Did you know that your local neighbourhood veterinarian isn’t the only professional within the animal health industry? There are many other professions within the broader industry, which professions are called para-veterinary professions. And if you’re thinking of pursuing a career in this field, you’ll be glad to know there is a range of exciting professions to choose from.
The veterinary and para-veterinary industry consists of six professions: veterinarians, veterinary nurses, animal health technicians, laboratory animal technologists, veterinary technologists and veterinary physiotherapists, all of whom play their own unique and vital roles in keeping pets and other animals healthy.
The South African Veterinary Council (SAVC) is the regulatory body for the veterinary and para-veterinary professions in South Africa and as such has legal authority over them. As the custodian of the veterinary professions the SAVC enables the veterinary team to practise ethically by setting and monitoring veterinary standards to create a safe environment for animals and people.
The SAVC works closely with training institutions that offer relevant training courses for the industry. They are the University of Pretoria, for veterinarians and veterinary nurses; North-West University, the University of South Africa and the Tsolo Agriculture and Rural Development Institute, which all train animal health technicians; the Tshwane University of Technology, which trains veterinary technologists; and Equine-Librium College (Pty) Ltd, which trains veterinary physiotherapists.
“Our involvement as the SAVC is to register the professionals once they are qualified. Upon completion of the courses, veterinarians first need to complete their Compulsory Community Service programme, similar to newly qualified medical doctors, which is 12 months in duration and is administered by the Department of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development (DALRRD),” explains SAVC president Dr Tlotlo Kgasi.
Once qualified and registered, these animal health professionals work together in different institutions and facilities, each fulfilling an essential role to keep the animal health industry functioning like clockwork.
The veterinary facilities that most people are familiar with are urban practices that treat pets or companion animals; these include animal hospitals and clinics, and veterinary consulting rooms. However, some veterinary facilities treat a broader range of animals, such as equine hospitals and clinics, behavioural facilities and herd health practices that deal, amongst others, with production animals and wildlife. They often have their own veterinarians and veterinary nurses stationed on site.
Veterinarians and veterinary nurses also work at animal welfare organisations, where they treat stray, abandoned and abused animals. Veterinary physiotherapists work with companion animals such as horses, cats and dogs. Their work includes, but is not limited to, optimising movement and function in animals to improve their quality of life.
Laboratory animal technologists, veterinary technologists, veterinarians and veterinary nurses work in laboratories where they, among many other duties, carry out vital veterinary pathology and research work, investigating and diagnosing diseases in animals.
Research centres develop, experiment with and test the efficacy of new medicines. This is also where zoonotic diseases, such as bird flu and foot and mouth disease, are investigated. Veterinarians work at these research centres to conduct investigations and tests on specific animals. Laboratory animal technologists in research hubs work with animals used for research and education, among other duties. Veterinary technologists and animal health technicians also work at research centres. All research centres that are involved in animal research must be registered with the SAVC.
Another key area for the industry is in agriculture, where veterinarians and animal health technicians are involved in fieldwork, treating production animals such as cattle, dairy animals, poultry and pigs, as well as in aquaculture (the breeding, rearing, and harvesting of fish, shellfish, algae and other organisms in all types of water environments). Animal health technicians and veterinarians work together with laboratories and research centres to send samples to be tested for new diseases. On a dairy farm, for example, milk is tested for various diseases that are harmful to human health, such as brucellosis, which causes spontaneous abortions. Veterinarians and animal health technicians also administer vaccinations against other controlled and notifiable diseases.
At abattoirs, animal health technicians and veterinarians conduct inspections to monitor the safety of animal meat for human consumption, under the Meat Safety Act (no. 40 of 2000).
A significant number of animals in South Africa can be found in rural areas and informal settlements, where there is often no access to adequate healthcare. The DALRRD sends animal health technicians – and, through its Compulsory Community Service (CSS) programme, newly qualified veterinarians – into deep rural areas where they do extension work, training and educating farmers and cattle owners about diseases, how to identify symptoms, and the kinds of medical interventions that can be administered. If diseases are detected, they are reported immediately to the state veterinarian under the Animal Diseases Act (no. 35 of 1984).
Another key area where veterinarians and veterinary nurses work is in wildlife and conservation. The type of work they do includes treating sick or injured wild animals, and darting and tranquilising or sedating animals should, for example, one need to be transported to a healthcare facility.
“We have a number of veterinary and para-veterinary professional associations that are important stakeholders of the animal health industry, and represent the interests of the various professions registered with the SAVC. We liaise with them regularly to ensure that the professions are equally and fairly represented. It’s important to note that participation in an association is voluntary, unlike registration with the SAVC, which is compulsory,” says Dr Kgasi.
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