What is a Veterinary Technician?

Career Information

Vet and technician with dog
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As nurses are to doctors, veterinary technicians are to veterinarians. They assist vets in diagnosing and treating animals in private clinics, animal hospitals, and research facilities. This job title is often used interchangeably with "veterinary technologist," and although there are some differences between the two occupations, they are minor. Vet techs, as they are often called, may supervise veterinary assistants.

Quick Facts

  • In 2016, veterinary technicians earned a median annual salary of $32,490 or $15.62 hourly.
  • Almost 96,000 people worked in this field as of 2014.
  • Most jobs are in animal hospitals and clinics.
  • The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics classifies this as a "Bright Outlook Occupation" because of its excellent job outlook. Employment is expected to grow much faster than the average for all occupations through 2024.

Roles and Responsibilities

What are a veterinary technician's job duties? To answer this question, we went straight to the source—those who employ them. Here are tasks listed in job announcements on Indeed.com and the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) Veterinary Career Center:

  • "Monitor and appropriately document patient vital signs and activity"
  •  "Assist DVM [Doctor of Veterinary Medicine] with medical examinations"
  • "Obtain and prepare various blood samples for diagnostic testing"
  • "Perform digital x-rays"
  • "Prepare animals for surgery, prepare surgical packs, monitor patients under anesthesia, and assist Veterinarians during surgical procedures"
  •  "Triage incoming patients and manage clients throughout their visit"
  • "Perform dental procedures"

The Truth About Being a Veterinary Technician

  • Aggressive or frightened animals in your care may bite or otherwise injure you.
  • You will witness unpleasant things, such as abused or severely injured pets.
  • Your work schedule may regularly or occasionally include weekends and evenings
  • You will have to assist veterinarians when they euthanize animals.

Comparing Careers: Veterinary Technician and Veterinary Assistant

Veterinary technicians and veterinary assistants both work in animal hospitals and clinics, but that is where the similarities between these two careers end. They differ in both their job duties and in their education and training requirements. While assistants need only a high school or equivalency diploma, technicians must complete a two-year veterinary technology training program. In addition to their formal training, they usually need a state-issued license.

Technicians' additional training allows them to perform tasks that include administering anesthesia, and medicating and vaccinating animals. Assistants feed and bathe animals, prepare examination and operating rooms, and may also perform clerical duties. State laws regulate what those working in each occupation are permitted to do. The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) website provides a state-by-state guide to specified duties of assistants and technicians.

How to Become a Veterinary Technician

If you are an aspiring veterinary technician, you should attend a two-year veterinary technology program that has received accreditation from the American Veterinary Medicine Association (AVMA) Committee on Veterinary Technician Education and Activities (CVTEA). You will usually earn an associate degree upon completing such a program. You can find a list of accredited programs in the United States and Canada on the AVMA website: Veterinary Technology Programs Accredited by the AVMA CVTEA.

Your formal training will include laboratory and clinical work with live animals. If you are a high school student who is interested in this field, make sure to take science classes such as biology, as well as math classes. You should also consider volunteering at a veterinarian's office or an animal shelter, where you can get experience and find out if you enjoy working in this environment.

Licensing requirements for veterinary technicians vary by state. Typically, you will have to take the Veterinary Technician National Examination, which the American Association of Veterinary State Boards (AAVSB) administers. AAVSB maintains contact information for licensing boards in the U.S. and Canada on its website.

What Soft Skills Will Help You Succeed in This Career?

You will learn a lot through your formal training, but you will also need personal qualities, called soft skills, to succeed in this field.

  • Active Listening: The ability to understand clients and colleagues allows you to provide the best care to your patients.
  • Verbal Communication: You must be able to convey instructions to your clients and veterinary assistants.
  • Interpersonal Skills: Although you will be caring for animals, these "people" skills help your interactions with their owners as well as with veterinarians and veterinary assistants.
  • Organizational Skills: You will have to keep track of lab specimens and medications.
  • Problem Solving: You must identify problems, for example, injuries and illnesses, and implement solutions to them.
  • Critical Thinking: This skill will help you come up with alternatives when you are trying to solve problems or make decisions, and then choose the one you think will be most effective.
  • Monitoring: Your ability to notice changes in animals' conditions will help prevent further complications.
  • Coordination: Working alongside veterinarians and veterinary assistants requires the capacity to coordinate your actions with theirs.

What Will Employers Expect From You?

Here are some requirements from actual job announcements found on Indeed.com and AVMA.org:

  • "Qualified candidates should be friendly and mature, able to multi-task and work well with others"
  • "Must be able to multi-task and perform in a fast-paced environment"
  • "All applicants should be able to lift 50 lbs."
  • "Ability to work independently and practice good judgment to ensure high quality care for all patients and request assistance when needed"
  • "Strong computer skills to work with a paperless information system"
  • " Able to work successfully as part of a team, as well as independently and remain composed in emergency situations"

Is This Occupation a Good Fit for You?

Occupations With Related Tasks and Activities

 Description

Median Annual Wage

(2016)

Minimum Required Education/Training
Registered NurseTreats, advises and provides emotional support to patients and their families$68,450Bachelor's or Associate Degree, or Diploma in Nursing
Radiologic TechnologistUses x-rays, MRIs and CT scans to help doctors diagnose illnesses and injuries$57,450Associate Degree in Radiography
Licensed Practical NurseProvides basic patient care under registered nurses' and physicians' supervision $44,090State-approved Educational Program
Surgical TechnologistAssists members of an operating room team, including surgeons and registered nurses$45,160Associate Degree, Diploma or Certificate in Surgical Technology

Sources:
Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2016-17 (visited June 23, 2017).
Employment and Training Administration, U.S. Department of Labor, O*NET Online (visited June 23, 2017).