Vet Tech Career Guide
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What is a Vet Tech?
A vet tech is credentialed professional has basic medical knowledge and clinical skills that apply to animal care. Typically, they may work along side a veterinarian in animal hospitals and vet clinics. Tasks may include lab tests, assess animal health, help during procedures, and perform animal well check exams. The career of a vet tech could give the chance to care for animals daily. If you love animals and want to see them live happy and healthy lives, but do not want to pursue a veterinary degree, then veterinary technician education may be the perfect fit. Here’s a closer look at this veterinary medicine career field and what it takes to pursue a career as a qualified vet tech.
Vet Tech Duties and Responsibilities
A veterinary technician’s primary job generally is helping a vet care for animals. This includes helping animals live healthy lives and protecting the happiness of an animal. Vet techs could be thought of as nurses in a veterinary setting. The duties and responsibilities a vet tech has may depend on the type of practice where the tech works. Their education allows them to do many jobs in a vet’s office, outside of prescribing medicine, diagnosing a condition, and doing surgeries.
Some of the specific jobs that may fall on the vet tech’s shoulders at a vet’s office include:
- Administering animal’s medications or vaccines
- Administering treatments in the vet clinic
- Prepping animals for surgical procedures the vet performs
- Evaluating the health of an animal through wellness checks
- Holding animals down during exams or treatments
- Educating owners on what to do at home to care for an animal
- Performing routine, non medical care tasks, like trimming toenails or cleaning ears
- Observing animals for signs of health needs
- Performing x rays and other diagnostic tests
- Helping vets and vet scientists with research in the field
- Charting health histories for animals
- Providing assistance during surgery or procedures
- Giving animals anesthesia
- Offering emergency first aid in urgent care situations
- Surgical nursing care for vets
Veterinary technicians also generally work with a wide range of animals. In a standard vet’s office, they may typically see cats and dogs and similar small animal pets. However, in an exotic vet’s office, they may see birds, reptiles, and rodents. And, in a farm vet’s office, they may work on the farm with horses, cows, goats, and other farm animals. The work of a vet tech could be quite varied.
Veterinary technicians may also work in lab settings. When animals are used to test medications and products, they require humane handling and care. They may also need careful observation. Vet techs might do both. Their knowledge of animal health and physiology combined with their passion for animals may make them a good fit for this role.
Vet Tech Skills and Competencies
Veterinary technicians need to have a caring demeanor and enjoy working with animals. They must be able to handle animals carefully and treat them in a humane manner. They may also need to have a good bedside manner to help animal owners, especially during times when animals are in distress or facing serious medical issues. Some specific skills that help vet techs succeed may include
Good Communication Skills
Vet techs may need to be able to share their knowledge with animal owners and their coworkers. This requires good communication skills, especially when taking medical knowledge and sharing it with non medical people like owners. Vet techs also need to be able to communicate with vets, being able to respond quickly when the doctor needs something during a procedure.
Pet owners are quite connected to their pets. They often think of them as family. Vet techs must understand this and be able to offer empathy to owners who are in distress because their pet is sick or in pain.
The job of a vet tech can be physically demanding. This job requires you to stay on your feet most of the day. You may need to lift and move heavy animals. You must be able to give the animals in your care your undivided attention throughout the day. Vet techs also risk injury on the job. Animals are unpredictable. Techs may get bitten or scratched. Those working with large animals and in equine vets can get kicked. Physical stamina can help you recover from these injuries more quickly.
As a vet tech, you will be asked to handle animals and medical equipment, often at the same time. This can be tricky. Having good dexterity is helpful.
Attention to Details
In any medical setting, including veterinary work, missing details can be a life or death situation. Techs generally working in laboratory animal settings must carefully evaluate the animals in their care. Maintaining accurate records and reporting issues or illness are critical to caring for animals. Vet techs must be detail oriented to do their jobs well.
Technical and Medical Skills
A veterinary technician’s job is a medical job, and this means they will need to be comfortable working with medical equipment, delivering medications, measuring samples, and using diagnostic equipment. They have to be comfortable administering injections or drawing blood. Learning how to use medical equipment quickly in the field is also important.
Some of the work of a vet tech can be emotionally difficult. Vet techs may need to administer euthanasia for a sick pet. They may witness and document animal abuse. These emotionally draining tasks require resiliency.
Vet Tech Salary and Job Outlook
Many students often start their career in the vet world with veterinary technician certificate. It could launch a future career in animal care or be the only career someone chooses, depending on their goals. Some vet techs may go on to become veterinary scientists or doctors. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual pay for vet techs in 2019 was $35,320 per year. That was an median pay of $16.98 per hour.
Vet techs who were working as health techs earned a median annual wage of $44,380. Those who were working in the education world, such as working in colleges and professional schools, earned an median annual wage of $40,990. The employment rate for vet techs according to the BLS is estimated to grow 19% growth from 2018 to 2028, which is much faster than average for other careers.
Education and Certification
If a career as a veterinary technician seems like a good fit for your skills, education is the starting point. This career requires post secondary education. In many states, it also requires certification and credentialing examination.
What Groups Oversee a Veterinary Technology Program?
Vet techs need to be properly certified for their jobs. Several groups assist in this certification. The Committee on Veterinary Technician Education and Activities, which is part of the American Veterinary Medical Association, is one of these. Vet techs must be certified. The certification exam comes from the American Association of Veterinary State Boards (AAVSB).
Education for Vet Techs
The first step in jumpstarting a career as a vet tech is getting the education. The CVTEA/AVMA is the organization that accredits vet tech programs. Look for a program that carries this accreditation.
The base degree for a vet tech is a two year associate’s degree. To prepare for this, consider taking biology and similar science courses in high school. Strong math skills are also helpful. If you’re considering a career as a vet technologist instead of a vet tech, you may need a four year bachelor’s degree. Regardless of whether you choose a four year or two year program, you may study many aspects of animal care. Expect to learn:
- How to administer anesthesia
- Biochemistry for animals
- Nursing care for animals
- Pathology for vets
- Anatomy and physiology for animals
- Surgical care and nursing for animals
- Common animal diseases
In addition to the in classroom, vet techs may receive clinical or on the job training. Some of the work these pros perform can’t be taught in a classroom setting, but requires hands on instruction. The AVMA requires internship or hands on clinical experience as part of their certified program. Depending on the school and the state, this may be called:
Regardless of the title, the goal is generally the same. These programs aim to give students the chance to practice what they’ve learned in the classroom under the supervision of a trained tech or licensed veterinarian.
Vet Tech Certification
After completing a degree program and internship, you may need to be certified or credentialed as a vet tech. The rules for certs vary by state. Many states require their vet techs to take a credentialing exam. A common credentialing exam is the Veterinary Technician National Examination (VTNE). This exam takes four hours to complete. It covers 200 multiple choice questions. These questions cover the following areas of knowledge:
- Radiography and ultrasound
- Animal nursing
- Surgical prep and assisting
To prepare, students could purchase a practice exam from the American Association of Veterinary State Boards. Before taking the exam, always consult your state’s vet tech credentialing rules. Upon passing the vet tech exam, you may receive your credentials as a vet tech. This makes it possible to start applying for work in the field and pursuing your career.
A vet tech is similar to a few other roles. They vary based on income and job responsibilities. Comparing the differences could help you make a career choice for your needs.
Vet Assistant Vs. Vet Tech
A vet assistant is someone who works with a vet but may have less formal education in the field. They may earn a cert in vet assisting, or they may learn their skills on the job. Because they are not formally trained, these individuals don’t typically handle direct animal care. They may help with holding animals for procedures, but their primary jobs are clerical and maintenance.
Vet assistants may handle scheduling and bill collection. They may feed and exercise animals and prep and maintain equipment. They also may clean the vet’s office. Vet assistants and vet techs are regulated by the states where they work. The American Veterinary Medical Association offers a state-by-state comparison chart that shows the duties each type of worker can perform.
According to the BLS, a vet assistant earns a median annual salary of $28,590 per year. Like vet techs, those working on college campuses may earn the highest median annual wage. Like the vet tech, jobs as vet assistants have expected growth, with a 16% increase expected by 2029.
Veterinary Technologist Vs. Vet Technician
“Vet tech” typically refers to the role of a vet technician. A vet technologist is a different role, but with a similar name so they are sometimes confused. Vet techs typically have a two year associate degree. Vet technologists typically have a four year bachelor’s degree. The credentials are similar, and technologists may not have a specific credential depending on the state. It is the additional education that sets them apart.
Vet techs and vet technologists may perform similar duties. The additional education of the technologist may open the door to pursuing roles with a higher potential salary or leadership positions. It may also provide the perfect foundation for a career in a lab setting instead of a vet’s office. The BLS indicates that technologists earn $44,380 as the median annual wage in 2019.