Animals are an intrinsic part of our lives, whether as pets, livestock or wildlife. Veterinary technicians play an important role in the care and health of these animals, working directly with pets and their owners to determine medical needs and the best course of action in the event of illness or emergency. Read on to learn more about how to become a veterinary technician.
What Does a Veterinary Technician Do?
Veterinary technicians, or vet techs for short, assist veterinarians in caring for patients. Aside from assisting during examinations and treatment, vet techs in a general practice clinic are often responsible for many other duties, such as:
- Performing medical tests to help diagnose the patient's condition
- Performing lab tests such as blood work and urinalysis
- Assisting in patient dental care and treatment
- Recording patient histories
- Performing routine care, such as wound care and casting broken bones
- Cleaning and maintaining examination rooms
- Taking and developing x-rays
- Maintaining office pharmaceuticals and other supplies
Some vet techs work in research facilities and have duties that are somewhat different. In this case, responsibilities often include:
- Preparing tissue samples for laboratory examination
- Dispensing medication and administering vaccinations
- Watching and recording animal behavior and changes
- Maintaining, cleaning and sterilizing laboratory equipment
- Providing postoperative care
Veterinary Technician Specializations
The specific duties of a vet tech are dependent upon where he/she works and whom he/she works for. The most common work venue for vet techs is in private practices under the supervision of a licensed veterinarian. However, vet techs also work in other places, most notably animal hospitals, private clinics, and research centers.
Veterinary technicians who work for research facilities might have additional responsibilities, such as administering medications, preparing samples for lab examinations or documenting information for analysis. The humane treatment of animals in research settings is also of the utmost importance.
Veterinary technicians might also work with large animals on farms or in zoos. Or they might opt for jobs that don't require hands-on work with animals, such as positions in drug and feed companies, technical service and sales or teaching.
Veterinary technicians can also specialize in a wide variety of fields. According to the National Association of Veterinary Technicians in America (NAVTA), recognized specialties include:
- Internal Medicine
- Dental Technology
- Emergency and Critical Care
- Equine Nursing
- Zoological Medicine
Steps to Becoming a Veterinary Technician
If this career seems like the right fit for you, read through this step-by-step guide to find out how to become a veterinary technician:
- Get a high school diploma. Prepare for your career as a vet tech in high school by taking math, science and biology courses. Try to take classes that allow you to work in a lab or clinic setting; this can increase your practical skills.
- Earn a two-year degree. Get your associate degree in veterinary technology from a school accredited by the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA). Such schools provide formal education as well as courses taught in clinical settings using live animals.
- Get clinical experience. Participate in an internship under the direct supervision of a veterinarian. This will provide you with hands-on training and practical experience, and it may very well lead to your first job.
- Pass a credentialing exam. Once you have formal education and clinical experience, take the credentialing exam which is required by all states. Many states use the National Veterinary Technician (NVT) exam for certification. Those seeking employment in a research facility should look into certification from the American Association for Laboratory Animal Science (AALAS).
How to Become a GREAT Veterinary Technician
Once you have earned your degree, passed your state certification and found a great job, move your career to the next level. Here are a few tips to help you advance your vet tech career:
- Continuing education: Many states require continuing education in order to keep up with current licensing. Many veterinary technicians find that taking courses throughout their career helps them stay up-to-date on new technologies.
- Professional Group Membership: Organizations such as the American Veterinary Medical Association can help keep you updated on industry developments and job openings. They can also offer networking opportunities with other veterinary technicians and veterinarians.
- Teach: Teaching incoming students can help you become an expert in the field, which in turn will help you advance your career.
Resources for Veterinary Technicians
- American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA)
- American Association for Laboratory Animal Science (AALAS)
- National Association of Veterinary Technicians in America (NAVTA)
- The American Veterinary Medical Association, https://www.avma.org/Pages/home.aspx
- The Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Veterinary Technologists and Technicians, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/veterinary-technologists-and-technicians.htm