What Is a Veterinary Technician? Job Description & Qualifications
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.
What Does a Vet Tech Do?
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:
- Performing diagnostic tests and x-rays
- Preparing animals and instruments for surgery
- Administering medications, vaccines, and treatments
- Providing emergency first aid or general nursing care
- Observing and reporting on the behavior and condition of animals
- Restraining animals for examination or treatment
- Administering anesthesia and assisting during medical procedures
- Collecting and recording animal case histories
- Educating animal owners on home care
- Assisting veterinarians and scientists in biomedical research
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% through 2026 as vet techs perform more and more nursing and laboratory tasks.
Across the country, veterinary technicians earn an average annual income of $34,710. 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.
Vet technician vs. vet assistant
Vet technicians and vet assistants work together to support the work of veterinarians, but their roles vary in the type of work they’re each authorized to perform. Since becoming a vet technician requires formal education and professional certification, vet techs are usually authorized to perform more clinical tasks.
In contrast, vet assistants require little to no formal training. Some vet assistants enter the field with a certificate in vet assisting, while others learn skills on the job. Their positions usually involve tasks related to clerical duties and maintaining the work environment. A vet assistant supports vet technicians and veterinarians by scheduling appointments, feeding and exercising animals, and keeping equipment ready for use.
While most states regulate the credentialing of veterinary technicians, there’s no credentialing process for vet assistants. However, most states specify the types of procedures that both positions are authorized to perform. For specific criteria related to vet technicians and assistants, you can check the state-by-state comparison chart duties maintained by the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA).
Vet technician vs. vet technologist
Vet technicians also work closely with vet technologists in fulfilling their daily responsibilities. The most significant difference between a vet technician and technologist is the level of education required. Vet technicians are typically considered to have a 2-year associate’s degree, while vet technologists have a 4-year bachelor’s.
In most states, the credentialing process is the same for vet technicians and technologists. In fact, most states don’t award a specific credential for veterinary technologists, so those with this title are credentialed as veterinary technicians. Any additional responsibilities of vet technologists are determined by their employers, though their duties are limited to those that can be legally performed by vet technicians in their state.
While vet technicians and technologists perform the same types of duties, having an advanced education may position vet technologists for better positions or supervisory roles. With more training, vet technologists may be more qualified to work in advance research-related positions in laboratory settings.
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 programincludes 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:
- Ensure that you receive an education that meets the highest-quality standards
- Earn credits that can be transferred to other accredited schools
- Create employer confidence in your educational credentials
- Provide access to U.S. government financial aid
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:
- Pharmacy and pharmacology
- Surgical nursing
- Laboratory procedures
- Animal care and nursing
- Diagnostic imaging
- Emergency medicine/critical care
- Pain management/analgesia
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:
- Clinical practice
- Clinical pathology
- Diagnostic imaging
- Emergency and critical care
- Internal medicine
- Laboratory medicine
- Physical rehabilitation
Ready to Get Started?
If working with animals in a fast-paced, rewarding career sounds right for you, take the first step toward becoming a vet tech by getting the right education. Use the Find Schools button to explore program options that meet your individual needs.
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