The modern practice of veterinary medicine is an increasingly advanced field. In many cases, America’s beloved companion pets, livestock and production animals now receive treatments as advanced as anything an urban hospital might be able to provide their owners.
Because of this, the veterinary care sector is experiencing a growing demand for well-trained professionals, including those who are skilled in providing a variety of types of specialist care. Among these professionals, the specialist veterinary technician provides vital support to veterinarians as they work to provide high quality care to their animal patients.
What Are Specialist Vet Techs?
A veterinary technician specialist is an individual who has obtained extra training and experience in order to work in a specialized field of veterinary medicine. In most cases, the vet tech may have already worked in the field prior to deciding to become a certified specialist technician. A specialist technician normally works closely with veterinarians, either directly assisting them or supporting them by working in the lab.
Becoming a Specialist Vet Tech
It is impossible to become a specialist vet tech directly upon graduating from a vet tech program. Specialist vet techs must generally have at least three years of full-time experience and be able to document practical and academic training in the specialty they are seeking certification for.
This requirement ensures that any specialist vet techs will have the experience and skills needed to provide effective assistance to the veterinarian and any animals they are helping care for.
In most cases, credentialing as a specialist vet tech is controlled by a professional vet tech organization. These organizations are recognized by the National Association of Veterinary Technicians in America (NAVTA). The professional organization will have a number of requirements for those vet techs wishing to become specialists. The most common requirements include the following:
- Documentation that the vet tech has completed a vet tech program accredited by the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA).
- Successful completion of the Veterinary Technician National Examination (VTNE).
- At least three to five years of full-time experience as a vet tech. The majority of this work experience must be in the specialty the vet tech is seeking certification in.
- A case log that showcase the vet tech’s abilities in the specialty field he or she is working in.
- At least five in depth case studies, usually taken from the case log, which demonstrate a complete understanding of the vet tech specialty.
- Evidence that the vet tech has obtained a varying amount of continuing education (CE) hours to assist in mastering the desired specialty. Most credentialing authorities require that the CE meet certain requirements in order to fulfill the certification requirements.
- Many programs require a varying number of letters of recommendation from individuals who have worked with the vet tech.
- Completion of a professional exam that evaluates the vet tech’s academic and practical skills in the specialty field.
Specialty Certification and Licensure Requirements
Obtaining a vet tech specialty certification does not take the place of a state or professional certification as a vet tech. In those states that require licensure, the vet tech must continue to maintain his or her state certification in order to be allowed to continue to practice.
The vet tech specialty certification is a professional certification that demonstrates the vet tech’s skills in his or her specialty, but does not take the place of the state license.
NAVTA Recognized Specialties
The following specialties are recognized by NAVTA as providing professional support for veterinary technicians. In addition, new specialties are added on a regular basis, so vet techs should regularly check with NAVTA to determine if a specialty of interest to them has been recently added.
Among the currently recognized specialties are the following:
- Dental technology. This specialty involves providing dental care for animals, including the treatment of cavities, tooth abscesses and other dental illnesses.
- Anesthesiology. The anesthesiology specialty assists with the handling of anesthesia during surgical procedures that require the animal to be anesthetized. In addition, vet techs working in this specialty can help ensure that the animal suffers no adverse reactions to the drugs being used.
- Emergency and critical care. This field involves supporting veterinarians who are providing emergency treatment for animals suffering life threatening injuries.
- Veterinary behavior. Veterinary behavior is a specialty that focuses on the understanding of animal behavior and the humane modification of inappropriate, dangerous or self-destructive behaviors.
- Zoological medicine. This field focuses on the treatment of zoo animals, including a wide variety of exotic animals, both in the zoo setting and in the wild.
- Equine veterinary nursing. Equine specialist vet techs focus on providing care to horses, ponies and other equines.
- Veterinary surgery. Specialists in veterinary surgery provide assistance to veterinarians before, during and after complex surgical procedures, and work to ensure that the animal enjoys a full recovery after the procedure is concluded.
- Clinical practices. This field is further divided into canine/feline, avian/exotic and production animal categories. The vet tech will specialize in providing effective care to the animals he or she has chosen to focus on.
- Nutrition. Vet techs that specialize in nutrition ensure that animals receive a properly balanced diet. In addition, these vet techs work to assist vets in caring for animals suffering from dietary or nutritional disorders.
- Clinical pathology. Clinical pathology specialists focus on the analysis of laboratory specimens from ill animals in order to determine the nature of their illness or injury. In addition, many vet techs working as clinical pathologists are employed by the research sector.
Benefits of Becoming a Specialist Vet Tech
Becoming a specialist vet tech provides a wide variety of benefits. Most importantly, many public and private organizations prefer to employee certified specialists, rather than those who have not yet demonstrated their skill in the specialty field. The higher levels of training specialists have often allow them to command a higher wage in addition to contributing to a greater degree of job security.
Common Careers for Specialists
While many specialists work in veterinary clinics or individual practices, there are a wide range of other careers available to a qualified specialist vet tech. In many cases, vet tech specialists will find employment in the research sector, assisting veterinarians and other workers in developing new treatments for animals or ensuring the humane treatment of research animals.
Zoological and wildlife management programs are also a common employer of qualified specialists. In many cases, these programs require highly skilled and motivated employees who have the training to effectively handle a wide variety of situations. Because of this, certified specialist veterinary technicians are especially valued in these fields.
Finally, while the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) does not directly track the salary specialist vet techs receive, a wide variety of careers that employee specialist vet techs, such as industry and laboratory settings, have somewhat higher salaries than those found in the traditional vet tech sector. For example, the BLS estimates that the annual mean wage for colleges, universities and professional schools is over $37,000, compared to an annual mean wage of just over $29,000 for all vet techs. This indicates that those vet techs with a specialty may be able to command higher wages than those who have not become a credentialed specialist.
Becoming a specialist veterinary technician is an excellent path to a highly respected and well-compensated field. In addition to the professional and personal benefits, a specialist vet tech can materially assist his or her fellow vet techs and veterinarians in improving the level of care provided to America’s beloved companion animals. As such, this is an excellent career choice for those vet techs seeking further professional and career development.