Animals are very special yet underrated creatures. Like humans, they need proper love and care, especially when they get sick or hurt. The sad thing is that animals are not a priority for most people. Someone can stumble upon a dying animal on the street and just pass by without giving it a second glance. Fortunately, you can do something about this. If you really care about the welfare of all animals everywhere, you can always choose to become a veterinary technologist or technician and give these animals the proper care and attention that they need.
It should be noted that there is a difference between veterinary technologists and veterinary technicians. The former is a more advanced degree, and takes at least four to five years to complete while the latter can be completed within two to three years. Furthermore, there are only a few schools offering degrees for veterinary technologists but a lot that offer degrees for veterinary technicians. For these reasons, many animal lovers turn to becoming veterinary technicians instead. Choosing to become a veterinary technician is also a good choice because it can always be a stepping stone to becoming a veterinary technician specialist, a veterinary technologist, or even a licensed veterinarian.
What Do Veterinary Technicians Do?
In general, veterinary technicians are known to work with small animals such as dogs, cats, birds, and mice, among others. However, there are also times when they tend to larger animals like sheep, pigs, and even cattle. It all depends on where they work. Those who work in animal clinics, for example, would most likely work with the smaller animals while those who work in zoos would most likely work with bigger ones.
The daily routines of veterinary technicians would also depend on the level of their work and their work environment. However, the most common duties of those just starting out include the following:
- Bathing animals
- Observing animals’ conditions and providing emergency care to injured and sick ones
- Documenting medical charts
- Collecting lab samples and performing lab exams
- Administering medications and vaccines
- Taking and developing X-rays
- Providing first aid
- Assisting veterinarians during procedures and examinations
- Performing diagnostic tests
- Preparing animals for surgery, assisting in surgeries, and monitoring post-anesthetic recovery
- Phlebotomy and intravenous catheter placement
- Dispensing prescription medications as prescribed by a licensed veterinarian
- Ensuring that all animals are treated with humane treatment
- Educating owners about how to properly care for their pets
Veterinarian technicians who have enough experience can start performing more extensive treatments, such as specialized nursing care or dental care, under the supervision of a licensed veterinarian or a more experienced supervisor.
Like in other healthcare centers, veterinary laboratories and clinics also need to have staff available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. For this reason, veterinary technicians who are in supervisory roles are needed. These supervisors will not only be tasked to monitor their staff but may also be tasked to maintain staff schedules as well. Some veterinary technicians may also do research work if needed.
Basically, the job of a veterinary technician is a combination of nursing, lab work, imaging, and customer service, among others. They are the front liners in providing various animals with the attention and care that they deserve and the back office for veterinarians. In essence, they help improve the quality of life of different kinds of animals.
As mentioned above, a veterinary technician may work in different environments. The most common environments include private clinics, boarding facilities, animal hospitals, animal shelters, rescue leagues, and even zoos. However, they can also work in non-traditional settings such as wildlife control services, livestock facilities, research laboratories, veterinary and pharmaceutical sales, government agencies, and even the military.
Again, the work schedule of a veterinary technician would depend on where he or she works. A vet tech who works in private clinics and research laboratories would generally work the regular eight hours, from 8am to 5pm, while those who work in hospitals and other 24-hour facilities may need to constantly work during the evening and/or holidays. Those who work in emergency facilities may also sometimes need to work extra hours especially if there is a lack of employees during a certain shift. Of course, even those who work during regular business hours would sometimes need to work extra hours if needed.
Veterinary technicians are much like nurses except that they care for animals instead of people. They would therefore need to be physically fit and healthy because most of their time would be spent walking around, checking on animals, and even restraining or lifting large animals. It can be a very physically and mentally exhausting job because not only will you have to learn how to properly read different animals’ body languages and the proper techniques in restraining them but you will also have to do this yourself if needed.
Veterinary technicians would also have constant contact with a lot of potentially hazardous substances such as radiation, needles, and bodily fluids, among others. Apart from this, there may be some irritant animals that can cause potential harms. For these reasons, they would need to know and follow all the safety procedures at work.
Again, the work environment would depend upon where you work, so a veterinary technician who works in a wildlife preserve should probably be more careful than one who works in a research lab. Basically though, veterinary technicians should be genuine animal lovers who aren’t afraid to get a little down and dirty with any animal. He/she should be personable, patient, and emotionally stable in order to effectively work with both animals and their owners in any situation. Keep in mind that it is not all sunshine and butterflies in a vet office. Just like in hospitals, there will be times wherein the animals will not survive. During these times, the vet tech should be able to handle the emotions and communicate well with the pet owners.
Though it is easier to become a veterinary technician than a veterinary technologist, it still takes a lot of patience and perseverance to get there. The first requirement for becoming a veterinary technician is to love both animals and science. If you are only interested in one but not the other, then this career may not be for you.
The first step to become a veterinary technician is to complete an Associate’s Degree program that is accredited by the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA). This program usually takes around two years to complete, and can be taken in any of the 160 different schools in the United States. This degree can be taken right after high school, even without any prior experience.
The core curriculum for veterinary technician courses is solely based on science. Basic subjects would include anatomy, physiology, parasitology, radiology, terminology, hematology, anesthesiology, emergency medicine, laboratory procedures, animal medicine, animal restraint, and practice management, among others. As you advance in your career, you will get the chance to choose which to specialize in: large animals, small animals, or exotic/zoo animals, among others. Of course, general subjects such as Math and English will also be included in the curriculum.
An important fact that schools have realized is that students cannot learn from theories alone. Many of the programs therefore include lab classes, which gives the students a little hands-on learning and allows them to experience what it means to become a real veterinarian technician. The last semester/s of these programs are usually concluded with an internship or practicum, which furthers the students’ experiences and skills as well. This internship or practicum can be performed in any of the veterinary work environments mentioned above.
It is understandable that not everyone has the time to actually physically go all the way to school just to earn their degree, especially those who choose to work alongside their studies. For this reason, the AVMA has accredited nine different distance learning programs wherein students can earn their degrees online.
For those who want to advance their careers further, a four-year Bachelor’s Degree in Veterinary Technology is also available in twenty three universities in the United States. This degree is best for those who want to work as researchers or who want to continue on to become licensed veterinarians.
One factor to take into consideration when choosing between becoming a veterinarian technician or a veterinarian technologist is the amount of debt you will be in if you choose to apply for a student loan. Many student loans for vet tech programs are just under $20,000, which is not hard to pay back considering the good salary you will be receiving once you get a job as a veterinary technician.
The procedures for admission and application for veterinary technician and technologist programs would vary depending on the school that you apply in. All of them, however, would require at least an equivalent of a high school diploma. Some schools would also have additional requirements such as placement tests, drug tests, prior experience, vaccinations, essays, interviews, and sometimes even drug tests. Further information about admission and applications can be found on each school’s website.
If you are not interested in classroom settings or theoretical learning, you would be glad to know that you can also become a veterinary technician solely through on-the-job trainings. However, this is only allowed in three states—Wisconsin, Alaska, and California.
According to 2013 data, the national average salary of veterinary technicians per year is around $32,350, with the middle 80% earning an amount between $21,390 to $45,710. In a 2015 survey, however, it was noted that the average wage per hour of a veterinary technician with credentials is around $17.40. A regular 8-hour work day for 26 days a month, 12 months a year, therefore, would give a veterinary technician a total average annual amount of $43,430.40. The $17.40 hourly wage for credentialed veterinary technicians in comparation to emergency medical technician‘s for example, is much bigger. These are already very good numbers but according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, there is still room for growth.
Again, the salaries would depend on the work environment of the veterinary technicians. Generally, those who work in research laboratories, colleges, and government agencies would earn more than those who work in animal clinics but of course this will still depend on their job positions. Veterinary technicians who have specialties such as surgery, anesthesiology, dentistry, and animal behavior would also likely earn more than those who don’t specialize in anything.
These are all very general guidelines regarding salaries. Of course, it would all depend on where you work, what your educational attainment is, how much experience you have, and how well you do your job. Keep in mind that your basic salary is not the only benefit you will be getting when you work as a veterinary technician. There are many other factors that can help increase your earnings and benefits. Learning about these factors and working on them will definitely help increase how much you earn.
There are many careers related to animal care but only a few of them have the same positive job outlook as veterinary technicians. One thing to note about the industry is that veterinary technologists and technicians are now preferred over veterinary assistants because they are more equipped and knowledgable than the latter. As per surveys conducted by the Bureau of Labor and Statistics, there is an expected growth of 19% for veterinary technicians from the year 2014 to 2024—a growth that is a lot bigger than the average growth of other occupations. This growth is expected to be stronger in rural areas rather than urban ones.
The growth of the industry may be attributed to many different factors such as medical advances in animal care, the sudden awareness for the welfare of animals, the rise of pets’ status as family members instead of mere pets, and the availability of specialized veterinary care (i.e. surgery, dentistry, cardiology, etc.). The common denominator among all these factors is that they are all geared towards specializations. Owners demand for their pets to receive special and personalized care and attention, so there is also a demand for specialized veterinary technicians with credentials. Given all of these, it is safe to say that now is the perfect time to start your career as a certified veterinary technician.
All these statistics are good news for those just starting out their veterinary technician careers but what about those that are already in the industry? First of all, because there is an increase in demand for vet techs, there is no need to worry about fresh minds coming to take over. There will be enough jobs available for everyone so fresh graduates don’t have to be treated as competitors but welcomed as colleagues. Furthermore, experienced veterinary technicians also have the opportunity to obtain supervisory roles if they do their jobs well. Supervisory roles would require training new technicians and/or assistants, and monitoring them well.
Veterinary technicians are also given many opportunities for a continuous education. There are many events, conventions, and training available where experienced technicians or technologists can share their experiences with others, and give tips on how to advance in the said career/s. There are also many online classes available for continuing education. All these empower the technician to work harder, take on new skills, and even consider choosing a specialty in their line of work.
Another opportunity for veterinary technicians that many don’t realize is that they can go on to become veterinarians. The competition to get into a good vet school is very tight, and your experience and certification as a veterinary technician will definitely be a big advantage.
As mentioned above, basic training courses are already embedded during the last semester/s of veterinary technology/technician programs as internships or practicums. These programs are carried out in different work environments such as hospitals, clinics, research facilities, and other approved animal medical sites. During training, aspiring veterinary technicians will be able to work directly with animals and perform clinical and laboratory procedures, all under the supervision of licensed veterinarians or experienced vet techs.
Again, there are now many opportunities for advancement for veterinary technicians. Once you’re already a vet tech, you don’t have to stay stuck with the same job forever because you can always pursue specialized courses or certifications even while you’re working. These specialties can be taken in various places such as the Veterinary Emergency and Critical Care Society, and the Academy of Veterinary Dental Technicians. Currently, these institutions offer eighteen specialties that require advanced skills and knowledge.
Certification Programs and Licensing
As mentioned above, a certified veterinary technician has more benefits than someone who has no credentials, especially in terms of salary. Apart from that, many of the states in the U.S. are slowly making it mandatory for vet techs to become certified, licensed, or registered.
Each state would vary with regards to how they regulate veterinary technicians. Many states require aspiring technicians to take the Veterinary Technician National Examination (VTNE), which is prepared and administered by the American Association of Veterinary State Boards (AAVSB). This exam is very important because it measures how knowledgeable aspiring veterinary technicians really are with regards to the procedures and theories behind becoming a vet tech. It is composed of 200 multiple choice questions and lasts up to four hours.
Some states may not require an aspiring vet tech to take the VTNE but instead to complete an exam and pass a training program approved by the state. It must be noted that all programs accredited by the AVMA are approved by the state, so any exams and programs completed under them are considered valid. However, if you have already passed the VTNE or if you currently undergoing on-the-job training in Wisconsin, California, or Alaska, these states may not require you to take the aforementioned exam and training anymore.
Once you’ve passed these tests, you are then eligible to be certified, licensed, or registered. Certifications are given by professional or private program while licenses are given by authorized parties such as the state’s veterinary medical board. To become a registered veterinary technician (RVT), you will have to be acknowledged by a governmental agency. Keep in mind that licensures and certifications vary by state, so it is important to check on the specific requirements needed from the board of health in your state.
A credentialed veterinary technician can also pursue specialty certifications from different societies or academies.
Becoming a veterinary technician will definitely be a very rewarding career for all animal and science lovers out there. You will not only get the chance to interact with different kinds of animals but you also get to improve their quality of life. Technicians often have long-term patients, so you will also be able to develop close relationships with them. By doing this, you are not only helping the animals but also improving your personal life.
There are different ways to become a veterinary technician, each one as challenging as the other. There will be a lot of studying, training, and exams, but once you get your credentials, it will all be worth it. From the salary to the good job outlook and all the fluffy animals by your side, it can only be smooth sailing from there.
For those who want more challenge, you can always also choose to pursue specializations or to go on to become a veterinarian. By choosing to become a specialist, you are equipped to do more advanced jobs, thereby relieving veterinarians of the jobs they are overqualified to do and allowing them to focus on the jobs that only they are licensed to perform.
If all these seem appealing to you, then it’s best to look for schools offering veterinary technician programs today and start applying for a future that’s right for you. It doesn’t matter whether or not you live near one because you can always choose the distance learning programs wherein you can earn the degrees right from your own home.