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The Toronto Sun CareerConnection


One-of-a-kind VTE program

By David Chilton
Special to the Toronto Sun

Whether Lady Eaton would confer wholehearted approval or frosty disdain on what Seneca College has done with the 700 acres she owned just north of the city is anyone's guess. Either way, the animals don't care.
Students in the veterinary technician program train on Seneca College's King campus north of Toronto.

Their home on Seneca's King campus is about as good as it gets for stray dogs and cats, rodents, exotic birds and other species, calves, sheep and, soon, horses. After all, the furry and the feathered are a vital part of the college's veterinary technician program (VTE), which attracts as many as 1,000 applications for the 55 places available each year.

To get in, applicants need at least high school graduation with grade 12 credits in English, chemistry and math, and a grade 11 biology credit, says Judith Limkilde, dean of applied arts and health sciences at Seneca. They will also have to take a skills test and answer a questionnaire about their background working with animals. Most of the VTE students are female, says Limkilde, and they tend be a little older since they usually have been educated beyond high school. Tuition is about $2,200 a year, and following graduation there's a provincial certification exam.

"It's a very challenging program," says the Seneca dean. "There's a lot of science, a lot of lab, clinical pathology. In the program itself you're dealing with medical etymology, parasitology, pharmacology and radiography."

Limkilde isn't exaggerating. Laurie Major, who graduated from the program in 1992 and now works at an animal clinic in Aurora, says Seneca tries to cram everything into two years. "It's academically hard. I think they could extend (the program) to three years," says Major, who spent two years studying biology at the University of Guelph.

As well, Seneca students must spend a fair amount of their time caring for the animals the college keeps on what was one of Lady Eaton's summer estates. Every spring students are expected to help out with lambing, says Limkilde.
  • The VTE program is the only one of its kind in the GTA.
  • Entry is highly competitive with as many as 1,000 applications for 55 places.
  • VTE students train on Seneca's King campus north of Toronto.
  • High school graduation with a strong background in science is required for admission.
  • Job prospects are very good but salaries for new graduates can be as low as $25,000 a year.

  • The Seneca program is the only one of its kind in the GTA, although there's one at St. Clair College in Windsor and another at St. Lawrence College in Kingston.

    The job of a VTE differs considerably from that of veterinarian's assistant, says Limkilde. The latter might book appointments, order supplies and so on, but the VTE is there at the sharp end assisting with surgery, taking X-rays, providing post-operative care, conducting lab analyses and more.

    Interact well with humans

    Both Laurie Major and second-year student John Bell say a fondness for animals isn't enough to succeed in the program: students must interact well with humans too. "You can't get into it because you love animals and hate people," says Bell, who spent two years working in an animal clinic after high school.

    Remember, says Major, domestic animals have owners who get mighty attached to them. "(Students) don't realize how much interaction with people there is."

    That interaction is likely to be greater when Seneca's new animal health centre officially opens on Nov. 8. Limkilde says it has classrooms, labs, a holding area for animals, facilities with two operating tables and cameras to transmit surgery in real time to students watching elsewhere, and more.

    The dean and her students at Seneca welcome the centre, but perhaps an unintended consequence of the new building will be even more applications to the program. Employment prospects are "very good," says Limkilde, in animal clinics, zoos, research labs and pet food companies, but the pay, evidently, is not. She says how much new grads earn depends on where they work, but assisting a vet could pay as little as $25,000 a year.

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