In addition to the traditional brick-and-mortar schools, there are a number of accredited online veterinary technician and assistant programs that can offer flexibility to busy, aspiring veterinary professionals. Many of these distance education offerings are hybrid, combining online coursework with hands-on, supervised clinical experience, which ensures that one is comfortable working in real veterinary settings. Vet tech students must complete a number of supervised practicum hours before qualifying for licensure, certification, or registration in most states. Read on to discover how online vet tech programs work, what to expect from a distance-based program, lists of accredited online vet tech and assisting programs, and details of program accreditation.
Attending an online program can be a flexible, efficient way to expand one’s veterinary knowledge. Prior to enrollment, it’s important to ensure that a veterinary technician program has been accredited by the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA; note: we identify AVMA-accredited online veterinary technician programs below) or a veterinary assistant program by the National Association of Veterinary Technicians (NAVTA). Although NAVTA’s process is relatively new—it began approving vet assistant programs in 2010—it can be a strong starting point for discovering quality programs which have met predefined criteria.
Also, when considering any online program, it’s crucial to ensure that there aren’t enrollment restrictions based on a student’s state of residence. Also referred to as “state authorizations,” these rules governing distance education are generally listed on school websites or can be retrieved from program coordinators.
So how do distance programs work? These convenient schools offer courses in a variety of formats:
- Synchronous learning—or learning which occurs “at the same time”—refers to coursework which can be conducted live (i.e., in real time) and logged into from different locations. One example of this format is a fixed time online course, a type which requires students to login at a specific time to attend lecture, complete assignments, or take tests.
- Asynchronous learning—a more flexible format—empowers students to work at their own pace. Typically professors will give weekly or monthly deadlines to complete course assignments. Therefore students don’t need to login at a specific time, but rather can complete coursework when they’d like within a given timeframe. One example of this style of learning is the open schedule online course.
- Hybrid programs combine both types of online learning—synchronous and asynchronous—as well as having some traditional on-campus (brick-and-mortar) components.
So what’s the difference between a veterinary technician and a veterinary assistant? Vet techs typically perform medical tasks with animal patients (e.g., diagnostic imaging, dentistry, anesthesia) and thus require more advanced training, whereas veterinary assistants are more likely to perform clerical duties and non-medical assignments (e.g., setting appointments, billing, clipping animal nails).
Online Vet Tech Programs
Luckily for prospective veterinary technicians who require a measure of flexibility in their education, there are a number of accredited vet tech programs online. The main accrediting body—the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA)—has provided a list of its approved offerings.
Some typical admissions requirements to these programs include:
- High school transcripts with a competitive GPA
- Access to a webcam-enabled computer with a fast internet connection
- Experience working under a licensed veterinarian
- Letters of recommendation
- Various immunizations
- SAT or ACT scores (generally optional)
Here is a breakdown of all nine AVMA-accredited vet tech programs (associate of applied science [A.A.S.] or associate of science [A.S.] degrees) offered through distance learning:
Blue Ridge Community College (BRCC) based in Virginia not only boasts one of the only accredited online vet tech programs in the country, but it also has an astounding 100% first-time pass rate on the Veterinary Technician National Examination (VTNE) among its graduates from 2012 to 2015. This program is open to veterinary assistants working at least 20 hours weekly under a licensed veterinarian and typically takes three years to complete. Please note that BRCC requires three campus visits to Weyers Cave per semester to complete laboratories.
Cedar Valley College in Dallas County, Texas—accredited by AVMA in 2001—has a respectable 78% first-time VTNE-pass rate among its graduates between 2011 and 2014. This school is distinguished by its scholarship opportunities earmarked specifically for its distance students. Part of the curriculum is a 10-hour weekly minimum commitment in an approved veterinary clinic, as well as courses such as surgical preparation and assistance, pharmacology, and equine clinical management. Finally, students are not required to travel to campus except to attend graduation if they choose. All practical skills are videotaped and then reviewed by a commission to ensure a student’s competency.
Colby Community College of Kansas offers classes at 24 locations in a 14-county service area. This program does not require any campus visits, but does offer various weekend mentorships in Colby to teach students about animals that may not be endemic to their areas (e.g., large animal mentorship, laboratory animal and exotic pet mentorship, microbiology mentorship). This school also offers three convenient start times—January, June, or August—and has enjoyed a 71% first-time VTNE-pass rate among its graduates between 2011 and 2014.
Jefferson State Community College of Birmingham, Alabama offers a distance-based vet tech program which requires minimal campus visits. Requiring at least 20 hours of work weekly for a licensed Alabama veterinarian in addition to online didactic coursework, Jefferson students are prepared to sit for the VTNE and Alabama State Boards exams to pursue licensure. This school also offers abundant scholarship opportunities to its distance students in order to cover the costs associated with tuition, books, immunizations, uniforms, equipment, and other vet tech expenses.
North Virginia Community College has a part-time online vet tech program which typically requires only two or three Loudoun campus visits per semester. Designed with the working student in mind, coursework is offered through Blackboard and the Extended Learning Institute (ELI) and student success is evaluated through videotapes, product evaluation (e.g., lab work), and mentored task lists, among other tactics. This three-year program requires that students to be employed by a licensed veterinarian prior to enrollment, also referred to as adjunct clinical faculty.
Penn Foster College (PFC) based in Arizona offers competitively priced programs at a cost of just $79 per credit, and 0% interest pay plans are available. PFC has partnerships with two major veterinary hospitals—Banfield and VCA Animal Hospital—which have an array of opportunities for mentorship and clinical instruction. With discounts on vet tech equipment such as stethoscopes, faculty from distinguished backgrounds, and a first-time VTNE-pass rate of 67.75% (2013-2016), PFC has one of the larger accredited online vet tech programs in the country with 176 graduates over the past three years.
Purdue University of Indiana provides a competitive vet tech program comprising 35 didactic courses and 17 clinical mentorship experiences to give a comprehensive overview of the discipline. In addition to the veterinary technology distance learning (VTDL) courses, students are required to pass a number of general education or breadth requirements. With summer, spring, and fall start dates, Purdue has a wealth of support and resources to guide students through the program including an online writing lab, an academic success center, and a number of libraries.
St. Petersburg College (SPC) in Florida recently completed an $11 million innovative veterinary technology facility, only one of the amenities available to the on-campus and distance learning students when they come to town. There are two start dates for the program—January and August—and credits from this associate of applied science (A.A.S.) degree can be applied to earning a bachelor’s of applied science in veterinary technology, an attractive option to students looking for increased responsibilities or leadership positions. Between 2011 and 2014, an impressive 80.2% of graduates passed the VTNE the first time. Furthermore, since 2006, 98% of SPC graduates have found employment in the field or are currently in the military.
San Juan College in New Mexico had a respectable 84.8% VTNE first-time pass rate among its graduates between 2012 and 2015. San Juan opens its program to applicants in nearly all states who can meet their off-campus clinical instruction (OCCI) and preceptor criteria. Although students aren’t required to travel to campus, they are offered the opportunity to complete “fast track labs” either at facilities near their homes or at the scenic Highlander Ranch in Waco, Texas.
Following the completion of these AVMA-accredited programs, some students choose to pursue additional certification in specialized fields such as animal dentistry, anesthesia, or exotic animal care. The North American Veterinary Technician Association (NAVTA) offers academies for 11 approved specializations.
Online Veterinary Assisting Programs
Although the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) does not currently accredit online veterinary assisting programs, the National Association of Veterinary Technology in America (NAVTA) created a school approval process in 2010. Additionally, NAVTA designates Approved Veterinary Assistants (AVAs)—an individual, professional title that can be earned by passing a competitive examination. While this designation is not currently required for practice as a veterinary assistant, it can be an indicator to future employers that a candidate meets or exceeds established professional standards. Furthermore, this distinction may become more important in future years as the profession and rules governing it continue to evolve.
These programs are generally open to working veterinary assistants looking to codify their skills. Other application requirements may include school transcripts, proof of immunizations, and access to a webcam-enabled computer with a fast internet connection.
Of the 25 current NAVTA-approved veterinary assistance programs, there are three offered online:
The Animal Behavior College (ABC) in lovely Santa Clarita, California provides an easy-to-follow, 11-step curricula for its students inspired by the Association of Veterinary Technician Educators (AVTE). The various faculties taught at ABC include animal restraint, radiology and ultrasound imaging, small animal nursing, pharmacy and pharmacology, office etiquette, and surgical preparation. This program boasts 2,100 instruction facilities nationwide and is open to residents of all American states as well as Canada.
Penn Foster Career School of Pennsylvania is an affiliate of the Penn Foster College (above). Penn Foster Career School is nationally and regionally accredited with a NAVTA-approved Veterinary Assistant online program. In a 2014 study conducted by Penn Foster, they found that 87% of veterinary practices are more likely to hire a veterinary assistant who graduated from a NAVTA-approved program. This school also has a sample veterinary assistant lesson online to give prospective students a flavor of what to anticipate during instruction.
VetMedTeam’s online program is designed for working veterinary assistants under the guidance of student-chosen clinical mentors—credentialed technicians or veterinarians who are approved in advance by the school. This 35-week program offers rolling admissions so students working at least 20 hours per week in a veterinary setting can enroll at any time.
Online Veterinary Program Accreditation
Prior to matriculating at any online veterinary technology or assistant program, it’s important to ensure that it has been accredited or approved by the appropriate agencies.
For veterinary technology programs, the American Veterinary Medical Association’s Committee on Veterinary Technician Education and Activities (AVMA CVTEA) is the primary accrediting body. Most states require aspiring vet techs to have graduated from an AVMA-accredited school prior to licensure, certification, or registration. Furthermore, graduating from one of these programs is a prerequisite to sit for the Veterinary Technician National Examination (VTNE). AVMA employs rigorous criteria to evaluate programs including informational resources, physical facilities, finances, and student outcomes.
For veterinary assistant programs, the program approval process is relatively new, provided by the North American Veterinary Technician Association (NAVTA). The NAVTA guidelines are generally task-oriented, and include meeting benchmarks for skills like clerical abilities, sterilization techniques, and examination room procedures. NAVTA also identifies excellence in specialty training organizations through its Committee on Veterinary Technician Specialties (CVTS). These specialty guidelines are more organizational in nature and take into account how long the organization has been offering the specialization, the consistency of reporting, and the interest of the veterinary world in the specialty.