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Ask the Expert: Veterinary technicians

Ask the Expert: Who are the people working at the Zoo hospital?

Answer: There are people working many different types of jobs at the Sarah Allison Steffee Center for Veterinary Medicine. You may see staff veterinarians, researchers, animal keepers or veterinary technicians.

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Sharon Yanhert, RVT, and Dr. Debra Barbarits examine a red panda

Registered veterinary technicians work to care for animals in a variety of settings, from small animal clinics like your pet’s veterinarian’s office to large facilities like dairy farms, research facilities and zoos.

Angel Mitchell, a registered veterinary technician at Cleveland Metroparks Zoo, said daily responsibilities for her and her colleagues can include helping train animals to participate in health care, administering medication, assisting with X-rays, surgeries and CT scans, performing lab work and more. Sometimes you can catch a glimpse of this work through the windows of the Steffee Center.

The technicians also go on “rounds” throughout the Zoo to check on animals, talk with keepers and assist veterinarians with procedures.

In fact, there are only three types of things that veterinary technicians can’t do that a veterinarian can: prescribe medication, diagnose disease and perform surgery.

Mitchell says she enjoys going to work because each day is a little different. “I love the challenge of working on an animal that I never thought I’d ever see when I was in school - like performing a CT scan on an orangutan!”

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The veterinary team preparing for a CT scan on a Bornean orangutan

"I love the challenge of working on an animal that I never thought I’d ever see when I was in school."

According to the Association of Zoo Veterinary Technicians, there are only a few hundred zoo veterinary technician jobs in the country, so it is a competitive field.

Like many techs, Mitchell has learned a lot from on-the-job training. Most college veterinary programs have some type of exotic animal training but it is rarely hands-on or all-inclusive. Most zoo technicians have had internships, volunteered at animal shelters or facilities, attended conferences and learned from their colleagues - all in addition to their academic studies.

“I never stop learning,” says Mitchell of her more than 20-year career. “You might have studied how to care for horses, for example, but then you have to apply that to zebras.”

That learning and a love of animals keeps Mitchell motivated. “How many people can say they care for an animal like a lion? Hardly anybody! It’s a true connection to the wild.”

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