Veterinary technicians (also known as vet techs) are trained and licensed individuals who provide support and assistance to veterinarians in the care and treatment of animals. The work a vet tech does for a veterinarian is much like what a nurse does in support of a doctor. Unlike veterinary assistants, vet techs have advanced education and training. Veterinary technicians are licensed by their state to perform specific procedures, whereas, veterinary assistants are not licensed.
Day in the Life of a Vet Tech
The specific duties of a vet tech depend on where and for whom he or she works. Most vet techs work in private practices under the supervision of a licensed veterinarian. In addition to assisting during examinations and treatment, vet techs:
- Perform medical tests to help diagnose the patient's condition
- Conduct lab tests such as blood work and urinalysis
- Assist in patient dental care and treatment
- Record patient histories
- Perform routine care, such as wound care and casting broken bones
- Clean and maintain examination rooms
- Take and develop x-rays
- Maintain office pharmaceuticals and other supplies
In a research facility, the duties of a veterinary technician are somewhat different, including:
- Preparing tissue samples for laboratory examination
- Dispensing medication and administering vaccinations
- Watching and recording animal behavior and changes
- Maintaining, cleaning and sterilizing laboratory equipment
Important Characteristics for a Vet Tech
A natural starting point for successful veterinary technicians is the compassion they feel toward animals who are sick or injured; but they must also have excellent communication skills to interact and coordinate with the veterinarians they assist, other veterinary staff, and pets' owners. They use observation, deductive reasoning and good judgment to recognize and solve complex problems. Finally, they are proficient with computers in order to document details and files.
If this career seems like the right fit for you, you'll need to know about veterinary technician education requirements and training.
- Get a high school diploma. Prepare for your career as a vet tech in high school by taking math, science and biology courses.
- Earn an associate degree in veterinary technology. Vet tech schools are available at junior colleges, community colleges, vocational schools, and facilities associated with distance learning (or online programs). Vet tech programs should be accredited by the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA).
- Gain clinical experience. This is required for all veterinary technicians. Participate in an internship supervised by a veterinarian. You'll gain hands-on training and practical experience, and it may even lead to your first job.
- Earn a credential. Once you complete the veterinary technician education requirements, take the credentialing exam required by all states. Licensing requirements vary by state, but many use the National Veterinary Technician (NVT) exam for certification.
- Earning advanced credentials is always useful and, in some cases, necessary in this profession. Those seeking employment in a research facility should pursue an American Association for Laboratory Animal Science certification.
Veterinary technicians can also specialize. According to the National Association of Veterinary Technicians in America, recognized specialties include:
- Internal Medicine
- Dental Technology
- Emergency and Critical Care
- Equine Nursing
- Zoological Medicine
Once you have achieved your position as a vet tech, consider moving your career to the next level. These tips can help you advance:
- Pursue continuing education: Many states require continuing education to maintain your license. Taking courses throughout your career helps you stay up to date on new technologies.
- Consider professional group membership: Organizations such as the American Veterinary Medical Association provide updates on industry developments, networking, and job openings.
- Teach: Teaching incoming students can help you become an expert in the field and advance your career.
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- Online Veterinary Assistant School, U.S. Career Institute, https://www.uscareerinstitute.edu/certificates/professional-services/veterinary-assistant, Accessed September 2017
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- Veterinary Assistants, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2016-17 Occupational Outlook Handbook, https://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/veterinary-assistants-and-laboratory-animal-caretakers.htm#tab-1
- Veterinary Technologists and Technicians, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2016-17 Occupational Outlook Handbook, https://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/veterinary-technologists-and-technicians.htm