How to Become a Veterinary Technician Specialist (VTS)

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS Dec. 2015), veterinary technicians and technologists occupy a high-growth career. In fact, the BLS projected a 19 percent explosion in openings for vet techs across the country between 2014 and 2024, nearly triple the average growth anticipated across all occupations during that time period (7 percent). And the addition of 17,900 vet tech positions nationwide during that decade will amount to increased opportunities for specialized practitioners in this field, or vet tech specialists (VTS).

In 1994, the National Association of Veterinary Technicians in America (NAVTA) established the Committee on Veterinary Technician Specialties (CVTS) to recognize specific credentialing bodies (i.e., academies) and professional associations seeking academy-status (i.e., societies). In order to qualify for credentialing in any vet tech specialty, candidates must typically be credentialed vet techs who have the requisite training, experience, and education to qualify for an academy’s specialty exam. As of February 2017, NAVTA listed 14 academies which offer specialized certification for qualified VTS candidates. Some of the subfields of this discipline are anesthesia & analgesia, zoological medicine, dentistry, clinical pathology, and animal behavior, to name a few.

This piece examines how to become a VTS, including a discussion of the education and certification requirements of each specialized academy.

Steps to Become a VTS

Here is a granular breakdown of the steps to become a veterinary technician specialist (VTS):

Step 1: Graduate from high school or pass GED

At this stage, aspiring VTS candidates are encouraged to excel in science and math classes to set oneself up for success in a college program. Suggested coursework includes biology, chemistry, anatomy or physiology (where available), and algebra. Since becoming a VTS ultimately requires the candidate to be comfortable handling scientific equipment, students should ensure that they have opportunities to conduct experiments in a laboratory. Additionally, high school students are encouraged to volunteer in a veterinary care setting to gain experience (and future letters of recommendation) from licensed animal healthcare professionals.

Step 2: Graduate from an accredited degree program in veterinary technology or a related field (2-4 years)

In order to qualify for registration, certification, or licensure as a vet tech—a prerequisite for all specialized credentialing—aspiring vet techs must graduate from an associate or bachelor’s degree program accredited by the Committee on Veterinary Technician Education and Activities (CVTEA), a branch of the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA). Please visit the homepage for a breakdown of all accredited vet tech schools by state and online vet tech schools. Typical admissions requirements into CVTEA-accredited vet tech programs are the submission of high school transcripts with proof of specific coursework; a personal statement (500-600 words); and an application fee. Some programs also require applicants to complete a background check; send proof of immunizations; submit test scores (SAT, ACT, or TOEFL for non-native English speakers); or undergo a candidate interview with program faculty. Undergraduate programs in veterinary technology or animal science feature courses such as diagnostic imaging; animal dentistry; pharmacology; anatomy & physiology; animal nursing; microbiology; and veterinary ethics, among others. It’s important to add that depending on one’s state of residence, a credentialing entity may accept years of experience in lieu of completing an accredited program. Check out local board requirements by reaching out to the appropriate regional authority, a list of which is available from the American Association of Veterinary State Boards (AAVB 2017) or through individual vet tech state licensure pages on this site.

Step 3: Pass the Veterinary Technician National Examination (less than 1 year)

The VTNE is offered by the American Association of Veterinary State Boards (AAVSB) and is the main national credentialing test for veterinary technicians. In fact, most schools feature their three-year passing rates among program graduates on their school websites. The VTNE is offered during three month-long periods annually and measures student’s competency in nine discrete concepts such as surgical nursing; anesthesia; pharmacy & pharmacology; and emergency medicine, among other domains. The exam currently costs $300 and will jump to $315 in July 2017.

Step 4: Apply for state credentialing (less than one year)

In a majority of US states, veterinary technicians and technologists must seek credentialing prior to beginning work. The designation varies by state, but there are three main terms used: registered, certified, or licensed veterinary technician (RVT, CVT, or LVT, respectively). To qualify for state credentialing, candidates typically must submit their transcripts from a two- to four-year CVTEA-accredited program; passing scores on the VTNE; and an application fee. It’s important to add that some states ask candidates to pass a local exam as well, and many applications call for proof of citizenship; passport-style photos; or a background check.

Step 5: Gain experience in a specialty and apply to a NAVTA-recognized academy for certification (3+ years)

The final step to become a VTS is to gain experience in one’s specialty of interest and apply for certification from a recognized academy. Typical application materials to earn the VTS designation include:

  • Completed application with work experience, including proof of 1,000-10,000 hours of experience in the specialty area
  • Copy of RVT, CVT, or LVT credential
  • Hours of continuing education (CE)
  • Letter(s) of recommendation
  • Skills assessment signed by a supervisor
  • Portfolio of case logs and studies
  • Passing score on a specialized exam
  • Application fee

Lastly, both the state vet tech and VTS credentials require continuing education (CE) hours to maintain. Specialized CE opportunities are available on most academy websites and include the following resources:

What follows is an overview of the academy-specific requirements to become a VTS as of February 2017.

How to Become a Laboratory Animal Vet Tech

Lab animal techs offer humane care to creatures used for the advancement of science, and the services they provide include animal husbandry, cleaning, and basic scientific experiment support. The American Association for Laboratory Animal Science (AALAS) offers three certifications in this VTS field: assistant laboratory animal technician (ALAT), laboratory animal technician (LAT), and laboratory animal technologist (LATG). To qualify for each exam, VTS (Laboratory Animal) candidates must have a combination of experience and academic education. For example, ALAT applicants can qualify for the exam with two years of lab animal science experience and no HS diploma; one year of experience and a HS diploma (or GED); or six months experience and at least a two-year associate degree. All certification candidates must pay a fee: ALAT ($160 for AALAS members, $235 for non-members), LAT ($210 or $285), and LATG ($260 or $335). For a full breakdown of the qualifying experience and education requirements as well as the exam content, please visit the AALAS site. Please note that there’s also a society affiliated with this specialty with offers additional resources, CE opportunities, and professional support: the Society of Laboratory Animal Veterinary Technicians (SLAVT).

How to Become an Anesthesia Vet Tech

Veterinary anesthesia techs offer pain management to animals undergoing invasive veterinary procedures by preparing and administering various sedatives to animals. They are credentialed by the Academy of Veterinary Technicians in Anesthesia and Analgesia (AVTAA), which requires VTS (Anesthesia & Analgesia) exam candidates to have at least 6,000 hours of work experience (3 years), including 4,500 hours in administering anesthesia; a 50-case log; four in-depth reports; 40 hours of continuing education (CE); and $150 (two $25 application fees and a $100 exam fee). Yearly membership fees ($40) are due each January.

How to Become a Behavioral Vet Tech

Animal behavior technicians conduct research and assist animals in overcoming behavioral and psychological problems. Credentialing is offered by the Academy of Veterinary Behavior Technicians (ABVT), which requires VTS (Behavior) exam applicants to have at least 4,000 hours of verified experience (typically 3-5 years); proof of NAVTA and Society of Veterinary Behavior Technicians (SVBT) membership; two letters of recommendation; a detailed skilled assessment; 40 hours of CE; a 50-patient case log; five case reports; and an application fee ($50). To maintain certification, candidates need 60 hours of CE every five years or they can retake the VTS (Behavior) exam. To learn more about this specialty, check out these pages: vet psychologists and animal behavior programs, how to become an animal psychologist, and top 15 animal behavior professors.

How to Become a Clinical Pathology Vet Tech

Clinical pathology vet techs collect and analyze biological samples in order to assist in the diagnosis of illnesses. Credentialing is available through the Academy of Veterinary Clinical Pathology Technicians (AVCPT), which requires the following from VTS (Clinical Pathology) candidates who want to take the exam: proof of having graduated from an AVMA-accredited program; proof of NAVTA membership; 4,000 hours of relevant experience (three years); 40 hours of CE; two letters of recommendation; a skills assessment; a case log; three detailed case reports; and an application fee.

How to Become a Clinical Practice Vet Tech

Vet clinical practice techs assist veterinarians with hands-on clinical treatments and typically specialize in a specific group of species. The Academy of Veterinary Technicians in Clinical Practice (AVTCP) has four specialized VTS certifications: small animal (canine/feline), feline, exotic companion animal, or production medicine. To qualify for the AVTCP credentialing exams, VTS (Clinical Practice) candidates must have at least 10,000 hours of experience (five years), including 7,500 in one’s intended specialty area; 40 hours of CE; a skills assessment & knowledge list; five completed examination responses; a case log with at least 50 cases; four detailed case reports; two letters of recommendation; and an application fee ($50).

How to Become a Dental Vet Tech

Vet dental techs assist vets with cleaning animal teeth, conducting radiological exams, performing diagnostic tests, and doing minor surgeries. The Academy of Veterinary Dental Technicians (AVDT) is the main credentialing authority. To qualify for the three-part specialty exam, VTS (Dentistry) candidates must have at least 6,000 hours of experience (three years) as a vet tech, including 2,000 hours in dental assisting; an established VTS (Dentistry) mentor; proof of specialty training (25 hours in wet lab, 15 hours in advanced dental procedures); two case logs; two intra-oral radiological scans (one dog, one cat); a completed equipment and reading list; and an application fee. To discover some of the top talent nationally in teaching students in this VTS field, please check out the dental vet tech professors page.

How to Become a Dermatology Vet Tech

Animal skin specialists are part of an emergent vet tech specialty. The Academy of Dermatology Veterinary Technicians (ADVT) will offer its first VTS (Dermatology) credentialing exam in 2017. To qualify, VTS (Dermatology) candidates must submit proof of NAVTA membership; two letters of recommendation; a skills list; case reports; a case record log; proof of continuing education; and an application fee ($25). Check back with ADVT for more specific details.

How to Become an Emergency & Critical Care Vet Tech

Vet emergency & critical care (ECC) techs help veterinarians with providing acute care to animals. Specialized certification is offered through the Academy of Veterinary Emergency and Critical Care Technicians (AVECCT), which requires VTS (ECC) exam candidates to have proof of vet tech credentialing; at least 5,760 hours of experience in ECC; 25 hours of relevant CE; a 50-case log; four case reports; two letters of recommendation; a skills checklist; and an application fee. Please note that this specialty enjoys additional professional support and CE opportunities through the Veterinary Emergency and Critical Care Society.

How to Become an Equine Vet Tech

Equine vet techs offer tooth floating, vaccinations, surgical assistance, midwifery and other healthcare services to horses under the supervision of a veterinarian. They are credentialed by the Academy of Equine Veterinary Nursing Technicians (AEVNT), which requires VTS (Equine) exam candidates to send a letter of intent; a resume with at least 5,000 hours (three years) of work experience, including 3,750 hours working in equine nursing; proof of vet tech credentialing; a 50-case log; five detailed case reports; two letters of recommendation; a skills checklist; a CE form; and an application fee ($140, includes exam). Annual membership costs $50.

How to Become an Internal Medicine Vet Tech

Internal medicine vet techs are knowledgeable of common veterinary illnesses and how to treat them. They’re credentialed by the Academy of Internal Medicine for Veterinary Technicians (AIMVT), which provides an examination to qualified VTS (Internal Medicine) candidates who send proof of state VT credentialing; a CV with at least 6,000 hours (three years) of experience, including 4,500 in one’s specialty; 40 hours of qualifying CE; a skills form; a knowledge checklist; a case log form; four detailed case reports; two letters of recommendation; three electronically completed exam questions; and an application fee. The exam covers five major domains: oncology, small animal medicine, large animal medicine, neurology, and cardiology.

How to Become a Nutrition Vet Tech

Veterinary nutrition techs have expertise in animal nutrition and work to educate people on proper care. The Academy of Veterinary Nutrition Techs credentials VTS (Nutrition) candidates in two subspecialties: clinical or research. Aspiring nutrition vet techs must send the following to qualify for a specialty exam: proof of state vet tech credentialing; proof of at least 4,000 hours of relevant experience; 40 hours of qualifying CE; a case record or research log; five in-depth case reports; two letters of recommendation; and an application fee ($50).

How to Become a Ophthalmic Vet Tech

Ophthalmic vet techs promote ocular health in animals and are credentialed by the Academy of Veterinary Ophthalmic Technicians (AVOT). AVOT requires VTS (Ophthalmology) exam candidates to have at least 6,000 hours of experience (three years); 40 hours of CE; documentation of specific competencies (four detailed cases and a 50-case log); three suggested exam questions; two letters of recommendation; and an application fee.

How to Become a Surgical Vet Tech

Veterinary surgical technicians are certified by the Academy of Veterinary Surgical Technicians (AVST), which requires VTS (Surgery) exam candidates to have at least 10,000 hours of experience (6,000 exclusively in surgery); 40 hours of CE; a skills form; a 50-case log; four detailed case reports; two letters of recommendation; and an application fee.

How to Become a Zoological Vet Tech

Under the guidance of a veterinarian, vet zoological medicine techs offer various healthcare services to exotic animals, including diagnostic imaging, phlebotomy, and more. There are some zoological vet tech programs available, and credentialing in the VTS (Zoological Medicine) area is offered through the Academy of Veterinary Zoological Medical Technicians (AVZMT). To qualify for the AVZMT examination, candidates must have 10,000 hours (five years) of experience; 40 hours of CE; 13 advanced skills assessments; a 40-case log; five detailed case reports; two letters of recommendation; and an application fee. Please note that for additional professional support, there’s also an Association of Zoo Veterinary Technicians.

Other VTS Subfields

According to NAVTA, a society is “for individuals interested in a specific discipline of veterinary medicine that must represent a distinct and identifiable specialty, supported by an existing veterinary specialty.” Unlike academies, societies do not offer certification. That said, societies typically are striving for academy status so they can issue specialized certification to vet techs. Here are four additional vet tech specialties which currently don’t have credentialing:

Avian Vet Tech

Avian vet techs provide support to veterinarians researching or giving medical care to bird species. The Association of Avian Veterinarians (AAV) has several resources for these specialists, including access to the quarterly Journal of Avian Medicine and Surgery (JAMS); discounted conference registration; access to an online avian library; and other helpful tools. To learn more about training for this subfield for vet techs, check out the avian vet tech programs page.

Radiology Vet Tech

Vet radiology techs assist vets with radiological exams, including x-rays, CTs, nuclear imaging, and MRIs, to name a few. The American College of Veterinary Radiology (ACVR) reports that licensing in this specialty is currently state-based, although as of early 2017, NAVTA is considering the radiology subfield for a new vet tech academy.

Marine & Aquatic Vet Tech

Marine and aquatic vet techs assist vets in treating disease and health issues in marine life. While there is currently no academy or society recognized in this subfield of the discipline, there are quality marine vet programs and aquatic veterinary professors nationwide.

Rehabilitation Vet Tech

Lastly, rehabilitation vet techs improve the lives of animals through physical therapy and rehabilitation services. The American Association of Rehabilitation Veterinarians (AARV) provides resources to professionals in this field, including education, legal advocacy, research, and networking.

Above all, veterinary technicians may want to consider becoming specialized; not only do VTS professionals get the opportunity to work in-depth with an animal population of their choosing, but this additional credentialing can lead to enhanced educational and career opportunities.