If you love animals, a career in veterinary technology comes with perks that are hard to beat. Vet techs get to spend their days surrounded by furry, feathered and scaly patients. Even better, these workers don't need to spend four years in college to land a job either. Veterinary trade schools have shorter programs that teach students how to:
- Provide nursing care to ill or injured animals.
- Groom animals by bathing them, brushing hair and clipping nails.
- Administer medications and vaccines as directed by a veterinarian.
- Perform diagnostic testing such as x-rays or laboratory analysis of blood.
- Assist veterinarians with surgical procedures.
Vet Tech Specializations
Just as nurses can specialize within the field of human health, veterinary technicians can specialize in their practice. The National Association of Veterinary Technicians in America recognizes more than 20 academies and societies for technician specialties. Here's a look at some options graduates of vet tech schools can pursue.
- Laboratory animal veterinary technicians are entrusted with the care and welfare of animals used for scientific study in laboratories.
- Veterinary dental technicians clean animal teeth, assist with the treatment of oral conditions and educate owners on proper hygiene practices.
- Equine veterinary technicians specialize in the care and treatment of horses.
- Zoo veterinary technicians care for exotic animals in zoos and other facilities housing wild animals.
How to Become a Vet Tech
Taking classes in biology and science will help prepare you to work in veterinary medicine. However, you won't be able to get a job right out of high school. You'll need some post-secondary education to become a veterinary technician. Keep the following steps in mind for becoming a vet tech:
- Finish high school to earn a diploma, GED or equivalent.
- Complete post-secondary training, whether in a certificate, associate degree or bachelor's degree program.
- Stay up to date with necessary licensure and certification (often state requirements) for vet techs.
Vet tech programs help students learn both the practical and technical knowledge needed for this career. Each institution has its own curriculum, but classes may include:
- Animal anatomy and physiology
- Large animal nursing and procedures
- Veterinary pharmacology
- Veterinary surgical procedures
Vet Tech Degrees
The American Veterinary Medical Association accredits more than 200 programs at veterinary technician schools. Some programs have limited enrollment which can make the admissions process competitive. Veterinary assistant degree programs result in one of the following:
- Certificate/Diploma: Certificate and diploma vet tech programs may take up to two years to complete and often include the same curriculum found with associate degrees. There are very few accredited programs in veterinary technology at this level of education so don't confuse these with other diplomas and certificates that are intended for careers as a veterinary assistant.
- Associate Degree: Colleges and universities in 48 states have AVMA-accredited programs. A two-year associate degree is the standard level of education in the field and generally meets state requirements for licensure to work as a technician. Some of the programs are called veterinary nursing rather than veterinary technology.
- Bachelor's Degree: There are a few vet tech programs that award a bachelor's degree. However, a four-year degree is typically only needed for those who want to pursue a career as a veterinary technologist. Laboratories often employ technologists to assist in scientific research.
Regardless of the level of education you choose, expect the curriculum to include both classroom instruction and hands-on clinical work.
Vet Tech Trade School
You'll find veterinary technician programs at community colleges, vocational schools and universities. There are also veterinary technician schools online, and a handful of institutions have received AVMA accreditation for their distance learning program.
Since veterinary technicians have a hands-on job, clinical experience is required even in online vet tech programs. To ensure students get this experience, online vet tech schools have partnerships with clinics that provide externship or mentorship opportunities.
Vet Tech Certifications and Licensure
States license, register or certify veterinary technicians prior to their beginning work. While each state's criteria is different, most require applicants pass the Veterinary Technician National Exam. This exam is offered by the AVMA, and only graduates of accredited vet tech programs can take it.
In addition to earning the state-required credential, some veterinary technicians pursue voluntary certificates. There are more than 20 academies and societies dedicated to vet tech specializations. The following are a few examples of the certification options they offer:
- Veterinary Technician Specialist in Anesthesia and Analgesia
- Veterinary Clinical Pathology Technician
- Veterinary Dental Technician
- Physical Rehabilitation Veterinary Technician
- Veterinary Nutrition Technician
Career Advancement for Vet Techs
Earning a specialty certification is one way to advance a career as a veterinary technician. Another option is to further your education. Four-year programs at veterinary trade schools and universities can lead to careers as a technologist. Some people enroll in online vet tech programs that let them work as a technician during the day and study in the evenings and on the weekends.
Financial Aid for Veterinary Technician Programs
Skills and Qualities for Veterinary Technicians
Veterinary trade schools can teach you many of the skills needed to work in this profession. However, it helps if you also have the following abilities:
- Active listening: Veterinary technicians may be the first to meet and evaluate patients. A good tech must listen carefully to an owner's concerns and ask follow-up questions to fully understand a situation.
- Critical thinking: Since animals can't talk, it's up to veterinary professionals to be able to review available information, weigh options and take appropriate action.
- Arm-hand steadiness: Vet techs need to be able to hold animals and equipment steady during examinations and procedures.
- Near vision: Today's clinics rely on electronic records, and technicians need to be able to see a computer screen clearly to enter and read patient information. Near vision is also important for animal exams and procedures.
- Speech Clarity: Veterinary technicians may be responsible for relaying a veterinarian's orders to an owner, and they must be able to speak clearly and concisely.
Veterinary Technician Salary and Career Outlook
While many enroll in vet tech schools because they love the idea of working with animals, income is an important consideration for any career. Pay for veterinary technicians can vary across the country, but the following chart shows the range of wages found nationwide. Also, with the continued popularity of pets, career prospects for veterinary technicians looks bright, as government data below shows.
Projected Job Growth
|Veterinary Technologists and Technicians||106,680||$35,560||19.3%|
|Veterinary Assistants and Laboratory Animal Caretakers||89,480||$28,690||19.1%|
Professional Resources for Veterinary Technicians
The veterinary industry is served by several prominent associations. They include the following:
- American Veterinary Medical Association - Founded in 1863, the AVMA has more than 90,000 members and works to promote the veterinary profession. It also accredits veterinary trade schools and online vet tech programs.
- National Association of Veterinary Technicians in America - Dating to 1981, NAVTA works to provide technician input on veterinary issues. It also recognizes academies and societies that certify veterinary technician specialists.
- American Association of Veterinary State Boards - This non-profit represents regulatory boards that license veterinary professionals in 62 jurisdictions. You can find vet tech licensing requirements for your state in the student section of this organization's website.