Veterinary Technicians Job Description, Education Requirements and Career Profile

Veterinary technologists and technicians diagnose diseases and medical conditions, perform various medical tests and otherwise treat animals.

By Diane Wadhwa
Posted 2012

Veterinary Technician Jobs
Veterinary Technician Jobs

Veterinary technicians work with animals, assisting with dental care, preparing tissue samples, taking blood samples and sometimes performing laboratory tests such as blood counts and urinalysis. They provide specialized nursing care, record patients’ case histories and develop x-rays. Experienced veterinary technicians may train new clinic personnel and discuss a pet’s medical condition with its owners. Most care for dogs and cats, but they can also perform various duties with sheep, pigs, rats, mice, monkeys, cattle, birds, frogs and fish. Only a few veterinary technologists work in mixed animal clinics where they care for both large nondomestic animals and small pets.

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Some veterinary technologists and technicians work in research facilities under the supervision of veterinarians or physicians. They care for animals’ general and postoperative needs and record important information such as clinical signs of distress and pain. A few veterinary technologists assist veterinarians in research projects that contribute to human health as well, such as biosecurity and disaster preparedness, biomedical research, livestock management and other projects.

Veterinary Technicians Job Summary

  • Although working as a veterinary technologist and technician can be rewarding for animal lovers, parts of the work can be physically and emotionally demanding, unpleasant and sometimes dangerous.
  • Veterinary technologists must complete a four-year educational program, while veterinary technicians train for two years.
  • Faster than average employment growth is expected.
  • Although overall job opportunities should be excellent, candidates for jobs in zoos and aquariums will face keen competition.

Work Environment for Veterinary Technicians

Veterinary technologists and technicians usually work around 40 hours per week, but some work a 50 hour (or longer) workweek. Night shifts are required for veterinary technicians in some animal hospitals, shelters and research facilities.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) data shows that work-related illness and injury rates are higher than the average for full-time veterinary technologists and technicians. Veterinary technicians risk exposure to scratches or bites when they must clean cages and lift, restrain or hold animals. Precautions must be taken when treating animals with insecticides or germicides. In addition, the work setting can be noisy and sometimes stressful. Sometimes veterinary technologists and technicians must euthanize hopelessly injured, unwanted or aged animals, which is often emotionally distressing.

Veterinary technicians Training and Licensing

Veterinary technicians enter two-year associate degree programs from an American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA)-accredited community college program. Courses are taught in laboratory and clinical settings using live animals. Candidates who are interested in careers as veterinary technologists can earn a four-year bachelor’s degree in veterinary technology. In addition, a few colleges also offer two-year programs in laboratory animal science while about 10 offer distance learning.

There are about 160 veterinary technology programs in 45 states that are accredited by the AVMA. Graduates from an AVMA-accredited program may take the credentialing exam in any state.

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Most vet techs begin working as trainees under the direct supervision of a veterinarian. All states require them to pass a credentialing exam after completing their educational program. Regulations for licensure and certification vary from state to state, but candidates are tested for competency through a written, oral and practical examination that is regulated by the State Board of Veterinary Examiners. Candidates may become licensed, registered or certified, depending on the state. Most states use the National Veterinary Technician (NVT) exam.

Veterinary technicians who hope to work in a research facility can attain certification on three levels.

Employment Outlook and Earnings for Vet Techs

Veterinary technologists and technicians held about 93,300 jobs in May 2014, according to research published by the BLS. Most worked for professional, scientific and technical services while a few worked for colleges, universities and professional schools, scientific research and development services, social advocacy organizations and the federal government.

The BLS expects employment in this field to grow 30% from 2012 to 2022, which is much faster than the average for all occupations. This growth will be spurred from the increasing willingness of pet owners to pay for advanced veterinary care which will require more veterinarians who will need increasing numbers of veterinary technicians to assist them.

In May 2014, the BLS reported that the median annual salary for veterinary technologists and technicians was $31,070. The middle 50% earned between $25,740 and $37,590, while the lowest 10% made $21,390 or less. The highest 10% earned in excess of $45,710.

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