Following a year with unprecedented clinical demand due to the coronavirus pandemic, a number of career roles in health care are experiencing immense growth and present a strong career outlook moving forward. Health care career professionals in these positions play an important role in the care of patients across the country, who rely on them…
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How to Become a Veterinary Technician
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Veterinary Technician Job Description: Veterinary Technicians perform medical tests under the supervision of a licensed Veterinarian to assist in diagnosing and treating the injuries and illnesses of animals
Veterinary Technician Salary (Annual): $35,320
Veterinary Technician Salary Range: $24,530 to $51,230
How Long To Become a Veterinary Technician: 2 years
Veterinary Technician Requirements: Associate’s Degree in Veterinary Science
Become a Veterinary Technician
A Veterinary Technician works under the supervision of a licensed Veterinarian and typically helps to conduct a variety of diagnostic tests and performs laboratory tests. These laboratory tests can include a urinalysis, dental prophylaxis, electrocardiograph and more. Vet Techs are also trained to observe animal behavior and conditions, bathe animals, clip their nails, brush or cut animal’s hair, prepare animals for surgery and take x-rays.
What’s the difference between a Veterinary Technologist vs Technician? Typically, Veterinary Technologists have more training and education than Veterinary Technicians. Although, Veterinary Technologists and Technicians are both rewarding careers in veterinary medicine!
Other responsibilities of a Vet Tech include administering medications, preparing animals and instruments for surgery, collecting animal records and histories, communicating with animal owners and explaining a pet’s condition or how to administered medications prescribed by the Vet. There are so many different elements of this “paw-some” career in healthcare!
“A degree in veterinary technology and subsequent credentialing opens up myriad career possibilities including teaching, research, pharmaceutical sales and development, in addition to the traditional role of working directly with animals in a veterinary practice,” Liz Hughston, RVT, VTS, a practicing Vet Tech in California, said.
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Education & Training
Becoming a Veterinary Technician requires a 2-year vet tech program or Associate’s Degree and the passing of a credentialing exam to become registered, licensed or certified (depending on state requirements). Those interested in pursuing this career in healthcare can best prepare themselves for these programs by taking classes in biology, chemistry, physiology and math.
“After graduation, you will sit for the Veterinary Technician National Exam (VTNE) and, depending on the state where you live, a state exam as well,” Hughston said. “There are traditional brick-and-mortar schools that offer veterinary technology programs and a number of online schools as well. I attended a program at my local community college and graduated in two years, then took and passed both the VTNE and the California vet tech exam.”
Hughston explained that during her schooling, the coursework was rigorous and involved a lot of math and science. As an older student who already had a college degree, she believes that she had an advantage in school as she found it interesting and fun.
“The most challenging course for me was lab animal science, as I had little experience with the research side of veterinary medicine and it’s really hard to keep all the different species of rats straight,” Hughston noted.
“One way that veterinary technicians can advance their career would be to pursue a Veterinary Technician Specialist (VTS) certification,” Hughston explained. “There are currently 15 specialty areas available to achieve specialization certification. There are also a few Bachelor degree programs in Veterinary Technology, along with at least two Masters degree programs.”
Ultimately, opportunities for advancement in a career as a Veterinary Technician largely depend on the employing facility. Vet Techs can be asked to supervise other Veterinary Technicians or Veterinary Technologists. Also, they can choose to return to school in pursuit of a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degree from an accredited veterinary college, as well as a state license.
“These advanced certifications and degrees can lead to opportunities outside of clinical work, in areas such as research, pharmaceutical sales, food manufacturing and sales and many other areas,” Hughston noted.
Experience & Skills
This is a very physical career, requiring the ability to stand for long periods of time, to lift heavy animals, and to restrain those animals for various medical procedures,” Hughston further explained. “You will use a lot of math and science in this career so a basic aptitude for those subjects, or at least an interest in learning them, is important. This is a highly demanding career both physically and mentally; good coping skills and a support structure are important.”
Thus, to become a successful Veterinarian Technician, professionals should first and foremost possess manual dexterity. Handling animals while trying to manipulate instruments and laboratory equipment is no simple task. The combination of these duties should be executed with care and attention to detail. This is why having a skillful hand (and sometimes physical strength depending on the animal) is imperative!
The ability to problem-solve is another skill needed while working in a career as a Veterinary Technician. Since animals are unable to communicate their health issues, Vet Techs and Veterinarians must be resourceful in identifying injuries and illnesses. They must also be resolution-driven in terms of finding appropriate and effective treatments.
Additionally, communication skills are essential when working alongside Veterinarians and when conversing with pet owners (especially when their pet is ill or injured). Communication skills can also be valuable when relaying advice (nutritional, behavioral, etc.) to pet owners.
Assisting animals who are sick or injured can be challenging, and interacting with frantic pet owners can be equally challenging. In all scenarios, expressing kindness and compassion toward both animals and owners is imperative. Professionals likely to panic under pressure should not pursue this career in healthcare. Instead, those dedicated to helping animals under stressful or extreme circumstances are best suited for this role.
Along with being compassionate, Vet Techs should also possess an innate desire to help improve the lives of animals and be detail-oriented. Just as people rely on the expertise of healthcare professionals to help keep them healthy, animals need Veterinary Technicians to help ensure their overall well-being. Other careers which can potentially involve animal care include that of a Laboratory Animal Caretaker, Radiologic Technologist, Pathologist and Toxicologist.
Even the slightest error in treatment could have drastic effects on a animals health, and therefore all services need to be accurately and effectively executed. Vet Techs must also be precise when recording information, performing diagnostic tests and administering medication. This career in healthcare would be an excellent choice for a perfectionist or someone extremely dedicated to their work!
“A team-oriented attitude and passion for the career will take you a long way in this career,” Hughston added. “The ability to work with lots of different people, to work as a member of a team, and to be constantly curious and committed to lifelong learning are excellent personality characteristics. Integrity, honesty and trustworthiness are important as well as a strong work ethic.”
In the career in healthcare of a Veterinary Technician, the work can be both physically and emotionally demanding. Whether providing aid to abused animals, mending the wounds of pets or helping to euthanize the terminally ill, the responsibilities this role entails can pull on a professional’s heart strings. However, helping animals overcome illnesses and injuries to regain their health can be unbelievably rewarding. Just like people, animals know when they are being helped!
Aside from the demanding aspect of this career, Veterinary Technicians can typically work full-time or part-time schedules primarily in veterinary service facilities. They can work long hours or evenings, weekends and holidays depending on the setting. Animals can require 24/7 emergency care too! However, educational settings and social service providers who hire Veterinary Technicians tend to provide more “normal” (9 am to 5 pm) hours.
“A career as a Vet Tech can be a difficult and somewhat thankless career, with long hours, emotionally draining cases and low pay, but it can also be an incredibly rewarding career with the opportunity to help animals and people,” Hughston explained.
Another important element to note when deciding to pursue a career as a Veterinary Technician is that, on average, these professionals are at higher risk of injury and illness than other careers. This is because they deal first-hand with animals who may be aggressive or anxious. To avoid injury Veterinary Technicians should always exercise the utmost caution, especially when handling a particular animal for the first time!
The field of healthcare is experiencing vast growth in terms of Veterinary Technician careers! Projected to grow 19 percent over the next decade, much faster than the average for all occupations, the demand for Vets Techs is increasing as people continue to acquire pets. Additionally, as comprehensive exams are continually stressed as the best form of prevention care, pet-owners rely on Veterinary Technicians to help care for their animals. The demand is also partially in response to an increased need for Vet Techs to perform laboratory work and imaging services on household pets.
The facilities employing the greatest number of Veterinary Technicians are veterinary services, educational settings and social advocacy organizations. Also, the states with the highest employment level in this career as Texas, California, Florida, Pennsylvania and New York.
“There is a major shortage of qualified veterinary technicians currently so finding employment is much easier now, particularly in urban and suburban areas,” Hughston advised. “Be sure to write a good resume, and I suggest going to clinics where you might be interested in working in person to speak with the hiring manager.”
Although many professionals who choose to pursue becoming a Veterinary Technician do so because of their love of animals, knowing the earning potential within the career is an important factor. The median annual wage for Vet Techs is $35,320. While the lowest 10 percent earn less than $24,530, the highest 10 percent earn more than $51,230 (BLS). Ultimately earning potential is determined by the employing facility and demographic in which the practice is located. That being said, Veterinary Technicians working in research positions often earn more than those in other specialty areas of the career.
“There is higher earning potential in some areas of this healthcare career – such as research or sales – but clinical work does not pay as well,” Hughston warned.
The top employing facilities of Vet Techs were veterinary service centers, educational settings and social justice settings. The highest paying states for this career in healthcare were New York, Alaska, Massachusetts, California and Connecticut.
Unions, Groups, Social Media, and Associations
The American Veterinary Medical Association is the nation’s leading advocate for the veterinary profession. The association serves to protect, promote and advocate for the needs of all veterinarians and those they serve.
The National Association of Veterinary Technicians in America is a non- profit association that represents and promotes the profession of veterinary technology. The Association’s goal is to allow veterinary technicians to give input on national issues involving the veterinary profession.
“Vet Techs are in the process of forming the National Veterinary Professionals Union to help organize and represent veterinary team members across the US. Every Veterinary Technician should join their local and state veterinary technician associations and get involved in the future of their career,” Hughston said. “There are also numerous groups on Facebook for veterinary technicians.”
All statistics are provided by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Meet the professional: Liz Hughston, MEd., RVT, CVT, VTS
Location: San Francisco/San Jose, California
What is the single biggest suggestion you would give to someone wanting to get into this career?
“Go to school and become credentialed! Being able to participate to the fullest extent in every opportunity available in the veterinary industry is important. Once you’re credentialed, get involved with your local and state veterinary technician association and give back to your career, and find a practice that utilized you to your fullest extent.”
What’s the number one mistake people make when trying to get into this career?
“The number one mistake is a professional getting into the career because they ‘love animals.’ While a love for animals is certainly an important part of this career, I have yet to see a dog or cat walk into a veterinary practice with their own credit card, as every animal comes with at least one person. A budding Veterinary Technician must also love people because we work with them every day, whether it’s our coworkers or pet owners.”
What is the question people should ask about this career but rarely do?
“Is this a financially viable career for me? Can I support myself and my family on my salary as a veterinary technician?”
If you could describe in one word what makes you successful, what would it be?
Credentialing organizations: American Association of Veterinary State Boards