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Veterinary Tech Careers

Veterinary technicians monitor the well-being of animals and support veterinarians during the treatment of injuries and diseases. These professionals carry out a variety of tasks, such as providing emergency care and taking and reviewing X-rays. Other duties include collecting blood, urine and tissue samples to conduct lab tests. These workers prepare operating rooms and pets for surgery, and they administer anesthesia and medication. Beyond surgery, they provide postoperative, dental and nursing pet care. They also serve an administrative function by keeping updated patient records.

Vet technician jobs are found in private clinics, labs and animal hospitals as well as kennels, shelters and zoos. Many individuals love pets and find satisfaction in helping animals in need. However, the work may require rehabilitating abused animals or putting injured or sick animals to sleep, and veterinary technician jobs could be emotionally demanding. Vet technicians may suffer a higher rate of injuries than other professionals as animals may attack them while they restrain them for treatment. Staff must be present in clinics around the clock to treat pet emergencies, and therefore, vet technician jobs require professionals to sometimes work nights and holidays.

How to Become a Vet Technician

Aspiring vet techs can find training offered by trade schools, colleges and universities. Vet technician programs typically result in an associate degree, whereas veterinary technologist training programs generally lead to a bachelor's degree. Vet technicians need to prepare for any licenses and certifications required in their state, and they may also need to be registered to work in veterinary clinics. While education is no guarantee of employment, an individual could follow the following steps to enter the vet tech field:

  1. Earn a high school diploma or the equivalent. Biology, other sciences and math classes are recommended.
  2. Complete an associate or bachelor degree combining theoretical and practical vet tech training.
  3. Obtain professional certification by passing an examination and fulfilling other vet technician training requirements. The Bureau of Labor Statistics notes that regulations for registration, licensure or certification vary by state.
  4. Register with the pertinent state agency that oversees veterinary technician jobs (depending on state requirements).
  5. Apply for veterinary technician jobs in desired location.
  6. Renew certification or license by meeting pertinent requirements, including continuing education courses and re-examination.

Vet technicians may keep informed about the latest industry developments through continuing education.

Post-Education Requirements: Certifications and/or State Licensure

Although the state process to regulate vet technicians may vary, candidates for veterinary technician jobs usually need to pass a certification exam for employment. The most common exam required is the Veterinary Technician National Examination. Besides passing the examination, states could require licensing and registration.

Veterinary technologists frequently work in a research or laboratory setting. Those pursuing positions in research facilities may seek certification from the American Association for Laboratory Animal Science (AALAS). Three levels of certification include assistant laboratory animal technician (ALAT), laboratory animal technician (LAT) and laboratory animal technologist (LATG). Certification isn't mandatory, but could signal that holders possess experience in animal care and facility management. To obtain these credentials, candidates must pass an exam and have experience working in animal lab facilities.

Vet Tech Specialties

Specialization is possible for veterinary technologists and technicians via credentials such as Veterinary Technician Specialist. Requirements for different specialties vary according to the Committee on Veterinary Technician Specialties. Optional paths for specialization include the following:

  • Anesthesia
  • Clinical pathology
  • Dental technology
  • Emergency and critical care
  • Equine veterinary nursing
  • Veterinary behavior
  • Zoological medicine

Vet Tech Job Growth and Average Salary

Employment for veterinary technologists and technicians is expected to grow by as much as 52 percent between 2010 and 2020, much faster than average for all U.S. occupations, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Demand is projected to rise for vet technicians because the number of pets is growing and their owners may be willing to pay more for vet care. Vet technician jobs are likely to be abundant in rural areas. In addition, medical advances have expanded the range of services available in veterinary facilities. (bls.gov/ooh)

The median annual wage of vet technologists and technicians in the U.S. was $30,290 in May 2012, with the highest 10 percent earning more than $44,030 and the lowest 10 percent earning less than $21,030. Veterinary technician salary figures can vary depending on location, experience and other considerations. (bls.gov/oes)

List of Related Careers

Vet techs may be interested in a variety of related jobs. With the appropriate training and qualifications, career paths for vet technicians could include the following:

  • Medical Lab Technicians/Technologists: Collect samples and conduct lab tests, whether for human or pet health care. Postsecondary degrees are usually required.
  • Radiologic Technologists: Identify health conditions through X-rays, whether for human or animal patients. Associate degrees are generally required for work in diagnostic imaging.
  • Surgical Technologists: Keep operating rooms in tip top shape for doctors and provide instruments as needed during surgery. Non-degree training programs after high school are typical for this profession.

Links to Sources and Associations

The following websites offer more information:

American Association for Laboratory Animal Science

American Association of Veterinary State Boards

American Veterinary Medical Association

National Association of Veterinary Technicians in America

Veterinary Technologists and Technicians, Occupational Employment and Wages, Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2012

Veterinary Technologists and Technicians, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2012