place as quick as we can. But we also know that it’s something that people want to take a little bit of time to understand more about, and we certainly respect that and we want to provide them with the means to hopefully do that. So, long answer to your question is that there is really no timeline other than we’re getting started. We know the journey will take a little while, but we’re excited and we think it’s worth it.
KB: Can you tell us a little bit about how the program is structured and how it works?
JA: Sure, I’d be happy to. So we partnered with an entity called ACT Training Programs. They provide a variety of online resources in veterinary medicine and some other medical professionals to provide, again, a kind of a consistent, very professional, well done set of information resources broken out in very manageable segments of time. So it’s not something you have to sit down and work on for hours on end. There are nice little snippets that could certainly work pretty well in terms of, I think, most people’s day-to-day activities in terms of assimilating that knowledge.
One of the great parts about this program is it’s not like, oh, you start today and you have to be done in two weeks. You really can pace yourself on it. Complementing those online training modules—and this is where the veterinary practice has to be fully bought in—is that some of those skills that they’re being taught and being exposed to, they need to actually demonstrate and practice those with either a veterinarian or veterinary technician there to observe them and make sure that they actually feel comfortable with what they’re doing and that they’ve actually correctly assimilated the knowledge. So that’s kind of the baseline.
It’s really a partnership of an online CE program taken at the pace of the individual who is learning it and then worked in with that is a lot of practical experience, hands on within the veterinary clinic, that they need to verify that they’re comfortable with it. And that’s part of a certification program, is to say, yes, you not only have listened to it, but you actually feel confident and you can do it.
MC: Jack, who qualifies for this? Is there an age limit or education requirement?
JA: There’s not any age or educational threshold to start the program. We’re starting with veterinary clinics, but one of the things that we looked at and is already implemented in other states, is bringing in the educational system. In some vocational programs within high schools and other educational entities, this kind of program could be offered to put more young people onto the pathway of becoming a certified veterinary assistant. So it’s pretty much open ended, as long as the individual is working for veterinary clinic at this point. In Ohio, again, we’re going to do the educational institutions in the hopefully not-too-distant future, but for now, they have to be in a practice where this has been subscribed to and is offered. Again, we don’t want to box anybody in; we want to make sure that it’s fair and open to available to everyone who’s interested in.
MC: Is the program NAVTA approved?
JA: There’s another program that’s been out for a little while that’s offered by the national organization for technicians; NAVTA coordinated some of that. It’s a little different, so it’s not exactly the same. It doesn’t carry the certification criteria and it’s a little different tasks, so they are different. And we think there’s plenty of space for both of these programs. The one we’ve gotten involved in is because we’ve seen success with some other states that have offered it. We think it meets a lot of the criteria that we’re looking for. Doesn’t mean that what’s offered by NAVTA is not good. It is it’s just a different approach. But we think this CVA program is a little better suited for us as a state organization and then for our members to be able to offer.
KB: If somebody goes through this program, do they have any other duties under the law?
JA: That’s a great question, Krysten. A lot of people ask this: Does this mean I can do other things within state law that I currently cannot do as a veterinary assistant? The answer to that question is no, there’s no additional duties that you get. This is a certification program that’s offered from an organizational standpoint. It doesn’t have standing of law. That doesn’t mean it’s not important, that it isn’t a valuable tool for your own advancement within the veterinary profession, but it doesn’t give you any additional authority and state laws to do more than what a veterinary assistant currently can do.
There’s a couple of states that have adopted the program. I think there are some slight differentials, but that’s not the case in Ohio. So once you’ve got the CVA, again, you’re going to be a well-trained individual. You’re going to have a lot of confidence and valuable part of the team, but you’re not going to be authorized to do duties beyond what you’re already doing.
KB: All right, Jack, well, thank you for joining us and sharing a little more information about our new CVA program. Next, we’re talking to Larissa Respondek of the Texas VMA, who going to tell us about how their CVA program is going and how it has impacted their veterinary community. Stay tuned.
MC: Welcome back. My name is Mia Cunningham, and joining me today is Larissa Respondek of the Texas Veterinary Medical Association. Larissa is a certified veterinary assistant and the director of credentialing for the TVMA, where she manages their CVA certification program, as well as serving as a staff leader for the Veterinary Professional Committee, Credentialing Committee, and the Practice Management Committee. Larissa, welcome to the show.
Larissa Respondek: Thank you, Mia. Thanks for having me.
MC: Absolutely. Well, the reason that we asked you to jump on today is just to give us kind of a brief history of the CVA, as the OVMA Board has recently approved the implementation of its own certified veterinary program here in Ohio.
As I understand, Texas was the first state to offer a certified veterinary assistant program. So can you tell us a little bit about the history of the program, how and why it was created?
LR: Yeah, absolutely. So the original beginning of the program started from a committee. We had the Employee Improvement Committee at TVMA back in 1994, and they realized that there was a need for standardized training and kind of improving the knowledge and the skills in their employees in their veterinary hospitals. And so Dr. Wally Craft was appointed to a task force and he really kind of spearheaded the beginnings of this program in trying to create the guidelines through that task force. And then with the assistance from the TVMA and a number of volunteers, including the directors for three college-based veterinary technician programs, the task force developed the framework for that original program. The Board of Directors approved the program in 1996, and the first certificates for CVA level one were granted in 1998. Following, we had CVA level two launched in 1998, with the first one becoming certified in ’99. And then we had level three follow in 2001.
MC: Now are those exams administered online or in person?
LR: So they’re all going to be in person, as in the person taking the exam has to be proctored by a licensed veterinary technician or a licensed veterinarian or a teacher in the case of high school program. But the exam is offered online and on paper in Texas.
KB: When are tests administered and how many students do you typically test each year?
LR: So we have people testing monthly. We don’t have like a certain testing time frame—like, you know, you have to do it between once a month at this time or whatever. They’re coming in all the time, but I’m working on a whole bunch of them right now, from October 9 all the way up until today. Really, I would say that the biggest chunk comes in in high school graduation season, so in that May time frame. But throughout the year, they’re coming in all over the place. The last year we tested total, I want to say total, we tested 1,300 people and created certificates for 1,300.
KB: Now do you average 1,300 students testing for the CVA program annually, or is that an increase from previous years?
LR: No, that was an increase, but we increase every year. It was definitely an increase from 2020.
MC: Just walk me through the process a little bit. So let’s say I don’t pass my first level exam. What are my options? Can I retake the test? How soon can I retake the test? What does that look like?
LR: Retests are available at any point in time within one year of the original date of testing. But the retest fee is $35 and it requires a retest application be submitted. And then from there, like I said, they can retest as many times as needed to pass the exam within one year.
MC: Now, let’s say I passed all my exams and I’m ready to go. How often do the certifications need to be renewed?
LR: Renewal is annually and it’s going to be based on when the CVA level one exam was taken. So that month will always be the month that the CVA will renew. They’re required to get five hours of continuing education in the veterinary field and pay a renewal fee each year.
MC: Now, I do want to take a step back. Can you talk to me about some of the criteria to become a CVA in the state of Texas?
LR: So, for CVA level one, the first requirement is going to be that the applicant be at least 16 years old to take that exam. The applicant has to obtain 500 hours of practical work experience. It can be either paid or volunteer in a veterinary setting, and that’s going to be under the direct supervision of a licensed veterinarian or licensed veterinary technician. So it can be a veterinary hospital or a shelter, but it has to have one of those two credentialed individuals overseeing and on staff at that program. We do accept hours for the clinical work that’s required, after the age of 14. So any hours after that, we’ll accept those. But they have to be 16 year olds to take the exam.
And then the applicant has to submit the CVA level one exam application, which was completed with that DVM or LVT signing off on their skills and hours that they’ve acquired in that exam application. There are 78 skills that are listed, which are the required skills validation checklist, and all of those skills must be completed with that DVM or LVT and checked off by them. And then the final thing is that they have to take the CVA level one exam and pass the score of 70% or better.
MC: So do all of those observed classes have to be in person? Are there any elements of this that can be taken online?
LR: This program began as having an in-hospital, on-the-job training. And so all of these hours that we’re discussing right now in a veterinary hospital are going to be in that veterinary hospital. Now there are high school programs and we also work with community colleges that do assistant programs and those are a little bit different. So the hours are going to be broken up into 200 hours of classroom and that is going to be in a classroom setting, but it’s going to be still with hands-on skills training in those classes and learning the material that’s in the CVA level one exam in the training manual. And then the 300 hours that’s left over is going to be what’s required clinically. So those 300 hours have to be completed in a veterinary hospital or shelter, again with that same scenario of with that DVM or that LVT on staff training them.
MC: I was just curious because of COVID and everything else, it seems like a lot of people are transitioning some of their requirements online, at least making them available online during COVID.
LR: We came up with the COVID addendum for the CVA program because we absolutely ran into that problem with our high school students, where veterinary hospitals weren’t allowing them to come in for their internships just for safety purposes, and the schools were shut down for a while. So we had students that were unable to test because they couldn’t have an exam proctored in person. And then we had students who couldn’t test because they couldn’t get their 300 clinical hours.
So what we did is we came up with the addendum, and it had several facets to it that would better assist the teachers and the students to be able to get the necessary requirements done in this really troubling time. One of them was it decreased the hours that were required in the veterinary hospital to 200 hours, but they had to get a signed recommendation letter from the licensed veterinarian they worked under. So we had to get that recommendation letter and those 200 hours, and they still had to complete their skills.
We also did allow for online learning programs. So again, the students were out of the schools and they were having to do everything virtually. So a lot of the assistant programs went online. That wasn’t really something that was in our protocols and our policies. The addendum made it okay for those students to be able to learn virtually.
And then the credentialing committee who is in charge of kind of going through all of this stuff was fantastic and just really saw the need for the high school students to still be able to continue the work that they were doing and be able to finish because it was right in the middle. Normally our testing season is in May, and March is when everything shut down. So we had students that were probably 50 hours away from finishing and they couldn’t and they couldn’t test. And it was just so disheartening. And so it was really nice that the committee saw that need and was able to get something to where we still had students being able to test once they were allowed to come back into the building of the schools. And that way you still have that in-person proctoring.
But we also in the addendum have a list where students can get 78 of their clinical hours virtually with a licensed veterinarian or a licensed veterinary technician going over those 78 skills. So for each skill, they can do an hour of clinical time that they would get for those skills. And that really meant a lot as well.
MC: I like that you guys were able to pivot. There’s going to be a steep learning curve, but any help figuring out would be much appreciated.
LR: And anything that OVMA needs, anything I’m not saying that I’ve seen it all because I absolutely have not, but there’s definitely some things where I’m like, okay, this is a new one for me. And so if you guys run into that, I really want to make sure that all of OVMA knows that they can contact TVMA, and we are more than happy to help get you through whatever, give you our experiences, and just help to make the process easier.
MC: Thank you so much. Well, aside from Ohio, have other states reached out to TVMA for assistance in creating their own CVA programs?
LR: Yes, absolutely. We have five other states that we partner with for the CVA program, and some of those have been around for quite a while, and then some of them are a little bit newer. So we’re just trying to help everybody through. And the goal, if we can get this to every state, that would be fantastic. There was not a lot of communication in the past, and I’m trying to fix that. So that’s my goal. And I’ve been reaching out to those states and like, “Hey, let’s have a dialogue, get together and make sure that this program is going to do what you guys want it to do. How can I help with that?” So that’s what we’re trying to really establish is that communication, which is why I’m so excited to do this, to be like, yes, absolutely. Anything I can do to help you guys, whatever you need, I’m all over it.
MC: That’s going to be much appreciated. As far as wages go, for those who come out of the program, are they able to command or negotiate a more substantial hourly wage?
LR: We have lots of hospitals that will actually utilize the CVA program as an incentive for them to get raises. So for each level that you go through in the CVA program, certain hospitals will give you that increase in pay because of that next level reached. So, yeah, absolutely, we have lots of hospitals that utilize it in that way. And then we have people who are able to get jobs easier because they have that CVA behind their name and they’re not, you know, just coming off the street and can’t prove that they have the experience that a CVA has.
MC: Absolutely. So this is over 30 years that you guys have implemented this program. Overall, how well do you think the CVA program has met or is meeting the challenges and needs of your members?
LR: We have an executive director who’s really, like, really pushing it to all of the veterinarians. And we’re able to now really see an uptick of hospitals that are using the program and where they might not have really kind of thought about it before. And now the more that we’re like, “Hey, give it a go. If you don’t like it, you don’t like it, but give it a try. See how your people like it.” And again, with retention being an issue, I think more and more veterinarians are like, “OK, let’s try something. Let’s try something different to see if we can keep them here and try to utilize this program in that way.”
The personnel who have shown the proficiency and the skills that are required to become a CVA have become a great asset to the practitioners. They can allow them more freedom in their day-to-day operations. And one of the cool things is that because we have these high school students, that the veterinarians and the practice managers, and they’re able to kind of mold them into the employees that they want to have. And it’s fantastic because, I mean, they’re hiring these students. They’re hiring the high school students because they’re trained, they have the skills, they have the book work that they need to have to be able to understand what they’re doing and why they’re doing it. And then the DVMs and LVTs that are in the hospitals are able to show them how things are done in hospital. It’s fantastic. It is definitely helping practitioners in multiple ways for not only staff retention, but finding new staff. So, yeah, it’s kind of cool to see all around.
We have a list of DVM students from the two veterinary schools in Texas, and we just had a report sent to me out of that list of probably I mean, there’s probably, like I think she went to, like, 75 or something at this time, but there’s probably about 15 of those that are CVAs. They’re in vet school and they’re CVAs. I mean, it was just really, really heartwarming to hear that and to see that on paper. These students are coming out of school and they are going forward and staying in the veterinary field.
MC: So it’s like this creation of a pipeline for the profession, so that’s pretty cool.
LR: Yes, absolutely. And if Ohio can really pick up those high schools, it’s going to snowball. Once you get one school and they’re like, “Ohh, this is what it does.” And then if you can get an industry-based certification in your state, they’ll see that on the list and they will come to you. They will come to you.
MC: Awesome. Thank you so much. I enjoy chatting with you. Have a good afternoon down there.
LR: Thanks, you too!