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How Dallas College mastered long-distance learning a long time ago

Balding man with beard, glasses, wearing dark suit and white shirt stands by an X-ray table. His left hand is on the front paw of a large, still, white and gray haired dog lying on the table. It's not a real dog.
Bill Zeeble
Dr. Kelly Black oversees Dallas College’s vet tech program at the Cedar Valley campus. He’s not letting a sleeping dog lie in the school’s operating room. That’s because this dog’s not real, but a learning prop for students.

For decades, Dallas College has been teaching and certifying veterinary technicians long-distance. And the program was succeeding way before the pandemic forced the world to take on long-distance and virtual learning.

Years before COVID-19 forced the world to learn online, Dallas College figured out that virtual-learning success depended on long-distance lab lessons, which could be viewed and certified.

Dr. Kelly Black, a veterinarian, oversees the vet tech program at Dallas College’s Cedar Valley campus. He’s been at the school since 2004.

When he first started, Black said “most of the students were sending us VHS tapes of themselves. So we would get big packages with VHS tapes of them doing their skills.”

The school’s long-distance students have always needed ways to show they’ve mastered necessary techniques, like drawing blood from a dog or cat. Black says technology has changed over time.

“We graduated,” he says. “So we went into DVDs. Then we got the mini-DVDs, and then we had USB drives. And now we're to the point that our students can upload their videos of themselves into their learning management system.”

They just use smart phone videos.

Teaming up with professionals

Students still need a certified technician or veterinarian on the other end to show them what they need to know.

Valerie Garuccio is one of those teachers. Also called a preceptor, she works at Red Bank Veterinary Hospital in Tinton Falls, New Jersey. She’s helped a number of long-distance students, including Dallas College enrollees, show their skills on video.

“You know, what is the passing grade needed? And I'm going to say, ‘Well, that's a definite fail, we need to retake this video,’ or ‘Nope, that looks good. I think this would pass and maybe you can run it by your professor before submitting it,’” said Garuccio.

Most students seeking vet tech certification, like Krystle Reed, already work in a veterinarian's office. Reed has spent ten years with her vet in the Woodlands, near Houston, and loves it. But she has bigger goals. With a child at home and her full full-time vet’s office job, online certification was the prescription she needed to meet those goals.

“For the future, I would really like to work with the large animals like lions, tigers, zoo-type animals,” said Reed. “It opens up that, because they require you … to have a degree to do that.” 

Reed can’t work on big animals at her current vet’s job, so, like other students in this program, she managed to get to the Dallas campus for large animal training.

A step up in salary

A certified degree can increase pay at least 10 to 15%, according to

Valerie Garuccio says certification pays off for the veterinarians too, even if they have to give their now-degreed technicians a raise.

“For every credentialed veterinary technician,” Garuccio said “I believe it increases the income to the practice something like $95,000 a year for every credentialed technician. I like to use that statistic for our veterinary practices who say, ‘Is it worth investing in the education? Is it worth investing in credentialing?”

Krystle Reed explained that’s because veterinarians can now see more paying clients while certified technicians take on more tasks than before.

“Licensed technicians can close up a surgery,” said Reed. “We can't cut, we can't do anything in the surgery, but we can close it. We can get urine samples with a needle. We can clean teeth, take X-rays, do a lot of stuff. So in a way, it's helping take time and stress off the doctor.”

Back at Dallas College, Dr. Black says the vet tech program’s growth is outpacing expectations.

“We are already double what we normally are in the enrollment process.”

Some of those enrollees, explained Dr. Black, live as far away as Canada.

Got a tip? Email Reporter Bill Zeeble at . You can follow him on Twitter @bzeeble.

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Bill Zeeble has been a full-time reporter at KERA since 1992, covering everything from medicine to the Mavericks and education to environmental issues.