How to Become a Veterinary Technician: Education & Certification

Learn what you’ll need to do to become a vet tech, from veterinary technician certification to licensing requirements.

What degree levels are available?

Veterinary technicians are a crucial part of the veterinary practice. In order to help animals that are injured or sick, you’ll need a formal education and veterinary technician certification. The majority of veterinary technicians enter into the field with an associate’s degree, but that isn’t the only option available to you.

Earning a bachelor’s degree in veterinary technology or medicine can help you advance in your career, and move into positions with more responsibility (and more earnings).

Here’s a rundown on what these degree programs entail:

  • Associate’s degree: This is the more common degree path for veterinary technicians and takes less time (16-to-24 months) to complete than a bachelor’s degree. This is a big plus if you want to get the ball rolling on your new career as quickly as possible. Typically, these degrees are offered through community colleges.
  • Bachelor’s degree: A bachelor’s degree is less common for veterinary technicians, but the degree level is made all the more valuable because of that. Holding a bachelor’s degrees might make you eligible for higher earning opportunities, but the downside is it takes longer to achieve (four years), delaying the start of your career.

What veterinary technician certification will I need?

Every state regulates veterinary technicians differently, but most candidates are required to take a credentialing exam. In most states, the test used is the Veterinary Technician National Exam (VTNE). Vet techs must become certified, licensed or registered to practice, depending on the state.

The VTNE is a 4-hour, 200 multiple choice question certification exam. The VTNE is prepared exclusively by the American Association of Veterinary State Boards (AAVSB). You can take the veterinary technician certification exam at certain times of the year in your state. The exam covers seven major areas of knowledge in which an entry level candidate with a veterinary technician education should be proficient:

  • Pharmacy and pharmacology
  • Surgical preparation and assisting
  • Dentistry procedures
  • Laboratory procedures
  • Animal nursing
  • Radiography, ultrasound, etc.
  • Anesthesia

Practice exams may be purchased on the AAVSB website.

Because licensure and certification rules vary by state, you should be sure to consult your state’s board of health for specific requirements.

What will I learn in my courses?

Your courses will equip you with all the knowledge you need to be a veterinary technician, from emergency procedures to understanding animal behavior. If you choose to specialize in a specific area of vet tech studies, your courses might look slightly different than other programs. General courses you might take in a vet technician program include:

  • Basic animal nursing care
  • Anesthesia training
  • Biochemistry
  • Vet anatomy and physiology
  • Surgical nursing for animals
  • Animal diseases
  • Vet pathology
  • Pharmaceutical training

There will also be some clinical and lab training required, particularly as you advance in your degree.

Internships and Externships

Hands-on experience is crucial part of a veterinary technician education. Therefore, in order to qualify for accreditation, schools are required to include a period of hands-on clinical experience for all students. This period is called an internship, externship, preceptorship or practicum. Making the most of your clinical experience will reduce the amount of time you need to spend learning on the job.

What accreditation is there for my program?

The most influential accrediting organization in the veterinary field is the American Veterinary Medicine Association (AVMA). The AVMA Committee on Veterinary Technician Education and Activities sets the standards for vet tech school accreditation and reviews their curriculum. Attending accredited school is highly important for vet techs because it opens the doors to federal financial aid opportunities and ensures future employers you’ve received an education from a nationally-recognized organization.

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