Twelve students at Lexington's Locust Trace AgriScience Farm recently passed a national veterinary assistant certification exam that could help them land jobs in veterinary clinics or get into veterinary schools.
The 12, all seniors from Fayette County high schools, are the first Locust Trace veterinary assistant students to take and pass the certification exam. The test is given by the National Association of Veterinary Technicians in America (NAVTA).
Passing the test entitles the Locust Trace students to list "Approved Veterinary Assistant" on their rèsumès.
Locust Trace and the Louisville Central Magnet Career Academy are among only five high schools in the country approved to offer the certification. Eight community colleges also offer it.
"The certification will help these students a lot," said Dr. Barry Hays, who runs the Locust Trace Veterinary Clinic, where the students got much of their hands-on training.
"It makes them more employable for veterinarians looking to hire assistants, because they can go to work without additional training," Hays said. "And it gives them a real start if they want to go on to the next level to become a veterinarian or veterinary technician."
Locust Trace, which the Fayette County Public Schools opened in 2011 to serve students from all five county high schools, offers training in various agricultural careers, including equine science. The farm boasts its own veterinary clinic.
Locust Trace launched its veterinary assistant training program in 2012, with the first group of students starting classes that fall. The program won approval from NAVTA last summer, opening the way for Locust Trace students to take the certification exam when they complete training.
The first 12 students — all girls — sailed through the online test.
One of them, Lyndsey Mefford, a 17-year-old senior from Henry Clay High School, said the test was tough.
"I checked through all my answers twice before I had the confidence to submit them," Lyndsey said. "But we were very well prepared."
Like several of the other students, Lyndsey wants to use her Advanced Veterinary Assistance certification as a stepping stone to veterinary school. She started telling people that she wanted to be an "animal doctor" in third grade, she said. Instead of playing with dolls, she "treated" her stuffed animals, she said.
Addison Hodges, 17, a Lafayette High School senior, said she thinks being a certified assistant will help her toward a career as a veterinary technician. She said she hopes to start her own business one day, combining veterinary services, animal rescue and pet supplies.
In contrast, Morgan Johnson, also 17 and from Lafayette, said she sees veterinary assistant training as a possible route into human medicine. She plans to major in biology and eventually might go into pharmacy.
"The main thing colleges look for is experience," Johnson said. "And having a nationally recognized certification is the greatest experience you can get."
Morgan and the other students had to put in lots of work well before taking the NAVTA certification exam, according to teacher Kathleen Magsam, who helped start the Locust Trace veterinary assistant training program.
Just to qualify for taking the test they had to complete three levels of training, which included how to restrain an animal for examination, lab work, and short internships at veterinary clinics around Lexington, Magsam said.
Starting next year, there will be four levels of training, including longer clinic internships, said Latissa O'Cull, who also teaches in the program.
Magsam predicted that students' success on the certification test this year — "We're 12 for 12," she said — will generate more interest in the veterinary assistant program.
About 95 students were in the program this year, but enrollment could reach 120 next year, she said.