What is a Vet Tech Specialist in Nutrition?

You may have seen these letters after people’s names, particularly speaking and writing on the topic of nutrition. In fact, you may have noticed I’ve been talking about it quite abit lately. VTS stands for Veterinary Technician Specialist; a VTS is a highly qualified, skilled and experienced veterinary nurse or technician who has gone through additional training and certification in an area of their interest. There are currently 16 specialities that vet nurses and techs can specialise in, with nutrition being one of them. Much like a veterinarian becoming Board Certified (in the US or EU) or sitting their Membership exams (in Australia), becoming a Specialist is a significant commitment of time and study – for a VTS, this is usually three and a half years.

So why am I telling you this?

If you follow me on social media, you would have seen I have finally taken the leap of faith to begin my third year and start applying for VTS status in Nutrition! Today’s blog focuses on commonly asked questions about Vet Tech Specialists and what the VTS Nutrition entails.

The Academy of Veterinary Nutrition Technicians oversees the VTS Nutrition

How do you become a VTS (Nutrition)?
The requirements to become a VTS depends on the individual academy rules (you can find out about all the different specialities and their requirements on the NAVTA website).

For the VTS Nutrition, the Academy of Vet Nutrition Techs (AVNT) require:
• 4000 hours (3 years) of experience post graduation from a vet tech/nurse programme
• 40 hours (minimum) of continuing education in nutrition – 10 hours must be taken in your final year
• Two letters of recommendation from two of the following categories; supervising Vet, VTS Nutrition, VTS Internal Medicine, DACVN or DACVIM
• Completion of the Application Packet – this culmanates all the work completed in your third and final year by showing you have the advanced skills and knowledge required of a VTS through case logs, reports, skills and knowledge lists, continuing education and writing exam questions. Successfully passing your packet allows you to qualify for the exam
• Final exam is sat the June following your third year. Passing the exam awards the title and post-nominals VTS (Nutrition).

As you can see, it’s a significant undertaking however, not impossible. While the VTS is an American qualification, it is able to be taken internationally and many VTS are located in countries other than the US. The VTS is not a ‘taught’ program in that you don’t attend classes or lectures – it is largely self driven and hands on with the support of a mentor, digging deeper into your nutrition cases than you normally would in practice.

What is a veterinary technician? How is it different to a veterinary nurse?
In Australia, we use the titles interchangeably – a Veterinary Nurse is someone who has completed the Certificate IV in Veterinary Nursing which is the nationally recognised qualification to practice as a vet nurse. A Veterinary Technician performs the same role and tasks as a Veterinary Nurse, but may use the title of technician if they have undertake a Bachelors degree in Veterinary Technology. There is no difference in pay, and Veterinary Technology courses are not recognised – often a vet tech will work in research, teaching hospitals or zoos but may also work in the same capacity in clinics as vet nurses. In many states in the US, the title ‘Nurse’ is protected by the human nursing industry so noone can use the title ‘nurse’ if they are not a Registered Nurse which is where the title Veterinary Technician was utilised in its place. So because the VTS is an American based program, this is why it’s called the Veterinary Technician Specialist, not Veterinary Nurse Specialist – despite meaning the same thing.

Veterinary nurses and technicians can undertake a huge range of tasks within the practice – the only things that nurses and techs CANNOT legally do is prescribe, diagnose, prognose or perform surgery. While there are some variations from state to state, or country to country, almost everything else a nurse or tech can do and the VTS can allow nurses to perform even more specialised tasks with more autonomy.

What can a Vet Tech Specialist in Nutrition do?
A VTS in Nutrition will work to a higher level than a veterinary nurse or technician; they may assist Board Certified Veterinary Nutritionists in clinical practice or research, consult with or independently of a DACVN, lecture and write to educate other professionals on veterinary nutrition, or work directly with pet food companies on research, formulating or development. The possibilities are quite broad and the Nutrition speciality is still growing so more and more job opportunities are becoming available.

NAVTA developed the Committee on Veterinary Technician Specialities and currently recognise 16 different specialities

Is Vet Tech Specialist a protected title?
Like Board Certified Veterinary Nutritionist, you must have passed your qualifying exam to use the title. The Academy websites carry lists and registries of who holds VTS status in their speciality, so it can be verified. You may see the use of the term Candidate – this denotes a student or someone studying towards the certification, who has not yet sat and passed their exam.

What might your day look like as a VTS?
This depends entirely on where and how you choose to use your VTS! Some Nutrition techs will go on to lecture, write and educate while others may remain in clinical practice providing consultations and advanced nutritional support to patients with nutritional diseases and disorders. Many will also work in research or help pet food companies develop new products.

For me, I love both aspects of the job – clinical and educational (as you can tell). So I hope to be able to do both when I achieve my VTS!

Veterinary technicians and nurses assist vets in a huge range of tasks, aswell as undertaking tasks that are specific to their role

What if I work in general practice? Can I still get my VTS?
Yes! Because every patient benefits from a nutritional consultation and assessment and given nutrition is the 5th Vital Sign, you can complete your VTS in any sort of practice – emergency, referral, general, specialist or mixed practice. You can also complete your VTS if you work in animal nutrition research! I work in a general practice and know a number of veterinary nurses who have also successfully completed their VTS in Nutrition while in general practice clinics. As long as you have access to adequate cases and opportunities to demonstrate your advanced skills, any clinical or research job will allow you to compete the process.

What animals does a VTS Nutrition work with?
There’s is no specification on what animals you must work with; your cases must be from at least two different species of your choice. Majority of applicants will use dogs and cats, but if you see alot of another species in your practice you can use these instead. Generally, a VTS in Nutrition will work with the species they feel most comfortable with and have studied.

Still got questions? Why not check out the Academy of Veterinary Nutrition Technicians website here to learn more!

Want to follow my journey towards Specialist status? Follow me on Instagram and Twitter at the handle @nutritionrvn

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