What Do Vet Techs Do?
A veterinary technician is a credentialed professional whose job involves helping all types of animals live healthy and happy lives. Vet techs use medical knowledge and clinical skills to provide routine and emergency nursing care under the direction of a veterinarian. Whether it’s facilitating well-check exams, administering laboratory tests, or assisting during surgery, vet techs support veterinarians in meeting the diagnostic and treatment needs of sick and healthy animals.
Want to learn more about becoming a veterinary technician so you can make an impact on the well-being of animals? Keep reading to find out about the education and experience you need to get started in this fulfilling field.
A vet tech performs a wide variety of animal nursing duties under the direction of a licensed veterinarian. Since states regulate the types of tasks that vet techs can perform, the scope of your responsibilities can vary by location. Generally, a vet tech is authorized to do any task assigned by a licensed veterinarian, with the exception of diagnosing medical conditions, prescribing medications, and performing surgery.
Many of the most common vet tech duties resemble those that registered nurses perform for human patients. Some typical vet tech responsibilities include:
Working as a veterinary technician is a stable starting point for a career in veterinary science and has a solid potential for growth. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that job opportunities are expected to increase by 20.5% through 2032 as vet techs perform more and more nursing and laboratory tasks.
Across the country, veterinary technicians earn an median annual income of $38,240, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics 2022 Occupational Employment Statistics. Depending on your employer, you may be able to advance into roles in which you supervise the work of veterinary assistants and other vet technicians, which could increase your salary further.
Where are the majority of vet techs employed?
The BLS documents the metropolitan areas where vet techs are employed. Here are the top 10 highest ranking cities and the number of veterinary technicians working there.
|New York-Newark-Jersey City, NY-NJ-PA||4,960|
|Dallas-Fort Worth-Arlington, TX||3,660|
|Houston-The Woodlands-Sugar Land, TX||3,070|
|Los Angeles-Long Beach-Anaheim, CA||2,900|
|Minneapolis-St. Paul-Bloomington, MN-WI||2,360|
Vet Tech Requirements
Depending on the state in which you plan to work, you’ll have to become certified, licensed, or registered to practice as a veterinary technician. Every jurisdiction uses a different designation, but you’ll need some type of authorization to work in your state. To qualify as a credentialed vet tech, you’ll have to meet general education, experience, and examination requirements, along with any other state-specific criteria.
A 2-year associate’s degree is the most common educational path for veterinary technicians, although some students opt to earn their 4-year bachelor’s. You can find vet tech education programs at technical schools, community colleges, and 4-year universities. There are online education options too, though it’s likely that you’ll still need to participate in some hands-on clinical experiences. Curriculum in a vet tech program includes instruction in all aspects of animal nursing and handling, including laboratory and surgical procedures.
When considering vet tech programs, it’s important to look for one that’s accredited by the AVMA Committee on Veterinary Technician Education and Activities (CVTEA). Graduates of CVTEA-accredited programs are eligible in most states to take the required certification exam. You can expect these programs to include at least 60 credit hours and 240 clock hours of an on-site practicum.
As a prospective student, selecting an accredited vet tech program can help you:
If you plan on using your associate’s degree as the basis for a 4-year bachelor’s, it’s important to ensure that your school also holds institutional accreditation from an agency recognized by the U.S. Department of Education. This will improve your chance of having your associate’s degree credits accepted by another institution if you want to transfer them toward an advanced degree.
While every state sets its own criteria for regulating vet techs, most entry-level candidates have to take a credentialing exam. The Veterinary Technician National Exam (VTNE), prepared by the American Association of Veterinary State Boards (AAVSB), is the most common exam used. This 3-hour computer-based test consists of 170 multiple-choice questions, with 150 of them being scored. The remaining 20 questions are used for constructing future exams.
The VTNE is divided into the following 9 major subject areas:
To prepare for the exam, you can download sample questions and review materials from the VTNE website. You can also purchase online practice tests from the AAVSB to improve your readiness for the test. Immediately after taking the exam, you’ll receive a score report at the testing center, though this is for personal use only. Your official scores will be forwarded to your state veterinary board within a few weeks and, if you pass, you can complete any additional steps necessary for credentialing.
After earning your vet tech credential, most states require you to complete a set number of continuing education (CE) credits to renew your certificate, license, or registration. Requirements vary, so be sure to check with your state board of veterinary medicine.
Veterinary Technician Work Environment
According to the BLS, the most common work environments for veterinary technicians are animal hospitals and private veterinary clinics. Other employers include laboratories, zoos, humane societies, and colleges and universities.
You can expect to perform a wide range of veterinary duties as you interact with animals, pet owners, and the other veterinary staff. Since many veterinary clinics are open evenings, weekends, and holidays, it’s likely that your work schedule will include nontraditional hours. And like most medical fields, working set hours may not be an option if an emergency case arrives outside of your usual schedule.
The work environment for a vet technician can be demanding in other ways as well. Your duties can include standing for long periods of time as you assist in exams and medical procedures. Restraining animals that may be hurt or scared can put you at risk for injury from scratches or bites. And working as a vet tech can also take an emotional toll when you’re working on cases that involve illness, abuse, or euthanasia.
However, if you’re an animal lover, you’re likely to find satisfaction in using your knowledge and skills to help animals lead their best possible lives. You’ll take pride in watching animals grow from babies to healthy adults, and you’ll have the compassion needed to tend to animals whose time is limited.
Vet Tech Specialties
While you’ll have to learn general animal nursing techniques to succeed as a certified vet tech, there are many different vet tech specialties you can choose to pursue if you want to focus your career. The National Association of Veterinary Technicians in America (NAVTA) offers an advanced credential to vet techs interested in mastering skills and education in a specific area. NAVTA recognizes and awards VTS designation in the following 16 categories: