For many individuals, the ability to obtain high quality and modern vet care for their companion animals is more important than ever before.
In addition, the rising importance of maintaining humane conditions for livestock and other production animals and the increasingly strict enforcement of animal care regulations has made effective veterinary care extremely important to farms and other businesses involving production animals.
Because of this, the field of veterinary medicine is experiencing a high demand for qualified veterinary technicians who can assist vets and other professionals in providing the care that America has come to expect for animals of all types.
These technicians provide many of the same services to a veterinary clinic that a registered nurse (RN) does for a hospital or doctor’s office.
Becoming a Vet Tech
Most states require a vet tech to obtain certification or licensure with either the state licensing board or the local professional veterinary technician association. Even in those states that do not require licensure, becoming a certified vet tech can improve the individual’s career and salary prospects.
In general, the following steps are required to become a certified or licensed veterinary technician:
- Complete a veterinary technology program at a community college or vocational school that has been accredited by the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA).
- After completion of the program, the candidate must take and pass the Veterinary Technician National Examination (VTNE). Most states require a passing score of at least 425 on the VTNE.
- Fill out and submit an application, including all required documentation, to the state licensing board or veterinary technician association.
- In many cases, the state may require that the vet tech pass a jurisprudence exam in order to demonstrate his or her understanding of how the state’s laws interact with the practice of veterinary technology.
- Finally, some states allow licensure by endorsement, permitting a vet tech that has already been licensed in another state to simply provide proof of his or her qualifications, instead of being forced to repeat the training process.
Finally, after becoming certified, a vet tech must periodically renew his or her certification. In many cases, this also requires that the vet tech remain current with the state of veterinary medicine by obtaining approved continuing education (CE) units and submitting them to the licensing authority.
Differences Between Vet Techs and Veterinary Assistants
While bearing a similar title, a veterinary assistant is not a vet tech. Unlike vet techs, veterinary assistants do not need to be certified or licensed, and in fact are usually trained on the job rather than attending an academic program.
Their duties focus on feeding the animals, cleaning the animal enclosures, sterilizing equipment and other duties that do not require a technical education. Finally, veterinary assistants have somewhat lower salary rates than those of a vet tech.
General Vet Tech Duties
Vet techs provide a variety of services while assisting the veterinarian. In many cases, the type of services they perform are determined by state law, while in other states, the vet tech’s duties are up to the supervising veterinarian. Among the more common duties of a vet tech are the following:
- When animals are initially admitted to the clinic, a vet tech may be in charge of carrying out the initial physical examination. This includes taking the basic measurements of the animal, in addition to recording any symptoms of illness or injury to assist the veterinarian in treating the animal.
- If an animal is admitted suffering from injuries or illness, the vet tech will often provide the initial first aid treatment in order to stabilize the animal until such a time as the veterinarian can provide treatment.
- A vet tech will administer any medication that the veterinarian has prescribed. In many cases, they will also instruct the owners of an animal in how best to administer any medication that is being sent home with them.
- In some cases, the vet tech will be required to assist the veterinary team in immobilizing a frightened or hostile animal so it can be treated without endangering the medical team.
Vet Tech Specialties
In addition, there are a variety of fields a vet tech can choose to specialize in. In most cases, these fields require that the vet tech already be certified and have a certain amount of work experience as a veterinary technician. Among the specialties recognized by the National Association of Veterinary Technicians in America (NAVTA) are the following:
• Anesthesia care.
• Internal medicine.
• Emergency and critical care.
• Behavioral medicine.
• Zoological medicine.
• Nursing technology.
• Surgical technology.
• Clinical practice.
• Clinical pathology.
Certification in these fields represents a vet tech who has obtained a high level of skill in his or her specialty. In many cases, becoming a specialist can improve the vet tech’s salary and career, in addition to allowing them to work in a high prestige field.
Becoming a certified specialist veterinary technician requires that the vet tech have experience in the specialty field and have taken a variety of courses relating to that field. Finally, most certifications include comprehensive exams to ensure that the vet tech is fully prepared to fulfill the specialty’s requirements.
While most states do not require professional certification as a specialist, many organizations will only accept applicants for these fields if they can provide proof that they are a certified specialist.
Veterinary Technician Career Options
As a core component of the American veterinary care establishment, vet techs can find employment in a wide range of roles and settings. This field is also enjoying robust growth. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), currently projects that the field of veterinary technology will enjoy at least 52 percent job growth by 2020. This is a much higher rate than many other equivalent professions.
Most veterinary technicians will work in a clinical setting, whether it is as an employee of a small rural veterinary practice or as a vet tech in a large urban clinic. Depending on the nature of their employment, the vet tech may primarily work with a single veterinarian, or be part of a larger veterinary team.
Those vet techs who have become specialists will generally work in their field, often by assisting specialist veterinarians, or as part of a larger team.
For example, a vet tech who has become a specialist in anesthesia will usually function as a part of a surgical team. In other cases, vet techs will serve as general assistants to the veterinarian and other personnel.
Finally, experienced vet techs may become supervisors, working to guide and manage other vet techs, veterinary aides, and any clerical or janitorial workers.
This position requires excellent communication and management skills, in addition to the other skills all vet techs must have. In some cases, a vet tech supervisor may also be in charge of providing training and mentoring to new workers.
Other Veterinary Technician Employers
In addition to working in a veterinary clinic, vet techs can find employment in a number of other fields. These fields include private businesses as well as state, federal and local government agencies. These specialties often provide very promising career alternatives for an interested and qualified vet tech.
Many vet techs find employment with state, local and federal government agencies The most common examples are humane shelters and animal control agencies, which often employee veterinarians and vet techs to care for and evaluate the animals in their care. In some cases, vet techs employed in this area may also assist in ensuring that private individuals and businesses alike comply with local animal care regulations.
Additionally, wildlife management agencies often require veterinary assistance and make use of vet techs in a variety of settings, ranging from performing lab tests on samples taken from wild animals, to assisting in handling animals that have been captured in the field. These professions can be quite attractive for vet techs who have an interest in working in the outdoors.
The vet tech may also find work with customs and other entry control organizations. The prevention of the spread of animal borne diseases is extremely important, and so most livestock, pets, or production animals entering the United States must be examined for various types of infectious diseases. A vet tech working in this field will assist veterinarians and other government workers in testing the animals and caring for them during the period that they are held in quarantine.
Finally, vet techs may find employment with environmental regulatory agencies, where they will assist in evaluating the health of animals that have been exposed to various types of pollution. These vet techs will help veterinarians perform tests in order to determine what, if any, effect pollution has had on the animal.
Zoos and Vet Techs
Many vet techs also find employment in the various zoos that exist in the United States. Ranging from small local zoos to large wild animal parks with an international reputation, these establishments represent a challenging and rewarding career for the vet tech.
Working in a zoo requires a vet tech to be able to work with a wide variety of animals that may have radically differing nutritional and veterinary needs. In some cases, the vet tech will specialize in a certain type of animal, such as reptiles or mammals, while in other cases, he or she may work with all the zoo animals.
Additionally, many zoos care for endangered species, which demands a high level of skill and responsibility on the part of the veterinary personnel. In these cases, the zoo may prefer to hire vet techs who have specialized in zoology or another relevant field.
Vet Techs and Exotic Animals
Finally, many vet techs work in practices that specialize in treating exotic animals. These animals, ranging from exotic mammals to reptiles and equines, often require unusual forms of treatment.
Because of this, a vet tech working in an exotic animal clinic must be prepared to handle wildly varying animals over the course of his or her day. In some cases, these animals can include venomous reptiles, which will demand a great deal of caution on the part of the vet tech.
In some cases, a vet tech may work at a clinic that handles both exotic and common pets. Depending on the size of the practice, the vet tech may be allowed to specialize in one of the areas, or may be required to handle both exotic and common pets during the day.
Becoming a vet tech opens a wide range of careers to the individual. As a well-respected part of the veterinary field, a vet tech can help maintain the health of a family’s beloved pet, work to ensure the health of zoo animals, or assist in controlling the spread of disease among wild animals. No matter the specialty, a career in veterinary technology is an excellent path to a well-compensated and highly respected field.