What Does a Veterinary Technician Do?
Veterinary technicians who are also frequently called vet techs are sometimes mixed with vet assistants.
However, we would like to emphasize the difference between these two professions, even though they are quite similar in terms of obligations at work.
Vet techs provide care to animals who need to recover from illness and injury.
They can work under the direction and supervision of a licensed veterinarian,.
The main duty of veterinary technicians is to improve animal patients’ health by assisting in their healthcare.
The role of a veterinary technician combines nursing, imaging, lab work, and customer service duties.
Typical Duties of a Vet Tech Include:
- First aid and nursing care of animals
- Assisting veterinarians while they perform various examinations and procedures
- Phlebotomy and intravenous catheter placement
- They can be in charge of either performing or assisting with diagnostic tests such as radiographs, urinalysis, fecal exams, and blood tests
- Their job also involves conducting routine procedures such as dental cleanings and immunizations
- Preparing animals for surgery
- Giving anesthesia, assisting in surgery, and providing care during post-anesthetic recovery
- Monitoring the condition of patients and documenting medical charts
- Informing the vet about changes in the patient’s condition
- Dispensing prescription medications under the direction of a veterinarian
- Educating pet owners on animal care and welfare,
- Answering pet owners question related to disease prevention, disease treatment, and behavior concerns
- Ensuring that lab animals receive humane treatment
A job of a vet technician is ideal for animal lovers, as they find it quite rewarding.
Technicians actually take care of the same patients throughout their lives, thus developing close, caring relationships with both the animals and their owners.
So that animal’s quality of life is improved, technicians provide care and education both in the medical setting and in the animal’s home.
Taking into consideration the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data, about 91% of veterinary technicians work in one of the following places:
- Private clinics
- Animal hospitals (general, specialty, or emergency practice)
- Boarding facilities
- Animal shelters
- Rescue leagues
Of course, you can find veterinary technicians employed in some other settings such as livestock facilities, wildlife control services, research laboratories, government agencies, pharmaceutical sales, veterinary medical equipment sales, and the military.
How long a veterinary technician works will be based on the type and place of employment.
If he/she is employed by a facility that provides 24-hour service, they may have to work evenings, weekends, and holidays.
On the other hand, private clinics offer technicians a chance to work regular business hours, with occasional overtime.
Salary and Job Outlook
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, veterinary technicians’ annual salary is $31,800, though it can range from $21,890 to $47,410 depending on many factors.
The 2015 Firstline Career Path Survey showed that the average hourly wage is $17.40 for vet technicians with a certificate and $2-4 less per hour than for a non-credentialed veterinary technician.
If you wish to earn a higher salary, you should look for a job as a veterinary technician in colleges, research laboratories, and government agencies, or specialties such as dentistry, anesthesia, animal behavior, or surgery.
The higher education and experience you have, the higher salary you can expect.
You do not have to be worried about employment, due to the fact that according to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics, employment of veterinary technicians will increase by 19% in the years to come.
This growth is caused by the better status of pets as family members, new medical advances, and specialized care within the veterinary profession such as veterinary dentists, veterinary orthopedic surgeons, and veterinary cardiologists.
The number of pet-owning families is constantly growing and they seek more complex procedures and personalized care, thus increasing the demand for credentialed veterinary technicians.
Steps to Become a Vet Tech
Get your high school diploma or GED.
You must get your high school diploma before you decide to pursue your higher education degree.
Earn an associate degree.
One of the ways you can choose to become a veterinary technician is to complete a two-year veterinary technician program.
Make sure that the program is accredited by the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), and that you will get an associate degree once you graduate.
Throughout the USA, only Alaska, California, and Wisconsin will allow you to get on-the-job training and still become a credentialed veterinary technician.
You have the chance to choose from over 160 of these two-year associate degree programs across the United States.
They are typically offered at community colleges, colleges, or universities.
Those who cannot attend an accredited campus can enroll in one of nine available distance learning programs that are accredited by the AVMA.
People who would like to get an even higher degree can enter a four-year AVMA-accredited degree program and graduate with a bachelor’s degree in veterinary technology.
In the USA, twenty-three universities offer four-year bachelor’s degrees in veterinary technology and this is an ideal educational path for candidates who would like to work in research laboratories or pursue veterinary school.
Obtain your credential as a veterinary technician.
As we have already mentioned, to practice your profession, you will have to get credentials.
Veterinary technicians credentialing is becoming mandatory in the majority of states, and depending on the state, the credentialed veterinary technician may be:
- “Licensed” (LVT) by a given authority such as the state veterinary medical board
- “Certified” (CVT) by a private or professional program
- “Registered” (RVT) by a governmental agency
Only three states – Alaska, California, and Wisconsin allow on the job training which can lead to a certificate, while all the other states require that a credentialed veterinary technician completes a state-approved training program and pass an exam.
The state test will be waived if you have passed the Veterinary Technician National Exam.
Consider the possibilities for career advancement.
Whichever profession you choose, it is very important to have an urge for advancement.
This is especially important when vet techs are in question, being that experienced veterinary technicians can benefit a lot.
They are often promoted to supervisory roles and their duty is to train or direct the work of junior technicians and veterinary assistants.
As a veterinary technician, you will be given many opportunities for continuing education.
You can attend conventions or participate in online education, thus gaining new skills and even choose an area of specialty.
We always suggest that vet techs should pursue continuing education opportunities, as there are many advanced specialization and certification options.
You can decide to become a veterinary technician specialist which will equip you with advanced skills that you have taught through specialty training and education.
The outcome of continuing education is a more efficient veterinary team, higher salary, and the best care for the patient.
Also, many a veterinary technician decide to go on to become a veterinarian, and the possession of the certification and work experience will be a huge advantage throughout the highly competitive vet school admissions process.
Explore Degree Paths
There are over 160 vet tech associate degree programs in the United States which are offered by two- and four-year universities and career schools.
Also, you have nine accredited programs that offer a distance option ideal for working students and those in rural areas.
If you choose to enroll in an associate-level vet tech coursework, you will learn laboratory and imaging procedures, animal science and behavior, and specialty areas.
We decided to mention some of the most common courses for this level:
- Veterinary Anatomy and Physiology – you will explore organ system function and metabolism
- Lab procedures – students will practice processing samples in order to diagnose parasitic diseases.
- Animal handling – students learn how to promote patient welfare which can be done through various methods such as comfort measures, humane treatment, and proper choice of equipment.
- Animal nutrition – you will learn how the major nutrients are digested and metabolized in different animals.
As a vet tech student, you can expect to go through numerous clinical settings like small animal clinics, specialty hospitals, and shelters to get hands-on experience and practice your newly acquired skills under supervision.
A veterinary technologist is a technician who holds a BS or BAS in veterinary technology and these two professionals mainly perform the same job functions, and in the majority of states, they hold the same license.
Some of the benefits you can have if you hold a bachelor’s degree is that you can look for employment in one of the following areas:
- Behavioral counseling
- Research laboratories
- Specialty hospitals and practices
- Pharmaceutical and veterinary equipment sales
- Clinical leadership and management
- Wildlife rehabilitation
- Zoo and shelter medicine
You should know that bachelor’s programs cover the same technology courses as an AAS degree.
What makes them different is that bachelor’s students gain certain additional skills in leadership and case and project management.
These are courses available to bachelor’s level vet tech students:
- Clinical pathology – students practice analyzing blood, urine, and tissue samples for signs of disease.
- Parasitology – students study the biology and lifecycle of parasites that may be affecting pets and lab animals.
- Clinic and hospital management – they learn skills needed to run a vet hospital or clinic, such as financial management, human resources management, and regulatory compliance.
- Applied animal behavior – understanding of both normal and abnormal behaviors in dogs and cats and how to treat problem behaviors.
Bachelor’s degree students will also get a chance to put their skills into practice in a variety of clinical settings.
There are currently 23 AVMA-accredited veterinary technology bachelor’s programs in the United States at four-year universities.
Necessary Skills and Qualities
Good physical health
In case you choose a career as a veterinary technician, you are required to possess physical strength and stamina. This is due to the fact that you will have to spend long hours on your feet as well as lift and restrain large animals.
Proper safety technique
You are there to help an animal, but you need to take care of yourself as well, being that technicians really have contact with needles, bodily fluids, radiation, and other potentially hazardous substances. This means that safety procedures must be followed all the time so as to avoid illness or injury. Additionally, vet techs must have knowledge of animal body language and proper restraint techniques in order not to get injured by the animal.
Passion for the well-being of animals
This profession is only for a person who is an animal lover with a genuine passion for improving animal welfare.
The vet tech work requires that a person possess both verbal and interpersonal skills, being that he/she will have to constantly communicate ideas to pet owners and other members of the veterinary team.
This job also requires patience and emotional stability. Vet techs need to be sober during emergencies, to be ready to work effectively with challenging animals and people as well as to cope with the suffering and death of patients.
The National Association of Veterinary Technicians in America (NAVTA) recognizes 14 specialty academies.
Vet techs are supposed to spend 75 percent of their working hours in one of these areas so that they can become eligible for designation as a Veterinary Technician Specialist (VTS).
What requirements you will have to meet depends on the specialty academy.
The academy itself sets educational, experience, training, and testing requirements for its credential.
However, the majority of them require that candidates are licensed, they must submit case logs, document experience hours and continuing education, and pass an exam.
The following is a list of NAVTA-approved specialty academies that also offer subspecialty credentials, which are listed as well:
- Anesthesia and analgesia
- Clinical pathology
- Clinical practice – canine/feline; feline; exotic companion animal; production medicine
- Emergency and critical care
- Internal medicine – small animal; large animal; cardiology; neurology; oncology
- Laboratory animals
The American Association for Laboratory Animal Science (AALAS) is another professional association that offers four additional credentials for technicians and lab managers:
- Assistant Laboratory Animal Technician (ALAT)
- Laboratory Animal Technician (LAT)
- Laboratory Animal Technologist (LATG)
- Certified Manager of Animal Resources (CMAR)