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Veterinary Technician Degree Program, Schools, and Career Overview

Just like any other doctor, veterinarians need a strong and knowledgeable support staff in order to effectively treat their patients. Veterinary technicians and technologists provide that support, and act as the right hand men and women that veterinarians can rely on when taking care of sick pets.

Veterinary technicians and technologists -- who generally work in animal hospitals, private clinics, animal shelters, zoos and laboratories -- are responsible for providing first aid and nursing care to animals that have been injured, observing the condition and behavior of patients, preparing animals for surgery, taking and developing x-rays, and performing blood and urine tests on animals. These duties require specialized knowledge -- and in order to obtain that knowledge, veterinary technicians and technologists are typically required to complete specialized training.

How to Become a Veterinary Technician

Those who are interested in becoming a veterinary technician or technologist are required to complete a high school diploma or equivalent. During their high school years, students are encouraged to take science classes like biology, as well as math courses. In addition, it is helpful to volunteer for places that will put them in regular contact with animals that need medical care, such as a veterinary clinic, a zoo, or an animal shelter.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), veterinary technicians are expected to obtain a two-year associate degree, while veterinary technologists must typically earn a four-year bachelor's degree in order to work in the field. In both cases, students enrolled in these programs should get the opportunity to learn the clinical information needed to understand how to treat animals, as well as the hands-on experience that comes from working closely with a veterinarian.

Vet tech degree programs

The BLS reports that although veterinary technicians and technologists have similar job duties, the training required for these two professions is somewhat different. Veterinary technicians can generally find employment after completing a two-year degree program, while veterinary technologists are required to earn a four-year degree. During their high school years, students interested in these professions are encouraged to study math, biology, and other sciences in order to prepare for the following available college degree programs.

  • Certificate programs. Certificate programs help prepare students for entry-level veterinary tech jobs. These programs teach students how to give compassionate medical care to a variety of domestic animals -- which includes skills such as providing basic dental care, assisting veterinarians during surgeries and medical examinations, and administering medications to animals.
  • Associate degrees. This program helps give veterinary technicians the academic foundation, as well as hands-on training, they need in order to assist in the treatment of animals. These degrees, which generally take two years to complete, teach students how to work with animals, as well as with the medical equipment they will find on the job. In addition to coursework, students in these programs may also get the opportunity to work in animal clinics in order to apply their theoretical knowledge to practical situations.
  • Bachelor's degrees. For those who want to pursue a veterinary technologist career, a bachelor's degree program gives students the knowledge they need to care for animals in emergency and non-emergency situations. Like the associate degrees that veterinary technicians earn, these programs combine theoretical knowledge with hands-on experience in order to give students the well-rounded education needed to handle the realities of this career. In addition, depending on the program students enroll in, they may be able to learn business and management skills that can help them advance in their careers.

The specific courses that students take in veterinary tech programs may  differ from school to school, but there are some subjects they will generally study in most cases. The following topics are examples of these classes:

  • Exotic animal handling
  • Animal care and management
  • Animal anatomy
  • Animal pharmacology
  • Medical mathematics
  • Animal parasitology
  • Animal nutrition
  • Animal physiology
  • Pocket pets
  • Animal psychology

Veterinary technician license and certification

Veterinary technicians and technologists are playing an increasingly important role in the emergency care of animals. More and more, veterinarians are looking for highly-skilled workers to assist them, which has led to the expansion of job opportunities for these professionals. And because these jobs require specialized knowledge, the bar is somewhat high to enter the field.

Although it may vary from state to state, many states require veterinary technologists and technicians to pass the Veterinary Technician National Examination, or VTNE, which is a credentialing examination administered by the American Association of Veterinary State Boards. This examination is three hours long and includes 150 operational questions and 20 questions based on test specifications -- although the latter is not computed into candidates' scores. In order to be eligible to take the exam, prospective veterinary techs must provide a transcript from an accredited veterinary tech program.

There are also voluntary certifications that workers can earn in order to demonstrate their competency in the field, and knowledge of specific areas like animal husbandry, animal facility administration, and health and welfare. Some of these certifications, which are offered by the American Association for Laboratory Animal Science, include the Laboratory Animal Technologist (LATG), the Assistant Laboratory Animal Technician (ALAT), and the Laboratory Animal Technician (LAT). In order to earn these credentials, veterinary techs must pass an examination and prove that they have experience working in an animal laboratory.

In addition, those who move up the ranks into management careers can pursue a Certified Veterinary Practice Manager (CVPM) certification, which is granted by the Veterinary Hospital Managers Association. In order to obtain this certification, candidates must hold a management position in the veterinary field and take management-related courses, including continuing education seminars.

While credentialing examinations are required in most states, whether or not a veterinary technician or technologist needs to complete an additional certification depends on their individual goals, as well as the requirements of specific employers. Certifications may go a long way toward helping these professionals deepen their knowledge of the field and sharpen their skills, which can be helpful when they want to land certain jobs and advance in their careers.

Career advancement for vet techs

After earning credentials per the VTNE, vet techs might pursue specialty certification by applying through one of the academies comprising the National Association of Veterinary Technicians in America (NAVTA). Dentistry, internal medicine, nutrition and other specialty areas are available. This specialty certification could help with advancement. At some point, vet techs might advance to managing other vet techs, helping bring training and education programs to a clinic or even setting up work schedules. If employed in a laboratory animal field, sales, or research, vet techs could also find advancement opportunities that lead to supervisor or upper management positions, many of which could be available at larger companies, according to the BLS.

Veterinary Technician Skills and Qualities

Veterinary technicians and technologists can work in a variety of settings, such as animal hospitals and clinics, kennels, laboratories, animal shelters, zoos, and rescue leagues. These professionals can have extremely vigorous work schedules. Since the facilities where they are employed may be staffed 24 hours a day, veterinary technologists and technicians may be required to work evenings, weekends or holidays. The work environment can also be stressful, especially when animals need to be euthanized, and it's not uncommon for veterinary technicians and technologists to get injured on the job.

In addition to a love for animals, vet techs are required to have compassion and patience, as they are at times at risk of being scratched, kicked or bitten by animals in distress. In addition, these professionals should have good communication skills in order to work as part of a medical team and to also communicate effectively with pet owners worried about the well-being of their animals. Veterinary technologists and technicians should also be detail oriented in order to perform duties like administering medication to animals. In addition, these professionals must have strong problem solving skills, which allows them to identify what's wrong with an animal and assist with the appropriate treatment.

Vet Tech Salary and Career Outlook

As with any position, job outlook for vet techs can vary by region and experience. Historically, growth has been faster than averge, per the BLS; this demand is expected to come about as a result of veterinarians needing vet techs to complete more general tasks and even help with lab work, particularly in animal hospitals and clinics. Consequently, when it comes to hiring, veterinarians may seek out highly-skill vet technicians over veterinarian assistants, who have less training.

CareerTotal EmploymentProjected Job Growth Rate
Veterinary Technologists and Technicians103,43019.9%
Source: 2017 Occupational Employment Statistics and 2016-26 Employment Projections, Bureau of Labor Statistics, BLS.gov; 2016-26 State Occupational Projections, Projections Central, projectionscentral.com

The salary for veterinary technicians can depend on where they work in the U.S. as well as factors like time on the job, prior experience and even specialized certifications obtained. However, note that vet techs are often paid at an hourly rate, particularly if they work part-time or less than 40 hours a week.

CareerAnnual Mean WageBottom 10% Annual WageTop 10% Annual Wage
Veterinary Technologists and Technicians$34,710$22,880$49,350
Source: 2017 Occupational Employment Statistics and 2016-26 Employment Projections, Bureau of Labor Statistics, BLS.gov; 2016-26 State Occupational Projections, Projections Central, projectionscentral.com

 Sources:

  • Associate in Applied Science in Veterinary Technology, Globe University, Accessed August 23, 2014, http://www.globeuniversity.edu/animal-science-degree/vet-tech/associates
  • B.S. in Veterinary Technology, Mercy College, Accessed July 23, 2014, https://www.mercy.edu/academics/school-of-health-and-natural-sciences/department-of-natural-sciences/bs-in-veterinary-technology/
  • Career: Veterinary Technologists and Technicians, The College Board, Accessed August 23, 2014, https://bigfuture.collegeboard.org/careers/health-technology-veterinary-technologists-technicians
  • Occupational Employment and Wages, May 2013, Veterinary Technologists and Technicians, Bureau of Labor Statistics, Accessed August 23, 2014, http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes292056.htm
  • Veterinary Assistant Program, Pima Medical Institute, Accessed August 23, 2014, http://pmi.edu/Programs/Certificate/Veterinary-Assistant
  • Veterinary Technology Associate Degree, Broadview University, Accessed August 23, 2014, http://www.broadviewuniversity.edu/programs/health-science/veterinary-technology/aas-veterinary-technology.aspx
  • Veterinary Technician Degree, Front Range Community College, Accessed August 23, 2014, http://www.frontrange.edu/Academics/Fields-of-Study/AAS/Veterinary-Technician-Degree/
  • Veterinary Technology A.S. Degree - Online, St. Petersburg College, Accessed August 23, 2014, http://www.spcollege.edu/vt-asonline/
  • Veterinary Technician Degree, Penn Foster, Accessed July 23, 2014, http://www.pennfoster.edu/programs-and-degrees/veterinary-studies/veterinary-technician-associate-degree
  • Veterinary Technology On-Campus Program, Purdue University College of Veterinary Medicine, Accessed July 23, 2014, http://www.vet.purdue.edu/vettech/on-campus.php
  • How to Become a Vet Technician, Foothill College, Accessed July 23, 2014, http://www.foothill.edu/career/documents/VetTech.pdf
  • Occupational Employment and Wages, May 2013, Veterinary Technologists and Technicians, Bureau of Labor Statistics, Accessed August 23, 2014, http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes292056.htm
  • Veterinary technicians: Nursing animals to health, Bureau of Labor Statistics, Accessed August 23, 2014, http://www.bls.gov/opub/ooq/2003/fall/art03.pdf
  • Advanced Certifications for Veterinary Technicians, VeterinaryTeamBrief, Accessed July 23, 2014, http://www.veterinaryteambrief.com/article/advanced-certifications-veterinary-technicians
  • Become a Technician!, The National Association of Veterinary Technicians in America (NAVTA), Accessed July 23, 2014, https://www.navta.net/careers/become-a-technician
  • CVPM Certification, Veterinary Hospital Managers Association, Accessed July 23, 2014, http://vhma.site-ym.com/?page=CVPMCertificationv2
  • Programs accredited by the AVMA Committee on Veterinary Technician Education and Activities (CVTEA), American Veterinary Medical Association, Accessed July 23, 2014, https://www.avma.org/ProfessionalDevelopment/Education/Accreditation/Programs/Pages/vettech-programs.aspx
  • Veterinary Technologists and Technicians, Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Employment Statistics, August 23, 2014, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/veterinary-technologists-and-technicians.htm
  • VTNE, American Association of Veterinary State Boards, Accessed July 23, 2014, http://www.aavsb.org/VTNE/

Veterinary Technician Schools