If you like working with and helping animals, you might be considering a career as a veterinary technician specialist. If you have ever taken your pet to the vet, you have encountered these dedicated employees. Vet techs work under the supervision of a veterinarian but also interact with the owners and caretakers of the patients. The nature of the work means that every day is different.
A modern veterinary practice cannot function without these specialists. They are the backbone of the veterinary team. The job requires earning a degree and completing necessary certifications in order to work. A tech in this position not only needs a good rapport with animals, but also with humans. They can advise owners about basic care for their animals and understand the inevitable grief of losing a pet. The work of a vet tech is often hard, but also rewarding.
Steps to Become a Vet Tech
Step 1: GED or High School Diploma / Degrees
- Complete high school or a GED and take courses in science, biology, and computer basics.
- Graduate from an accredited veterinary technology training program with laboratory and internship work, with hands-on training
- Pass a national exam to demonstrate knowledge.
- In states that require Licensed Veterinary Technicians, pass state exams and licensing requirements such as background checks.
Veterinary technician education has three levels; they are the certificate, the associate, and the bachelor’s degree levels. The certificate has two meanings. The entry-level document is an approximately one-year course of study that may also require a specific number of supervised practices. Another reference to certification involves specialties after completion of an associate or bachelor’s degree. These certifications can add valuable depth and versatility to the veterinary technician’s career. For example, there are certifications for emergency veterinary technicians. Emergency veterinary technology is a relatively new accreditation field.
Certificate in Veterinary Technology
This entry-level program equips graduates to work in clinical, hospital, and practice settings. The degree includes about 60 credit hours, plus an important period of hands-on experiences such as an internship or another type of workplace situation. Most students can complete an associate degree in 24 months. The below-listed items are examples coursework that may appear in one of these programs.
- Pharmacy and Pharmacology
- Surgical Preparation and Assisting
- Dentistry Procedures
- Laboratory Procedures
- Animal Nursing
- Radiography, Ultrasound, etc.
Associate Degree in Veterinary Technology
The Associate of Science in Veterinary Technology is the most common career path for veterinary technicians. Students can complete the degree in 16 to 24 months.
- Basic Animal Nursing Care
- Anesthesia Training
- Vet Anatomy and Physiology
Bachelor’s Degree in Veterinary Technology
The BS in Veterinary Technology is a four-year degree. It can add valuable opportunities at higher levels of pay than an associate degree. Students must weigh the costs and time required when contrasted with a two-year associate degree.
- Surgical Nursing for Animals
- Animal Diseases
- Vet Pathology
- Pharmaceutical Training
Associates & Certification Cost with Range for Each
Associate degree costs are in the range of $3,500 to $7,500 per year for two years. The range is wide, and prices could be as low as $1,500 and as high as $30,000.
Typical certificate courses range from $1,500 to $3,500. Variations based on state law and varying requirements can add substantially to the costs such as in heavily regulated states like California.
Step 2: Veterinary Technician Training/Apprenticeship Opportunities and Other Certification
As mentioned before, becoming a vet tech means earning at least an associate degree. There are veterinary certifications or diplomas allowing you to work with animals without the education requirements of a formal associate or other type of degree, although there are limitations to the kind of procedures you may perform compared with fully trained vet techs.
Among these are veterinary assistant programs. These classes are offered through community college or adult education certification, both in-person and online, and some are offered at the high school level. However, some hands-on training is necessary, such as how to restrain live animals. The veterinary assistant serves vet techs and veterinarians.
Courses are taught by licensed veterinarians or credentialed vet techs.
Veterinary assistant courses may include:
- Basic Animal Nursing Care
- Animal Restraint
- Essential Skills
- Examination Room Procedures
- Pharmacy and Pharmacology
- Surgical Preparation and Assistance
- Hospital Procedures
- Laboratory Procedures
- Radiology and Ultrasound Imaging
- Veterinary Office Procedures
Look for programs approved by the National Association of Veterinary Technicians in America (NAVTA). Requirements for these programs include 150 hours of academic training and 100 hours of externship or clinical experience. The 100 hours is divisible among various sites, including animal shelters, but must include time spent observing or practicing skills at a veterinary clinic or hospital. Individuals cannot graduate until meeting academic and clinical experience minimum requirements.
Step 3: Specialized Vet Tech Certifications
NAVTA recognizes 11 specialty areas in the vet tech field. These areas include:
- Clinical Pathology
These vet techs analyze an animal’s bodily fluids to identify health issues. Requirements include three years of experience, five detailed case reports, a 12-month case log, and two letters of recommendation.
- Clinical Practice
The sub-specialty areas for this certification consist of canine/feline, exotic companion animal, and production animal. Requirements include five years of experience, 40 hours of continuing education, four case reports, and 50 case logs.
- Emergency and Critical Care
This certification permits emergency animal hospital techs to provide care to animals suffering from trauma. Requirements include three years of experience, 25 hours of continuing education, a 12-month case log with a minimum of 50 cases, and four detailed case reports.
These techs may work in an equine clinic or travel with an ambulatory equine vet. Their certifications are overseen by the American Association of Equine Practitioners.
- Internal Medicine
These techs are certified to work in sub-specialties such as oncology, neurology, and cardiology. Requirements include three years of experience, 40 hours of continuing education, a case log with a minimum of 50 cases, and two letters of recommendation.
- Veterinary Behavior
An animal behavior tech trains to help dogs and other pets with behavioral issues. Certification requirements include three years of experience, 12 months of research experience, 40 hours of continuing education, five case reports in detail, and two letters of recommendation.
- Veterinary Surgical Tech
Vet techs with this training may assist veterinarians during surgery and provide care both prior to and after surgery. Requirements include three years of experience of which two years includes working in a surgical setting.
- Veterinary Tech Anesthetist
This tech position involves helping veterinary surgeons and anesthesiologists during procedures. Their role primarily consists of sedation and ventilation monitoring.
- Veterinary Dental
With this certification, the vet tech may perform dental cleanings and care under veterinary supervision. Requirements include three years of experience with at least half of that time involving dentistry.
- Veterinary Nutrition
Nutrition techs aid in their patients’ dietary and nutritional management.
These techs work with zoo veterinarians in the care of exotic species. Requirements include five years of experience, 40 hours of continuing education, 40 case log entries, five case reports, and two letters of recommendation.
Other certifications include the Animal Hospice and Palliative Care certificate program, overseen by the American Animal Hospice Association.
The Veterinary Technician National Exam (VTNE) is owned and administered by the American Association of Veterinary State Boards (AAVSB). The VTNE is used for evaluating an entry-level veterinary technician’s ability to practice and receive credentialing. You must pass the VTNE for competency considerations and credentialing eligibility.
However, the AAVSB is not the credentialing agency. That is overseen by the candidate’s state or provincial board, since the VTNE is offered in the US and Canada. The VTNE is administered three times annually. The computer-based exam is offered through testing centers throughout both countries. The exam, which take three hours, consists of 170 multiple-choice questions. The minimum passing score is 425 on a basis of 200 to 800.
Step 4: Continuing Education
Continuing education is a prerequisite for maintaining veterinary technician and specialty certification. The field of veterinary medicine is constantly changing and staying abreast of the latest developments in the vet tech field is imperative. Many continuing education courses are available online, and a significant amount are free. However, you must make sure that any such course you take is properly accredited. Understand the requirements for completion and credits. Also check to see that your state accepts credits from a particular program or provider.
How many credits you will need for each license renewal depends on your state’s laws. For example, Florida requires 15 hours of continuing education annually for license renewal, while Arkansas requires just six hours. There are a few states that do not mandate continuing education for license renewal.
What does a Veterinary Technician Do?
A veterinary technician is not a veterinarian, but they are also not veterinary technologists. The latter must complete a bachelor’s degree in veterinary technology. The additional education opens the door for more advanced job opportunities and work on more sophisticated equipment including things like x-ray machines.
While those in the veterinary profession require licensing for employment, the formal licensing depends on state requirements. Such licensing includes Licensed Veterinary Technicians (LVT), Certified Veterinary Technician (CVT), and Registered Veterinary Technician (RVT).
Vet tech duties usually include taking blood, collecting and preparing lab samples and performing lab tests, symptom monitoring, and performing first aid in emergencies. They assist the vet in patient surgical preparation and administering anesthesia. They may also perform simple procedures on patients such as bandaging or giving inoculations. What they cannot do, since they are not veterinarians, is diagnose an animal, prescribe medication, or perform surgery or euthanasia.
On a typical day, they can handle many patients and may need to restrain aggressive animals. The job is literally hands-on. In some practices, they may answer phone calls or schedule appointments. Vet technicians must also keep patient records. They fill prescriptions and keep track of the practice’s pharmaceuticals. If the practice offers pet care services such as nail clipping or grooming, vet techs can also perform these tasks.
Where Do Veterinary Technicians Work?
These technicians most often work in private clinics or animal hospitals. They may also work in animal shelters, zoos, research laboratories, veterinary testing laboratories, and a college or university. Many vet techs do not work 9-to-5 hours, especially if they work in a veterinary practice or animal hospital. Some may work evenings or weekends, or even all night in a 24-hour facility. On holidays, some vet techs are needed to care for emergency cases in animal hospitals or treat patients staying there.
Why Become a Veterinary Technician?
Because the demand for vet techs is strong and expected to increase in coming years, finding a job should not prove difficult. Such job growth should take place nationwide. That means you are not necessarily tied to one area, and a vet tech’s job is quite portable.
Unlike those engaged in a human healthcare career, there is less likelihood of being on call 24/7, which can provide a better work/life balance. The work is always interesting, and no two days are ever the same. Not only can a vet tech career fulfill your passion for helping animals but it is never boring. Depending on the practice, you may not just handle multiple patients on an ordinary day, but a variety of species or breeds. Most vet techs report a high degree of satisfaction with their jobs. Because they work in a culture of like-minded individuals, the sense of teamwork is strong and deep friendships often develop. In essence, you have found your tribe.
By earning veterinary certifications, you’ll have the opportunity not only to increase your skills and knowledge but to qualify for more advanced positions and earn a higher salary. With additional experience comes more responsibility.
The job is sometimes difficult, but also rewarding. A vet tech knows they have made a difference in the life of an animal and perhaps their owner. Because client education is part of the vet tech’s role, you can help an owner provide the best standard of care for their animal.
A veterinary technician will need to earn at least an associate degree. Before taking classes, however, you should gain as much experience as possible. A hands-on background in caring for animals is invaluable. While not a requirement for all vet tech programs, a student with little experience with animals is at a disadvantage.
Community colleges offer veterinary technician programs, and much of the work may be completed via distance learning. Look for a school accredited by the American Veterinary Medical Association’s (AVMA) Committee on Veterinary Technician Education and Activities. After completing your schooling, you must pass the Veterinary Technician National Exam to obtain credentialing.
Professional organizations are a fundamental part of any professional's career. These organizations help veterinary technicians meet others in their field, learn more about the world of veterinary medicine, and even find new career opportunities. Professional organizations often host regular conferences where technicians can meet and greet, as well as online forums where techs can trade tips with each other and find fellowship along the way. They might even meet in a classroom.
In fact, one of the primary reasons to join a professional organization is the easy access to educational materials. Since many veterinary technicians have credentials that require continuing education, an organization can offer webinars, in-person seminars, and other resources that help techs maintain their credentials. Veterinary technician organizations also offer their own certifications that can help open doors during a job search and otherwise enhance one's professional life. Organizations also offer regular publications in the form of blogs, newsletters, and journals.
Finally, professional organizations offer career building opportunities for their members. Veterinary technicians will find job posting boards on the organization's website, opportunities to enhance their credentials, and a robust network of other veterinary technicians who can offer inside information on future job openings.
- National Association of Veterinary Technicians
This is perhaps the premier professional association for veterinary technicians. They have resources for veterinary technicians including a journal, loads of continuing education opportunities, and outlets for building and improving overall personal wellbeing.
- Academy of Veterinary Clinical Pathology Technicians
Veterinary technicians need to apply to become a member of the AVCPT. Among the qualifications are current membership in NAVTA, graduation from a qualified veterinary technician program, letters of recommendation, and satisfactory levels of experience performing specific medical procedures.
- Society of Veterinary Behavior Technicians
There are membership levels available for professionals, students, and non-credentialed veterinary technicians. Members can take advantage of excellent continuing education materials that focus on animal behavior. Members can access these resources via an internet connection. SVBT also offers scholarships, a newsletter, and an informative blog that keeps members current with trends in animal behavior.
- Association of Zoo Veterinary Technicians
Zoos offer veterinary technicians opportunities to work with exotic animals from all over the world. To help build their numbers and enrich their membership, the AZVT offers student scholarships, conferences, and listings for job and internship opportunities.
Veterinary Technician Career & Salary
Where Might You Work?
In 2019, the median annual wage for veterinary technologists and technicians was $35,320. However, much depends on the area of the country. In Washington, DC, for example, the annual mean wage for these jobs is $60,290. In Nevada, it’s $49,320, and in New York it’s $43,700. In the Dallas-Fort Worth area, the annual mean wage is $36,340, while in Houston it is just $30,580.
In addition to their vet tech salary, these workers may also receive medical and dental insurance and paid vacations. Many veterinary practices offer discounts on procedures for the vet tech’s own pets or on related services such as boarding or training. The job outlook for veterinary technicians over the next decade is promising. This occupation is expected to grow by 16%, which is much faster than average.
A career with animals does not necessitate becoming a vet tech. Other options include:
- Animal Care and Service Workers
These workers may find employment in animal shelters, kennels, stables and grooming facilities, or provide animal sitting, training, or daycare services. Only a high school education is necessary and many employers offer on-the-job training. This is also a situation where an avocation may become a career.
- Clinical Laboratory Technologists and Technicians
These jobs involve working in a biomedical laboratory under veterinary supervision. Clinical lab technologists and technicians administer medications to animals, observe and record information about the animal’s weight, diet, food consumed, medications, and other necessary details. They provide pre- and post-operative care and may euthanize lab animals. Education requirements include an associate degree for a lab tech and a bachelor’s degree for a lab technologist.
- Laboratory Animal Caretaker
Lab animal caretakers feed lab animals and take care of their cages or kennels under the supervision of a veterinarian or scientist. The job is similar to that of a veterinary assistant in an animal hospital or practice.
- Veterinary Assistant
Working under the supervision of a veterinarian or vet tech, a veterinary assistant may feed, exercise, or bathe animals. They may clean and sterilize areas of the veterinary facility, as well as the surgical equipment. A high school diploma or its equivalent is needed. Some veterinary hospitals or practices may provide training for interested candidates.
Vets are healthcare providers for specific species. They may focus on dogs and cats, exotic animals, equines, livestock, avian animals, wild animals, and more. Becoming a veterinarian requires an undergraduate degree, often in a field such as animal science, followed by four years of veterinary school. Many vets obtain advanced training in surgery or other disciplines via a residency or internship program. They may work for others or establish their own practices.
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