U. of I., Parkland College partnership introduces new vet tech career path

A veterinary technician kneels down to vaccinate a small dog

URBANA, Ill. — For University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign students Saira Cruz and Mercedes Saavedra, majoring in animal sciences is making their dream careers possible. Thanks to a new partnership between the Department of Animal Sciences at U. of I. and Parkland College, Cruz and Saavedra are set to earn both their bachelor’s degrees and their veterinary technology degrees in just five years, allowing them to launch into careers working with animals immediately after completing the program.

The partnership offers new options for students who want to earn a bachelor’s degree and work with animals but don’t wish to attend veterinary school after graduation. Students spend their first three years in the Department of Animal Sciences, part of the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences (ACES) at U. of I., and the next two in a blended program finishing coursework toward their bachelor’s and earning their vet tech degree at Parkland. Completing both degrees separately would take six years.   

Amy Fischer-Brown, a teaching associate professor in animal sciences, said developing a path to facilitate the vet tech degree had been a priority for many years. 

“Many times, students will graduate and then contact us later to say, ‘I'm so happy I found my dream career as a veterinary technician.’ They were getting their bachelor's with us and then getting a separate veterinary technician degree,” Fischer-Brown said. “Many students don't know all of their options for working with animals; this program gives them more paths to consider while still in college.”

A junior and first-generation student, Cruz was accepted into the program in its first year, 2023. After enrolling, Cruz found the program helped her seamlessly integrate her life plans into her dream of working with animals.

“I’ve wanted to become a vet since I discovered that career, but I didn’t really know the process of becoming one,” Cruz said. “A presentation introduced me to the vet technician career path, and from that day on, I was determined to get into the partner program to become a vet technician.”

Cruz finished the first semester of her vet tech curriculum at Parkland last fall. 

“The vet tech program has given me tons of hands-on experience already,” Cruz said. “I didn’t have any prior experience in animal clinics, and I was completely new to everything. To those who want to join the program but don’t have experience, don’t worry! The teachers are all very nice, helpful, encouraging, and supportive.”

Saavedra, a senior with a concentration in companion animal and equine science, said although she loves working with animals, she knew she did not want to go to veterinary school. After the unexpected death of her cat, Saavedra took on an internship at the Champaign County Humane Society, where she discovered the career path that inspired her to apply for the vet tech program alongside Cruz.

“During my internship, I was drawn to helping with medical procedures, like physical examinations and vaccinations, so I talked to a medical staff member at the shelter, who told me she was a certified veterinary technician. I did a little more research and knew that this was my new career goal,” Saavedra said. “My cat has been my little motivation to make sure animals receive the best care so they remain healthy and live long lives.

“If you are not sure about attending veterinary school but still want to be involved in the medical field for animals, the vet tech program is definitely something to look into,” Saavedra said.

The veterinary technology program is open and accepting applications. Contact Amy Fischer-Brown at afischer@illinois.edu for more information. Students wishing to enroll in Fall 2024 should apply by March 1, 2024. For more opportunities, explore our internships and student opportunities

To support students pursuing this career path, donate to the Animal Sciences Scholarship Fund.

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