Interview With a Veterinary Technician
Get an insider’s view of a veterinary technician education and career.
A Veterinary Technician Career Interview
Mary Mould, CVT
Title: Vet Tech Program Coordinator
Years in Field: 17
Employer: Vet Tech Institute
A successful veterinary technician career begins with an education. As an educator, Mary Mould says that veterinary technician programs vary in length, usually between 16 months and four years. Afterwards, techs must pass the Veterinary Technician National Exam. Then, depending on the state, a veterinary technician is officially recognized as a Registered Veterinary Technician (RVT), a Licensed Veterinary Technician (LVT) or a Certified Veterinary Technician (CVT).
“This is a field where you can really make a difference!” Mould says enthusiastically. A veterinary technician job involves taking care of animals in hospitals and clinics by prepping them for surgery, drawing blood and placing catheters. During a surgical procedure, techs are always on hand to administer anesthesia, monitor patient heart rates and temperatures, and assist the vet.
Of course, not all veterinary technicians pursue clinical careers. Some go into animal research, while others pursue careers with the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) or work as sales representatives for pharmaceutical companies. Still others go into teaching or other veterinary technician specialties. “There are many opportunities out there,” Mould says. Mould spent several years working in a clinic before moving into teaching about 12 years ago. Today, she is the Veterinary Technician Program Coordinator at Vet Tech Institute’s Pittsburgh campus. She is also writing a textbook that will be used in veterinary tech training programs.
Gaining Clinical Experience
Generally, fresh graduates must gain some clinical experience before transitioning into areas such as research and teaching. Most veterinary tech training programs require you to complete an internship. Salaries in research at the base level are usually lower than clinical salaries, according to Mould. “However, there are opportunities in research to make more money quickly as you progress,” she adds. Veterinary technicians in research usually work with a regular set of animals that are monitored and tested over a long period of time. “They work with the same animals daily, and sometimes techs don’t enjoy this,” Mould says. Conversely, in clinics, techs work with new animals on a day-to-day basis, though there may be many patients that return.
Benefits and Hours
Most clinics offer employees the traditional work benefits of health insurance, sick days, personal days and paid vacation in addition to their vet tech salary. In addition, clinics also fund continuing education courses for vet techs, offer uniform allowances and provide discounts on pet care for employees. Mould says that she usually worked 40 hours a week at her clinic, but had a varying schedule. Her clinic was open Monday to Saturday, sometimes as late as 8:30 p.m. Veterinary technicians who choose to work in the emergency room have to be prepared to work late nights at the hospital.
Compare Vet Techs to Vet Assistants
Veterinary clinics usually employ veterinarians, veterinary technicians and veterinary assistants. Vet assistants and vet technicians often administer the same basic procedures and have similar skills. However, technicians, unlike assistants, are licensed. Technicians can legally practice their skills without the presence of a veterinarian in the room. Technicians also have the academic training and knowledge that many vet assistants might not. “Techs really learn about the physiology of animals in school, and learn to understand the reasoning behind measures and practices,” Mould attests.
Challenges and Surprises on the Job
On the job in a vet clinic, every day is different and full of surprises. Once, Mould says, she helped operate on a Labrador who had swallowed a golf ball. The procedure involved doing an exploratory surgery and cutting into the lab’s stomach to retrieve the ball. There have been many instances when Mould has had the satisfying experience of helping save an animal’s life. “We once took in a cat that had been in a house fire. He had been burnt pretty badly and had burn spots all over his body. He had also lost half an ear. The owner had taken him to another clinic first, where the veterinarian concluded that he needed to be euthanized.” Fortunately for the cat, Mould continues, “the owner called our clinic for a second opinion. Our vet elected to try to save him, and over the course of six surgeries, we did. Of course, his ear didn’t grow back, but he did regain all his hair and recover fully otherwise. To this day, the owner still has the cat, named Probie.”
“The best part of my job,” Mould concludes, “is all the different personalities you get to see in the various animals.” She warns though, that “a vet tech’s job is not about playing with little kittens and puppies. This is a great field, but a hard job. It really isn’t about playing. In the end, it is about veterinary medicine, and to pursue this you must really want to make a difference.” Being a successful veterinary technician requires a true love for animals, but it must be coupled with aptitude and skill.