What Does a Vet Tech Do?
If your idea of the perfect job involves working with animals all day, then consider becoming a vet tech.
Helping animals is deeply rewarding. However, this career requires emotional stamina. In some cases you’ll be saving lives, delivering new animals into the world or helping them in their elder years.
Vet techs — also known as veterinary technicians, vet technicians or vet tech specialists (VTS) — have a wide variety of duties. They work under the direct supervision of a licensed veterinarian in clinics and veterinary hospitals.
They assist the veterinarian in many procedures, keep the office running smoothly and play a crucial role in working with pet owners. No day is ever the same.
Being a vet tech means more than looking after animals. A big part of the job involves talking with pet owners to explain their pet’s condition or give advice on how to properly administer a medication. Being in contact with animals and their owners requires patience and compassion. Strong personal skills will come in handy.
Keep reading to learn what to expect as a vet tech, salary range, what training is needed and more. Plus, hear from from an expert what it’s really like to do this job.
- Conduct initial review of pet patient and talk with the owner
- Take initial readings, such as weight and vital signs
- Handle all patient imaging processes, including X-rays, CT scans and MRIs
- Provide emergency triage to critical patients and stabilize
- Take blood for lab analysis
- Administer medication and treatments
- Monitor patient's vital signs under anesthesia (blood pressure, respiration, heart rate and oxygen levels)
- Perform routine dental cleanings
- Collect and record animals’ case histories
- Conduct administrative duties (scheduling, billing and coding)
- Bathe, clip nails/claws (depending on size of clinic)
How To Become a Vet Tech: FAQs
What steps do I need to take?
If you’re interested in a career as a vet tech, you can prepare by taking biology and other science related courses in high school. Volunteering at a local shelter can be a great way to help animals and learn more about this line of work.
Once you’ve earned your high school diploma or equivalent, you’ll be ready for the next step.
To get an entry-level job, earn an associate degree in veterinary technology or animal science from a community college. That is the most common path, but it’s not the only one. Other options include earning a diploma or certificate from a technical school or earning a bachelor’s degree from a university. (Learn the difference between technical college and community college.)
Look for programs accredited by the Committee on Veterinary Technician Education and Activities (CVTEA), a branch of the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) established to approve programs.
Courses will include mammalian anatomy and physiology, microbiology, animal nursing, diagnostic imaging, anesthesia, pharmacology, veterinary clinic management and veterinary ethics. Programs will also include hands-on training or an internship under the supervision of a vet.
The rules about certification, registration and licensing vary by state — so you’ll need to know what’s required in the state you want to work in. For example, in Alaska and some other states, it’s possible to combine experience and certification and forgo the traditional education path. Check out SkillPointe’s licensing tool below for more details or use the a state-by-state eligibility tool provided by the American Association of Veterinary State Boards (AAVSB).
Regardless of your path, you’ll need to pass the Veterinary Technician National Examination (VTNE). This credentialing exam is offered by AAVSB, and it’s required in most states for licensing, certification and/or registration.
Next you’ll earn credentials for the state where you want to work. As mentioned, these rules vary, but typically you'll pay a fee and present your educational transcripts and exam scores to the state, which may ask for additional steps.
There are many different state titles for credentialing, including registered veterinary technician (RVT), certified veterinary technician (CVT) and licensed veterinary technician (LVT). The National Association of Veterinary Technicians in America (NAVTA) uses the term credentialed veterinary technician as a way to avoid confusion.
As with many careers, continuing education is the norm for vet techs. To renew your license, registration or certification, you'll complete specific hours of education, which can include coursework, conferences or research.
You’ll need to renew your license to maintain your certification – in most cases, every two years.
Vet techs can also specialize in areas such as dentistry, anesthesia, emergency/crucial care, radiology or zoological medicine. This requires earning veterinary technician specialist (VTS) certification.
Once you’ve been a veterinary technician for some time, you’ll be able to do even more around the clinic. As a key member of your clinic or hospital, you’ll get familiar with scheduling and other administrative functions like billing and coding. By assisting with surgeries and gaining more experience through on-the-job education, you’ll build on your knowledge.
Becoming a member of NAVTA isn’t required for employment, but it offers many benefits, such as making contacts in the veterinary community and learning about continuing ed opportunities.
There’s room for advancement in the veterinary realm, but it typically requires more education. One natural progression is to become a vet technologist, which requires a bachelor’s degree. Vet technologists work under the guidance of a scientist or veterinarian and often focus on research or laboratory work. Becoming a veterinary technologist is a great way to boost your salary. People in this field earn upwards of $56,000 a year.
Are there any other qualifications?
You may need to undergo a background check and provide proof of immunizations and health insurance.
How long does it take to become a vet tech?
It depends on what path you take. A certificate or diploma takes one to two years, and an associate degree takes two years. A bachelor’s degree takes four years. Continuing education is ongoing.
Is there a demand for vet techs?
With so many people owning pets, this industry is expected to grow faster than most in the next few years.
Jobs for vet technicians and vet technologists are predicted to grow 20% between 2021 and 2031, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. That’s lightning fast!
The outlook for veterinary technicians is good. Most vet techs will work full-time, and overtime is common. Some vet techs work weekends and holidays to provide care for pet patients.
What skills and qualities would make someone a good fit for this job?
Successful veterinary techs tend to share several traits. They:
- Love being around animals
- Are good communicators
- Are detail-oriented
- Are organized
- Have good manual dexterity and steady hands
- Are physically able to restrain and lift large animals
- Are compassionate, patient and resilient
For some people, the sheer variety in day-to-day tasks is a big part of the appeal of being a veterinary technician.
This career can be incredibly rewarding. An ability to handle sensitive moments is key, like informing someone their beloved pet may have a serious condition or illness. You’ll be the first person a pet owner talks to in these difficult moments.
Being able to offer information with compassion will help you to manage complex situations. One of the most enjoyable parts of being a vet tech is the knowledge that you are making a difference — not only in the lives of your animal patients, but also their owners’ lives.
Ready to discover more? Check out the training links provided by SkillPointe and take the next step!
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