How to Become a Veterinary Technician
Do you love animals? Have people commented that you seem to “have a way” with them? Do your friends come to you when they have a question about their pets? Becoming a veterinary technician is a great career for animal lovers who want to get into the field without having to spend a lot of money and seven to nine years getting a veterinarian degree.
If you’re wondering how to become a vet tech, you’re in the right place. Vet tech schools will teach you the knowledge and skills required to support veterinarians. On this page we’ll discuss what a vet tech does, the outlook for this career, salary ranges, the education and certification required, and how to find a job.
What Does a Vet Tech Do?
A veterinary technician has many responsibilities. Their days are filled with a variety of tasks. They greet patients and discover the reason for the visit. They take the pet’s temperature, look in the ears and eyes, and listen to the heart in order to provide basic information to the veterinarian.
While a veterinary technician can’t make diagnoses, prescribe medications, or perform surgical procedures, they assist in surgery, monitor heart and respiratory rates, monitor recovery from anesthesia, and give medications. On any given day they may draw blood and place catheters, take X-rays, take the appropriate samples for a variety of lab tests, and document results for the vet to interpret.
Veterinary technicians work in the same places as veterinarians. They support veterinarians in private practices, animal hospitals, zoos, and wherever vets practice. Medical and biomedical research labs also hire vet techs, although they’re usually called research lab techs or animal lab techs in these settings. While their duties are similar to other vet tech positions, jobs in experimental research aren’t for everyone, especially those who gain much of their job satisfaction from helping to heal individual animals. Still, these labs hire qualified techs and may even pay a higher rate than other lab tech positions because the job can be emotionally difficult.
Successful veterinary technicians love animals and have a strong interest in health and medicine. They have good animal-handling abilities, have excellent communication skills, interact well with the public, and pay attention to details.
Veterinary Technician Salary and Career Outlook
Veterinary technician salaries can vary significantly, but according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in May 2017 the median annual wage was $16.06 hourly, or $33,400 annually. The annual salary range was from $22,880 to more than $49,000.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the top-paying states for vet techs are:
|State||Hourly mean wage||Annual mean wage|
The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the states with the highest employment levels in this job are:
There are multiple ways to advance your career and increase your earnings after starting as an entry-level vet tech:
- Get a research-related job. The Bureau of Labor Statistics indicates that veterinary technicians working in research positions often earn more than those working in other fields.
- Become a veterinary technician specialist (VTS) — a vet tech who specializes in a particular area, such as surgery or dentistry. For more information, see the Advanced Degree section
- Become a teacher for a vet tech program.
- Write for industry publications or websites.
- Continue your schooling and go on to become a vet technologist, veterinarian, or animal scientist.
What Is the Difference Between a Veterinary Technician and a Veterinary Technologist?
You may have heard of veterinary technologists and wondered how they are different from veterinary technicians. Actually, there is a lot of overlap between the two — they perform many of the same jobs, and salary ranges and career outlooks are similar for both. However, veterinary technologists usually have a four-year bachelor’s degree, while veterinary technicians only need a two-year associate degree. In addition, many more vet technologists work in advanced research-related fields. For more details about the differences and similarities, refer to the Occupational Handbook from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Veterinary Technician Requirements
To become a veterinary technician, you’ll need to complete an accredited two-year associate degree program. There are also four-year programs for becoming a veterinary technologist.
In addition to academic studies, practical experience that includes assisting veterinarians, learning to work with difficult animals, and learning to manage emotions while maintaining a professional manner in stressful situations is part of the training for veterinary technicians. This experience is typically gained by working in a veterinary hospital or clinic.
Vet Tech Credentialing
Each state has different requirements for credentialing veterinary technicians. Some states certify, some license, and some require registration. Although these terms have different definitions (see below), the main thing to remember is that they all refer to granting permission for a person to work in the state as a vet tech.
Certification is the recognition of achieved standards. It is typically bestowed by a non-governmental agency, such as a professional association or independent board. It is also generally voluntary — that is, it is not necessarily a requirement. However, in some states, certification is required for vet techs.
Licensing is permission given by an appropriate authority to do something. It is different from certification in that it is not voluntary.
Registration provides a means for a government agency to keep track of practitioners. It may or may not be required for practice. In addition, often there are no specific criteria for registration.
The terminology used to recognize a credentialed vet tech varies based on the credentialing requirements. An LVT is a licensed veterinary technician. An RVT is a registered veterinary technician. A CVT is a certified veterinary technician. And one state, Tennessee, uses the term LVMT, which is a licensed veterinary medical technician. Because having so many terms can be confusing, the National Association of Veterinary Technicians in America (NAVTA) recommends the use of the term “credentialed veterinary technician. However, this terminology is not yet in widespread use.
Here’s a table of the credentialing requirements (and terms) for each state as of January 2019:
|States that certify (CVT)||Arizona*, Arkansas*, Colorado, Florida, Idaho*, Illinois*, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Mississippi*, Montana, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Oregon*, Pennsylvania*, Rhode Island, Vermont, Wisconsin*, Wyoming|
|States that license (LVT)||Alabama, Alaska, Delaware, Kentucky, Maine, Michigan, Nebraska, Nevada, New York, North Dakota, South Carolina, Tennessee (referred to as LVMT), Texas, Virginia, Washington|
|States that require registration (RVT)||California, Georgia, Hawaii, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Louisiana, Maryland, Missouri, New Mexico, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Dakota, West Virginia|
|States with no credentialing requirements||Connecticut, Utah|
*States in which certification is required rather than voluntary
NAVTA has facilitated the development of specialty organizations (called academies) that provide programs in various specialties. When candidates complete the program, they become certified as a veterinary technician specialist (VTS) in their specific discipline. Specialties include clinical practice, equine medicine, surgery, emergency and critical care, surgery, anesthesia, dentistry, internal medicine, zoological medicine, and behavior. Basic requirements include graduation from an accredited technician program. Some specialties require a four-year degree, approval to work in the state in which you wish to practice, and on-the-job experience (usually at least three to five years). NAVTA has information about the various specialties and links to the different academies that provide certification.
Vet techs enter the field with an associate degree, but candidates in most states are required to pass a credentialing exam. In most states, the test used is the Veterinary Technician National Exam (VTNE®) from the American Association of Veterinary State Boards (AAVSB). Scores are submitted directly to the student’s state board. Some states also require applicants to pass the state’s own practical exam in order to be licensed. When doing your research about schools and programs, you may want to check with the school about specific state requirements — or check with the state directly.
It’s important to understand that in order to take the VTNE® you have to first verify your eligibility with your state. You’ll then complete an AAVSB application form, provide proof of citizenship, provide a copy of your diploma from an accredited program, and pay the required fees. The exam is given only on specified dates, and all of this preparation can take some time, so plan ahead.
Vet Tech Programs
- Introduction to Veterinary Technology — introduces the field of veterinary technology, including basic information about topics such as animal behavior, medical terminology, and occupational safety
- Veterinary Anatomy and Physiology — focuses on anatomical structure and biological systems, as well as function and interrelation of the muscular, skeletal, nervous, respiratory, and other systems of common pets and farm animals
- Veterinary Radiology and Imaging — explains X-ray terminology, production technique and safety; discusses how to assure high-quality diagnostic radiographs with minimal radiation exposure
- Microbiology — focuses on the importance of microbes in animal health and disease; may include laboratory exercises on how to develop and test hypotheses and to think critically about observations
- Veterinary Clinical Pathology — covers laboratory safety, operation of lab equipment, collection and processing of samples, hematology and coagulation, blood chemistry, urinalysis, and cytological techniques
- Veterinary Pharmacology — explains the uses, effects, and modes of action of drugs in the treatment of clinical disease in animals
- Animal Diseases — focuses on topics related to animal health and disease management: animal health indicators, causes of disease, methods of disease transmission, disease diagnosis, and disease prevention
- Veterinary Anesthesia and Surgery — explains the basics of animal anesthesia used in surgical procedures, including drugs and equipment for anesthetic administration, recovery, emergencies, and preoperative and postoperative patient care
- Veterinary Emergency and Critical Care — focuses on emergency and critical care skills for quality care of animals in emergency situations, as well as treatment options for a variety of emergency and critical care situations
- Veterinary Office Management and Client Communication — introduces procedures and tasks performed in a veterinary office, including fundamental concepts of effective communications and providing superior customer satisfaction
Your program will also have practical experience requirements; this experience may be called an internship, externship, preceptorship, or practicum, depending on your program. This real-world experience is designed to prepare you for high-quality service and responsibilities.
The degree of support in this area can vary significantly: Some schools arrange internships, others leave it up to the student to make their own arrangements.
Online Vet Tech Degree
If you’ve wondered whether there are veterinary technician programs available online, the answer is yes. However, as with on-campus schools, practical, hands-on experience is also required. It’s less likely that an online program will provide support you in arranging internships, so if you think you’ll need assistance with this part of the program, make sure to ask about it when you talk to a school that interests you.
How to Find a Job as a Vet Tech
Working at a vet’s office is a great way to realize your dream of working with animals. These jobs can be competitive, but the following tips may help you increase your chances of getting one.
- Target your search. Clinics that work primarily with small animals are more likely to have openings because their operations require more manpower. You’ll certainly want to watch the classified ads, but don’t rely solely on them. Jobs aren’t always widely advertised. Use your network. Who do you know who knows a veterinarian or someone who works at a veterinary clinic? Would they be willing to mention you to their contacts or make an introduction?
- Be active. Don’t wait on your network. Mail introductory letters tailored to specific clinics and include your resume and references. If possible, deliver them to the clinic in person. If you get the opportunity to speak to the office manager or vet, tell them of your interest in working with them and say you hope they’ll consider you if they ever need help.
- Volunteer. If you have the time, volunteer at a clinic. It’s a good way to get to know the people and learn the clinic’s operations. It will give you an opportunity to show them you’re a knowledgeable, responsible team member and help you get a foot in the door.
- Participate in internships. Try to get an internship to get job-specific experience, even if the internship is unpaid (if this is financially feasible for you). If you do a great job, you may be able to transition it into an offer of full-time employment with the same employer. Even if you can’t, you’ll have gained valuable real-word experience that will help you in securing employment elsewhere.
- Be willing to start at the bottom. Most clinic employees learn the business from the ground up. Be willing to take on tasks like cleaning cages and handling basic daily care. Listen well and work hard to prove yourself, and chances are you’ll get an opportunity to take on tasks with more responsibility and move up to assisting the vet.
- Get positive attention. When you have a job interview or have a chance to connect with a professional who spends a little time with you and answers questions, whether you get a job or not, send a thank you note immediately. Even if there isn’t an opening at the moment, they’ll be more likely to remember and call you later because you’ve made a good impression.
- Don’t give up. Keep making contacts, keep sending out your resume and keep trying to get interviews. It can take time and effort to find an opportunity, but if you get discouraged, just remember this quote from the author Napoleon Hill: “Patience, persistence, and perspiration make an unbeatable combination for success.“
Written by Gwen Duzenberry
Gwen Duzenberry has a master’s in reading education and an MBA in project management. In addition to developing training materials for Fortune 500 companies, she worked in healthcare, pharmaceuticals, and technology before becoming a freelance writer 14 years ago.