Veterinary Technician Career and Education Overview
Humans aren't the only living creatures deserving of quality medical care. The animals we love and appreciate also need it. We all know about veterinarians, the animal doctors who restore and help us maintain the health of our pets. But today's veterinary clinics employ more than just veterinarians.
If you're an animal lover, consider whether a career as a veterinary technician might be a good fit for you.
A veterinary technician (vet tech) is:
- Equivalent to a nurse, but for animals
- A professional who is taught not just how to do things, but also why and when to do them
- In most cases, holds at least the equivalent of a two-year post-secondary degree
- Is allowed to perform some medical procedures on their own (e.g., draw blood, monitor animals under anesthesia, give injections, place catheters, etc.)
Veterinary technicians act as nurses for animals by carrying out a wide variety of more advanced medical and testing duties, which can include:
- Dental procedures
- Diagnostic imaging
- Taking blood and tissue samples
- Giving injections
- Applying bandages
- Preparing surgical sites
- Placing catheters
- Performing euthanasia
- Inducing anesthesia
- Removing sutures
- Assisting during surgeries
- Training junior staff
- Anything a veterinary assistant does
Veterinary technicians are limited in the amount of tasks that they can legally perform by veterinary regulations that vary from state to state. However, they are generally allowed to carry out many advanced duties—many without direct supervision.
However, in a few states, there is no legal distinction between a vet assistant and a vet tech, and vet assistants in these states are allowed to perform any task so long as it happens under the supervision of a licensed veterinarian. Check out this state-by-state breakdown of allowable duties for veterinary assistants and vet techs from the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) for further details.
Based on national estimates from 2015, typical annual wages for veterinary technicians and veterinary technologists break down like this: *
- Median wages were $32,490.
- The highest-earning 10 percent made $48,330 or more.
Qualifications and Work Requirements
Like veterinary assistants, vet techs benefit from possessing the above traits and skills. Additionally, in most states, veterinary technicians need to meet some specific requirements.
In the states that require licensing, registration, or certification, vet techs generally must earn at least an associate's degree in veterinary technology and pass official exams, which usually include the Veterinary Technician National Exam (VTNE) as well as a state exam.
Credentialed vet techs are also often required to take a predetermined number of continuing education courses every year in order to stay up-to-date with any changes in the field of veterinary medicine.
Know What's Required in Your State
How you go about becoming a veterinary technician varies by state, but in the many states requiring professional certification, it generally involves the following:
- Completing a two- to three-year program that awards an associate of applied science degree in veterinary technology. As part of such programs, you may have the opportunity to complete a hands-on externship in a veterinary office before you graduate.
- Passing the Veterinary Technician National Exam (VTNE), which is distributed by the American Association of Veterinary State Boards (AAVSB).
- Passing a state-mandated exam, which, depending on the state, results in becoming licensed, registered, or certified. Official designations for successful vet techs (again, depending on your state) are Licensed Veterinary Technician (LVT), Registered Veterinary Technician (RVT), or Certified Veterinary Technician (CVT).
Advanced Education Options
Veterinary technicians can also opt to pursue a bachelor's degree in veterinary technology, which is generally two additional years of education. Those with a bachelor's degree are often called veterinary technologists.
Additional education can also allow a vet tech to gain certification in a particular specialty such as:
- Emergency and critical care
- Equine veterinary nursing
These individuals are typically called veterinary technician specialists.
The job outlook for vet techs is bright. Most pet owners view proper veterinary care as a necessity for their pets, so professionals in this field tend to remain consistently
As a result, new employment opportunities occur frequently in many areas. Employment of veterinary technicians is expected to increase by 20 percent between 2016 and 2026.**
* Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Employment Statistics, website last accessed on August 16, 2017.
** Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, website last accessed on December 13, 2017.
The Occupational Information Network (O*NET), website last accessed on November 30, 2016.
American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), website last accessed on April 21, 2016.
National Association of Veterinary Technicians in America (NAVTA), website last accessed on April 21, 2016.
American Association of Veterinary State Boards (AAVSB), website last accessed on February 7, 2018.