How to Become a Veterinary Technician

WHAT IS A VETERINARY TECHNICIAN AND WHAT DO VET TECHS DO?

A veterinary technician—a trained nurse for animals—carefully opens a sleeping dog’s mouth. She reveals two rows of sharp teeth and starts taking x-rays to show weaknesses where the enamel has worn down over time. She documents her observations from the diagnostic image and prepares the patient file. This veterinary technician specialist (VTS) has been specially trained in canine dentistry and may assist the veterinarian if her patient needs a tooth extracted. This is one of many important roles that a vet tech may assume within a clinic or animal hospital.

For animal-lovers seeking an accelerated degree program—one which is more affordable and less time-consuming than attending veterinary medical school—becoming a veterinary technician (vet tech) can be an excellent option. According to the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), vet techs play a crucial role in veterinary settings by monitoring the health conditions of animal patients; taking diagnostic images with sophisticated equipment; providing veterinarians with surgical, dental, anesthetic, and other types of assistance; restraining animals during routine examinations; processing laboratory samples; liaising with pet-owners; preparing vaccines and serums; maintaining clinic inventory; and ensuring the smooth functioning of the veterinary office.

The professional dedication in this field is reflected in the Veterinary Technician’s’ Oath, which is quoted here in full from the National Association of Veterinary Technicians in America (NAVTA):

I solemnly dedicate myself to aiding animals and society by providing excellent care and services for animals,by alleviating animal suffering, and by promoting public health.I accept my obligations to practice my profession conscientiously and with sensitivity, adhering to the profession’s Code of Ethics, and furthering my knowledge and competence through a commitment to lifelong learning.

Interviews with the Experts: Three Prominent Vet Techs

Be certain that you are taking ownership of your own nursing practice and do not be afraid to pursue what fulfills you the most.

Kenichiro Yagi, NAVTA “Vet Tech of the Year”

In March 2017, three outstanding vet techs and educators graciously agreed to exclusive interviews. They shared why they became vet techs, their greatest professional challenges, and their advice for those seeking to join this high-growth, impactful career.

Kenichiro Yagi
Kenichiro Yagi, NAVTA “Vet Tech of the Year” (2016)

Mr. Yagi is a multitalented vet tech specialist who serves as the blood bank manager and ICU supervisor at Adobe Animal Hospital in Los Altos, CA. He holds VTS certifications in emergency and critical care and small animal medicine. He has provided over 700 lectures and workshops, imparting his knowledge to others in his field. Mr. Yagi has not only has lectured internationally, he also holds prominent leadership positions in NAVTA, the Veterinary Emergency Critical Care Society, and the Academy of Veterinary Emergency and Critical Care Technicians. He will finish his master’s degree in biomedical sciences, veterinary medicine, and surgery from the University of Missouri in May 2017.

What made you decide to become a vet tech?

I actually had not originally planned on becoming a veterinary technician, but it was once I started to work with our patients that I realized how much of a difference I can make on a one-on-one basis for each of the animals in our care. Now I enjoy helping create the best environment and providing the tools for others to serve in this role by being an active lecturer and author.

What are some of the greatest challenges in your profession?

One of the greatest challenges in the profession lies in the fact that we cannot save all of our patients. There are various factors that come into play that lead to an outcome for a patient. We can do our best to prepare ourselves in the ability, knowledge, preparation, teamwork, and diligence to give the patients their best chance and quality of life possible given any situation.

Do you have any advice for aspiring vet techs?

Be certain that you are taking ownership of your own nursing practice and do not be afraid to pursue what fulfills you the most. Whether that means you put yourself in a practice that will utilize you to the fullest or aiming to become a veterinary technician specialist, do what you love to do, and you’ll have a successful career.

Nancy Sheffield
Nancy Sheffield, Veterinary Technology Professor and Colorado “Vet Tech of the Year”

Ms. Sheffield received her bachelor’s degree in animal science from the University of Maryland and her master’s of education from the University of Illinois. She’s been a professor at Colorado Mountain College since 2002 and is an avid hiker, cyclist, and bird-watching enthusiast. Notably, she’s the recipient of the Colorado “Vet Tech of the Year” award.

What made you decide to become a vet tech?

From a young age, I knew I wanted to work with animals, but at that time, it seemed becoming a veterinarian was the only viable option for a career involving animals. One year after graduating from high school and totally by chance, I discovered that my local community college, Blue Ridge Community College, had a well-established program in veterinary technology. Being an animal “nurse” was exactly what I wanted to do.

What are some of the greatest challenges in your profession? And how do overcome them?

I think one of the greatest challenges in this profession is educating the public about everything veterinary technicians do to improve the health and lives of animals. Most people have no idea about the level of training and the breadth of knowledge, skills, and abilities veterinary technicians contribute to the care and well-being of our patients.

Do you have any advice for aspiring vet techs?

From the moment you decide on this profession, get every bit of experience you can, however you can. Volunteer if you have to. Everything you see, touch, hear, and smell will contribute to your knowledge base. And remember that veterinary medicine requires a commitment to lifelong learning. The best veterinarians and veterinary technicians I know are quick to say that they learn something new every single day.

Sandra Bertholf
Sandra Bertholf, Licensed Veterinary Technologist and Instructor

Ms. Bertholf received her bachelor’s of science in veterinary technology with cum laude honors from Mercy College, where she now serves as an instructor. She teaches courses including the introduction to veterinary science, surgical nursing and radiography, and small animal disease treatment. She’s currently in practice at Animal Medical of New City, and she will soon finish her master’s of science in organizational leadership. She states:“I hope to use [the graduate degree] to help promote the profession, as I feel the public still does not understand what vet techs are/do and what an important part of the veterinary team vet techs are.”

What made you decide to become a vet tech?

I decided to become a veterinary technologist because I always had a love for animals and I really enjoy working with my hands, problem-solving and being part of team. Ironically enough, I was enrolled and scheduled to go to college for audio engineering when I realized my passion was really for animals. At the time, I didn’t know there was such a thing as becoming a licensed vet tech. In 1994, I couldn’t do a Google search, as it wasn’t the age of information. My mother was a nurse and I always admired how she dedicated her life to caring for people. Once I found out there was such a thing in the veterinary field, I jumped at the opportunity. I wanted a career where I could make a difference, not just a job. It was so exciting to know that I would be able to affect the lives of each animal I worked with.

What are some of the greatest challenges in your profession? And how do overcome them?

There are many challenges in this field, but I think some of the greatest ones are preventing compassion fatigue and advancing within the field. I think both of these factors [shorten the typical workspan] of many technicians in clinical practice, which is generally 5-10 years—a startling statistic. To prevent compassion fatigue, I think it’s crucial to recognize that many of our patients have short lifespans, especially when we compare them to our human counterparts in the human medical profession. Our patients don’t live as long, so we are going to be exposed to more death on a daily basis. I have been able to focus on how I have been able to be a part of improving the lives of my patients. Even during euthanasia, I am thankful that I am able to be a part of the process, ensuring they are treated with love and respect, making it peaceful, loving and pain free. If I can aid in that process, even at the end of their life, I see that as a success, rather than a failure. I see it as a gift of peace and I have been able to develop a healthy perspective about it, focusing on what I can give in each situation, what I can learn, and how that will help my future patients. I strive to look forward, rather than dwell on the past and what I couldn’t change, and I also celebrate the ways I was able to comfort that animal and the owner of that pet, even in the worst of times.

I know finding opportunities for advancement within the field is cited by many as an issue for vet techs. I have been able to overcome this by always thinking about what other responsibilities I can take on, what additional skills—technical, administrative, and leadership-oriented—I can obtain to be more valuable.

Do you have any advice for aspiring vet techs?

My advice for aspiring veterinary technicians would be to focus on math and science in the years leading up to college, as it is a big part of what we do every day in practice. [These skills] will help them be successful in a vet tech program. Many students cringe at the thought of math, but I encourage my students to recognize what a big part math will play in helping animals, such as alleviating pain, calculating anesthetic dosages and giving life-saving medication. To me, it’s all about mindset. Once it’s something that is important to you, it changes your view about it. I wasn’t exactly passionate about math in high school, but once I realized how important it was in relation to my ability to help an animal in need, it changed everything. Critical thinking and problem-solving are a big part of our job, and being able to develop these skills will allow you to provide better care for your patients and make you a more valuable team member, allowing you to do wonderful things for these animals who are relying on you for help.

SCOPE OF PRACTICE FOR VET TECHS

NAVTA (2016) distinguishes between veterinary technicians and vet technologists. Technicians typically have a two-year associate degree, while technologists have a four-year bachelor’s degree and may take on greater responsibilities in a clinic. In both fields, the scope of practice and laws governing professional credentialing vary widely by state. By illustration, the American Medical Veterinary Association (AMVA 2016) provides a table of regional restrictions on authorized procedures. Several states, for example, allow non-veterinarians to perform equine dentistry. These include Arizona, Colorado, Florida, and Texas, to name a few. Other states do not allow vet techs to fulfill this function. Additionally, a majority of states require their vet techs to secure state licensure, certification, or registration, while others do not regulate professional credentialing. Please visit the AVMA scope of practice chart for details in each region.

Schools By State

HOW TO BECOME A VETERINARY TECHNICIAN

As mentioned above, the requirements to become a vet tech vary by state and specialty. There are differing regional laws which define the scope of practice in this field. For example, states such as New Jersey do not require their vet techs to be professionally credentialed. Other states such as Tennessee or Indiana require that these animal healthcare workers be licensed and registered, respectively. For areas requiring professional certification, registration, or licensure, the requirements typically involve completing two- to four-years of postsecondary education at an approved institution, in addition to paying an application fee and maintaining the credential through the completion of continuing education (CE) hours.

Here’s a detailed step-by-step guide for how to become a vet tech:

STEP 1: Graduate from high school or get diploma. In addition to a love of animals and empathy, vet techs typically have strong backgrounds in science with high marks in classes such as biology, physiology (if offered), and chemistry. Due to the hands-on lab work involved in many vet tech positions, students must be comfortable handing sensitive scientific instruments, conducting tests, and interpreting results. Some people at this stage may find it useful to volunteer in animal clinics, shelters, or other facilities handling furry, feathered, or scaly-skinned patients.

STEP 2: Complete an accredited degree program in veterinary technology or animal science (2-4 years). Regardless of one’s state of residence, it’s advisable to seek out associate or bachelor’s programs accredited by the Committee on Veterinary Technician Education and Activities (CVTEA), a branch of the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA). The CVTEA evaluates factors such as a program’s comprehensiveness of curricula, student outcomes, quality of facilities, finances, and admissions processes. Admissions committees at CVTEA-accredited programs generally call for official high school transcripts (with coursework specified above); official test scores (SAT or ACT, and TOEFL for non-native speakers of English); undergoing a background check; providing proof of immunizations and health insurance; and paying an application fee. Some of the more competitive programs may call for veterinary experience, letters of recommendation, or candidate interviews as well. Typical courses in these veterinary technology programs include mammalian anatomy & physiology; veterinary medical calculations; pathology; parasitology; veterinary clinic management; research methods; animal nursing; anatomy & physiology; microbiology; pharmacology; diagnostic imaging; animal dentistry; clinical toxicology; anesthesia; and veterinary medical ethics. There are both on-campus and online vet tech schools available. It’s crucial to note that some state credentialing entities may waive the education requirement if a vet tech has several years of experience. Please verify regional requirements with local boards, a list of which is provided by the American Association of Veterinary State Boards (AAVB 2016), or reference the “Vet Tech Licensing & Renewal By State” chart below.

STEP 3: Pass the Veterinary Technician National Examination (timeline and state requirements vary). This test—commonly referred to as the VTNE—is offered by the American Association of Veterinary State Boards (AAVSB). The VTNE is a typical requirement for licensure, certification, or registration as a vet tech in most U.S. states. As a proxy for program quality, national law mandates that schools must disclose their three-year, VTNE first-time passing rate among program graduates. Prospective students are encouraged to check out their program’s pass rate on this important exam to verify that past students have met national standards. This $300 exam is offered during three month-long periods annually and tests candidates’ knowledge in nine distinct domains: pharmacy & pharmacology; surgical nursing; dentistry; laboratory procedures; animal care and nursing; diagnostic imaging; anesthesia; emergency medicine; and pain management.

STEP 4: Apply for state credentialing (timeline and state requirements vary). As mentioned above, vet tech credentialing standards vary by state, but typically involve sending official transcripts from a CVTEA-accredited program; submitting VTNE scores; and paying an application fee. Some states such as Washington also require a state examination as part of their credentialing process, and others ask for official proof of American citizenship, passport photos, or a background check. States also vary by the nomenclature of their credentialing in the profession, whether it be registered veterinary technician (RVT), certified veterinary technician (CVT), or licensed veterinary technician (LVT). For more information on the professional credentialing process, please reference the section below or individual state program pages.

STEP 5: Renew credential and complete continuing education (CE) requirements (timeline and state requirements vary). Vet techs must maintain their professional licensure, registration, or certification through the completion of CE hours. These can be fulfilled through qualified conferences, publications, presentations, online coursework, and other methods. The types of approved CE vary by region. A list of every state’s credentialing requirements, agencies, and CE information is in the vet tech licensing chart below.

VETERINARY TECHNICIAN SPECIALISTS (VTS)

In addition to location and years of experience, obtaining a specialized certification is one way to increase earning potential in this field. The National Association of Veterinary Technicians in America (NAVTA) provides 12 specialties that can further enhance a candidate’s earning and career advancement potential. Vet tech specialists (VTS) possess a deeper medical understanding of a particular species or field of care. In some cases, an area of specialization may lead to a higher-paying position. Please note that to be credentialed by a NAVTA specialty academies, candidates must typically submit the following:

  • An application (including a resume and a processing fee)
  • Copy of official licensure, registration, or certification as a vet tech in their state
  • Proof of 1,000-10,000 hours of experience in the specialty area
  • Verifiable hours of continuing education (CE)
  • Letter(s) of recommendation
  • A skills assessment (typically signed by a supervising vet)
  • A portfolio of case logs and detailed case studies
  • Pass an exam

Here are the pathways to become various types of veterinary technician specialists (VTS):

VETERINARY ANESTHESIA & ANALGESIA TECHNICIANS

Veterinary anesthesia techs help provide pain management during animal surgical procedures. These specialists are credentialed by the Academy of Veterinary Technicians in Anesthesia and Analgesia (AVTAA) after accumulating 4,500 hours in administering anesthesia; completing at least 50 case logs; writing four in-depth reports; submitting 40 hours of continuing education (CE); and passing an exam.

VETERINARY BEHAVIOR TECHNICIANS

Animal behavior technicians perform research and assist animals in overcoming common behavioral (and psychological) issues. After accumulating 4,000 hours of verified experience in this field, they may be eligible for recognition by the Academy of Veterinary Behavior Technicians (ABVT). Included as part of the application process, aspiring vet behavior techs must also send their CV; proof of membership in the National Association of Veterinary Technicians in America (NAVTA) and the Society of Veterinary Behavior Technicians (SVBT); two letters of recommendation; a skills assessment form; proof of 40 hours of CE; a case log with 50 patients; and five in-depth case reports. Also, they must publish a peer-reviewed article. For more information about this field, please visit the following pages: veterinary psychologists and animal behavior programs, how to become an animal psychologist, and top 15 animal behavior professors.

VETERINARY CLINICAL PATHOLOGY TECHNICIANS

These specialists have targeted training in the collection and analysis of biological samples such as bodily fluids to diagnose health conditions. They may be credentialed by the Academy of Veterinary Clinical Pathology Technicians (AVCPT) after completing 4,000 hours of relevant experience; 40 hours of CE; a skills assessment; a case log; and three detailed case reports. Additionally, applicants must submit two letters of recommendation and pass a comprehensive exam to become members.

VETERINARY CLINICAL PRACTICE TECHNICIANS

Veterinary clinical practice technicians have targeted skills working in an animal healthcare clinical setting, typically with a specific species. The Academy of Veterinary Technicians in Clinical Practice (AVTCP) offers three specialized VTS credentials in this area: canine/feline, exotic companion animal, or production medicine. To qualify, candidates must provide proof state vet tech credentialing; have 10,000 hours of experience (with 75 percent in chosen specialty); complete 40 hours of CE; submit a skills assessment & knowledge list; provide five completed examination questions; send a case log with at least 50 cases & four case reports; get one letter of recommendation; and pay an application fee. The annual exam gauges candidates’ knowledge in areas such as anesthesia & analgesia, behavior, general medicine, imaging, and surgical nursing.

VETERINARY DENTAL TECHNICIANS

Veterinary dental techs help veterinarians in animal dental hygiene and surgical procedures. The Academy of Veterinary Dental Technicians (AVDT) provides credentialing process in this field. To qualify, candidates must have 6,000 hours (i.e., three years) of experience as a vet tech (including 1,000 hours in dental assisting); establish a VTS (Dentistry) mentor who can sign off on completed requirements; complete specialty training (25 hours in wet lab, 15 hours in advanced dental procedures); submit two case logs; complete two intra-oral radiological scans (one dog, one cat); fulfill equipment and reading list requirements; and pass a three-part exam. For information on some of the most talented instruction in this field, please visit the vet dental professors page.

DERMATOLOGY VETERINARY TECHNICIANS

These animal skin specialists comprise one of the newest specialties for vet techs. The Academy of Dermatology Veterinary Technicians (ADVT) hopes to offer its first VTS (Dermatology) credentialing exam in 2017.

VETERINARY EMERGENCY & CRITICAL CARE TECHNICIANS

Veterinary emergency & critical care (ECC) technicians are trained to assist veterinarians with acute, critical care, and emergency situations with animals. The Academy of Veterinary Emergency and Critical Care Technicians (AVECCT) credentials these specialists. To qualify, aspiring VTS (ECC) must have NAVTA membership; submit a copy of current vet tech license, registration, or certification in their state of practice; provide proof of having worked a minimum 5,760 hours in ECC; complete 25 hours of relevant CE; send 50 case logs & four case reports; get two letters of recommendation; complete a skills checklist; and pass an exam.

EQUINE VETERINARY NURSING TECHNICIANS

Equine vet techs provide surgical assistance, tooth floating, vaccinations, and midwifery to horses. The Academy of Equine Veterinary Nursing Technicians (AEVNT) requires prospective members to submit a letter of intent; a resume; proof of state vet tech credential; at least 50 case logs; five detailed case reports; two letters of recommendation; a skills checklist; a CE form; and an application fee. Additionally applicants must pass a comprehensive exam.

INTERNAL MEDICINE VETERINARY TECHNICIANS

These specialists are experts in non-surgical diseases and conditions in animals. The Academy of Internal Medicine for Veterinary Technicians (AIMVT) credentials applicants following the submission of a state vet tech license, certification, or registration; a CV; proof of qualifying CE; a skills form; a knowledge checklist; a case log form; four detailed case reports; two letters of recommendation; three electronically completed potential exam questions; and an application fee. Applicants must also pass an exam with five major domains: oncology, small animal medicine, large animal medicine, neurology, and cardiology.

VETERINARY NUTRITION TECHNICIANS

Veterinary nutrition techs are experts in animal nutrition and educate others on feeding and exercise routines. There are some schools with excellent veterinary nutrition programs. The main credentialing entity in this field is the Academy of Veterinary Nutrition Techs, which requires candidates to show proof of state vet tech credentialing; have at least 4,000 hours of relevant experience; complete 40 hours of qualifying CE; and provide evidence of advanced competence through case logs, in-depth case reports, and letters of recommendation. This VTS specialty can be completed in either clinical or research areas.

VETERINARY SURGICAL TECHNICIANS

Veterinary surgical technicians—the group requiring the most rigorous training—must have 10,000 hours (i.e., five years) of experience as a vet tech prior to seeking credentialing through the Academy of Veterinary Surgical Technicians (AVST). At least 6,000 of these hours must have been in a surgical environment with 4,500 dedicated exclusively to performing surgical duties. Additional application requirements include 40 hours of CE; a skills form; a case log of at least 50 cases; four detailed case reports; two letters of recommendation; and passing an exam.

VETERINARY ZOOLOGICAL MEDICINE TECHNICIANS

Veterinary zoological medicine technicians provide healthcare services (e.g., phlebotomy, pharmacology, emergency care, diagnostic imaging, etc.) for exotic animals. There are many hands-on exotic animal vet tech programs across the US which may qualify candidates to work in zoos, animal sanctuaries, park services, research centers, and wildlife refuges. The Academy of Veterinary Zoological Medical Technicians (AVZMT)—the main credentialing organization in this subfield—requires candidates to have at least 10,000 hours working in zoological medicine. Additionally, applicants must submit a CV; proof of 40 hours of CE; 13 advanced skills checklists; 40 case logs; and five detailed case reports. Finally, they must pass an exam which is offered annually.

Veterinary Technician Licensure & Certification

To minimize confusion among state-based licensure, certification, and registration processes for vet techs, the National Association of Veterinary Technicians in America (NAVTA) prefers the term “credentialed veterinary technician” to cover all options. While not all states require vet techs to become credentialed, it may be advisable to enhance one’s job candidacy, earning potential, and opportunities for career enhancement & specialization. Please see the in-depth vet tech credentialing chart for specific information about state-based requirements, credentialing entities, and continuing education (CE) requirements.

The typical requirements to becoming a credentialed vet tech include:

Some of the competencies tested on the VTNE, a $300 exam given during three month-long windows per year, include:

  • 9 Domains
  • 38 Task Area Statements
  • 50 Knowledge Area Statements

The nine domains—primary areas of responsibility— are:

  • Pharmacy and Pharmacology
  • Surgical Nursing
  • Dentistry
  • Laboratory Procedures
  • Animal Care and Nursing
  • Diagnostic Imaging
  • Anesthesia
  • Emergency Medicine (Critical Care)
  • Pain Management (Analgesia)

Finally, to maintain active credentials, veterinary medical boards and other credentialing entities typically require vet techs to complete hours of CE. Here are some resources for CE hours:

Vet Tech Licensing & Renewal by State

StateVet Techs Must Be Licensed to PracticeLicensed Vet Techs Are CalledLicensing RequirementsAdditional ResourcesRenewal Requirements
Graduate from an AVMA-Accredited ProgramPass the VTNEAdditional RequirementsRenewal Every…Renewal CE HoursCE Application
AlabamaYesCVTYesYes(1)Alabama also requires the State Board Exam, and may require applicants to be interviewed as well.Alabama Veterinary Technician Association1 year8Alabama State Board of Veterinary Medical Examiners
AlaskaYes*LVTYesYesCompletion of two years of on-the-job training under the supervision of a licensed veterinarian and three letters of recommendation (two from licensed vets).Alaska State Veterinary Medical Association2 years (1)15Alaska Board of Veterinary Examiners
ArizonaNoCVTYesYesArizona also requires a State Board Exam for certification, three personal references (“Moral Character Reference Forms”), documentation proving U.S. citizenship, and proof of employment for at least two years as a veterinary technician.Arizona Veterinary Medical Association 2 years10Arizona State Veterinary Examining Board
ArkansasYesCVTYesYesArkansas also asks for a notarized letter of recommendation from a licensed veterinarian in order to qualify for state vet tech certification.Arkansas Veterinary Technician Association1 year6State of Arkansas Veterinary Medical Licensing Board
CaliforniaYes*RVTYesYesIn order to become a registered veterinary technician (RVT), candidates must pass the California Registered Veterinary Technician Examination given by the Veterinary Medical Board (VMB). Candidates must also fulfill an academic course checklist; pass a background check; get fingerprinted; garner at least 4,416 supervised, clinical hours over two years; and submit a copy of their diploma.California Registered Veterinary Technicians Association2 years20California Veterinary Medical Board
ColoradoNoCVTYesYesCandidates must also submit a copy of their diploma. It’s important to note that the State Board of Veterinary Medicine in Colorado does not license vet techs. Therefore the certification is not essential for practice, but some employers may prefer CVTs.2 years20 (1)Colorado Association of Certified Veterinary Technicians
ConnecticutNoN/ANoNoConnecticut does not require its veterinary technicians to become certified, licensed, or registered. At least two years of education in a vet tech program is generally a requirement for most employers. Taking the VTNE upon graduation may still be advisable for those candidates interested in being employable in other states.Connecticut Veterinary Medical AssociationN/AConnecticut State Board of Veterinary Medicine
DelawareYesLVTYesYesN/AN/A2 years12Delaware Board of Veterinary Medicine
District of ColumbiaNoN/ANoNoThe District of Columbia does not require its veterinary technicians to become certified, licensed, or registered. At least two years of education in a vet tech program is generally a requirement for most employers. Taking the VTNE upon graduation may still be advisable for those candidates interested in being employable in other states.District of Columbia Veterinary Medical AssociationN/ADistrict of Columbia Academy of Veterinary Medicine
FloridaNoCVTYesYesAs of March 2015, Florida’s practical exam for CVTs has been suspended for review. Although becoming certified isn’t required for practice as it is not regulated by the Florida Board of Veterinary Medicine, it may be advisable for those seeking to be employable in other states with reciprocity.Florida Board of Veterinary Medicine1 years15Florida Veterinary Medical Association
GeorgiaYesRVTYesYes (2)N/AGeorgia Veterinary Technician and Assistant Association2 years10Georgia State Board of Veterinary Medicine
HawaiiNoN/ANoNoHawaii does not require its veterinary technicians to become certified, licensed, or registered. At least two years of education in a vet tech program is generally a requirement for most employers. Taking the VTNE upon graduation may still be advisable for those candidates interested in being employable in other states.Hawaii Veterinary Medical AssociationN/AHawaii Veterinary Technician Association
IdahoYesCVTYesYesIn addition to passing the VTNE, Idaho CVTs must also pass the Idaho Veterinary Technician Jurisprudence Examination with a score of at least 90%; complete a background check and fingerprinting; and submit a notarized affidavit of moral character with two personal references.Idaho Society of Veterinary Technicians2 years14Idaho Board of Veterinary Medicine
IllinoisYesCVTYesYes (2)N/AIllinois State Veterinary Medical Association2 years (2)NoIllinois Department of Financial & Professional Regulation
IndianaYesRVTYesYesApplicants in Indiana must also pass a criminal background check.indiana Veterinary Technician Association2 years (3)16indiana Board of Veterinary Medical Examiners
IowaNoRVTYesYesVeterinary technicians do not need to be registered to practice in the state. If they do, they are required to take the Iowa Veterinary Technician Examination.Central Iowa Veterinary Technician Association3 years30Iowa Board of Veterinary Medicine
KansasYesRVTYesYesApplicants in Kansas must submit proof of citizenship and are required to pass an open-book written exam on the Practice Act with a score of at least 90%.Kansas Veterinary Technician Association1 year10Kansas Board of Veterinary Examiners
KentuckyYesRVTYesYesApplicants in Kentucky must also submit a letter from the veterinarian employing and supervising them.Kentucky Veterinary Technician Association2 years6Kentucky Board of Veterinary Examiners
LouisianaYesRVTYesYesN/ALouisiana Veterinary Medical Association1 year10Loiusiana Board of Veterinary Medicine
MaineYeslVTYesYesApplicants are required to complete a criminal background check.Maine Veterinary Medical Association1 yearlyMaine Board of Veterinary Medicine
MarylandYesRVTNoYesN/AMaryland Veterinary Medical Association3 years24Maryland Board of Veterinary Examiners
MassachusettsNoCVTYesYes (2)Massachusetts does not require its veterinary technicians to become certified with the Massachusetts Veterinary Technician Association (MVTA). At least two years of education in a vet tech program is generally a requirement for most employers. Taking the VTNE upon graduation may still be advisable for those candidates interested in being employable in other states.Massachusetts Veterinary Technician Association1 year12Massachusetts Board of Veterinary Medicine
MichiganYesLVTYesYesApplicants are required to pass a Michigan Veterinary Technician Examination; submit a background check; and get fingerprinted.Michigan Association of Veterinary Technicians2 years (4)0Michigan Board of Veterinary Medicine
MinnesotaNoCVTYesYesMinnesota does not require its veterinary technicians to become certified as they are not included in the state’s “Practice Act.” If candidates choose, they can become certified through the Minnesota Veterinary Medical Board or join the Minnesota Association of Veterinary Technicians (MAVT). At least two years of education in a vet tech program is generally a requirement for most employers. Taking the VTNE upon graduation may still be advisable for those candidates interested in being employable in other states.Minnesota Association of Veterinary Technicians2 years10Minnesota Veterinary Medical Association
MississippiYesCVTNoYesCandidates must submit three letters of recommendation.Mississippi Veterinary Medical Association 1 year10Mississippi Board of Veterinary Medicine
MissouriYesRVTNo ***YesApplicants are required to pass the Missouri State Board Examination with a score of at least 70% and submit an employment verification form from a licensed veterinarian.1 year5Missouri Veterinary Medical Board
MontanaNoCVTNo***YesMontana does not require its veterinary technicians to become certified with the Big Sky Veterinary Technician Association. At least two years of education in a vet tech program is generally a requirement for most employers. Taking the VTNE upon graduation may still be advisable for those candidates interested in being employable in other states.Montana Veterinary Medical Association1 year16 (2)Big Sky Veterinary Technician Association
NebraskaYesLVTNo***YesCandidates are also required to submit a notarized statement of moral character.Nebraska Veterinary Medical Association4 years16Nebraska Health and Human Services (Veterinary Medicine Information)
NevadaYesLVTNo***Yes(3)Candidates must also complete a child support form and complete a take-home Nevada State Jurisprudence Examination.Nevada Veterinary Medical Association1 years5Nevada State Board of Veterinary Medical Examiners
New HampshireNoCVTYesYesNew Hampshire does not require its veterinary technicians to become certified with the New Hampshire Veterinary Technician Association (NHVTA). At least two years of education in a vet tech program is generally a requirement for most employers. Taking the VTNE upon graduation may still be advisable for those candidates interested in being employable in other states.New Hampshire Veterinary Medical Association1 years12New Hampshire Veterinary Technician Association
New JerseyNoCVTYesYesNew Jersey does not require its veterinary technicians to become certified with the New Jersey Veterinary Technician Association (NJVTA). At least two years of education in a vet tech program is generally a requirement for most employers. Taking the VTNE upon graduation may still be advisable for those candidates interested in being employable in other states.New Jersey Veterinary Medical Association2 year20New Jersey Veterinary Technician Association
New MexicoYesRVTYesYesNew Mexico requires a state exam for RVTs to be given in January and May.New Mexico Registered Veterinary Technician Association1 year8New Mexico Board of Veterinary Medicine
New YorkYes*LVTYesYesThe NYSED may endorse a license from another state if it meets NY’s education requirements and the candidate has passed a comparable licensing exam and meets all other state application requirements.New York State Association of Veterinary Technicians3 year24New York State Office of the Professions
North CarolinaYesRVTYesYesNorth Carolina requires that its applicants take a NC Veterinary Technician State Examination.North Carolina Association of Veterinary Technicians2 years12North Carolina Veterinary Medical Board
North DakotaYesLVTYesYesApplicants must get a recommendation from a licensed veterinarian.North Dakota Veterinary Technician Association2 year8North Dakota Board of Veterinary Medical Examiners
OhioYesRVTYesYesOhio candidates must complete an Ohio criminal background check and a FBI criminal background check.Ohio Association of Veterinary Technicians2 years10Ohio Veterinary Medical Licensing Board
OklahomaYesRVTYesYesCandidates must take the State Veterinary Technician Exam and submit two letters of recommendation from RVTs or licensed veterinarians.Oklahoma Veterinary Technician Association1 year10Oklahoma State Board of Veterinary Medical Examiners
OregonYesCVTNo ***YesAll candidates must complete the Juris Prudence Exam/Regional Disease Test (JPE/RDT).Oregon Veterinary Technician and Assistant Association2 years15Oregon Veterinary Medical Examing Board
PennsylvaniaYesCVTYesYes (3)N/APennsylvania Veterinary Medical Association2 years16Pennsylvania Department of State
Rhode IslandNoCVTYesYes (3)Rhode Island does not require its veterinary technicians to become certified with the Rhode Island Veterinary Technician Association (RIVTA). At least two years of education in a vet tech program is generally a requirement for most employers. Taking the VTNE upon graduation may still be advisable for those candidates interested in being employable in other states.Rhode Island Veterinary Medical Association2 years12Rhode Island Veterinary Technician Association
South CarolinaYesLVTYesYesCandidates are required to complete the State Jurisprudence Examination.South Carolina Association of Veterinary Technicians2 years10South Carolina Board of Veterinary Medical Examiners
South DakotaYesRVTYesYesSouth Dakota also requires two personal references (“vouchers to moral character”).South Dakota Veterinary Medical 2 years12South Dakota Board of Veterinary Medical Examiners
TennesseeYesLVTYesYesApplicants in Tennessee must also pass a criminal background check; submit proof of citizenship; and get one letter of recommendation from a licensed veterinarian.Tennessee Veterinary Technician Association1 year12Tennessee Board of Veterinary Medical Examiners
TexasYesLVTYesYesTexas candidates are required to take the Licensed Veterinary Techncian Examination (LVTE) and submit a copy of their birth certificate.Texas Association of Registered Veterinary Technicians1 year10Texas State Board of Veterinary Medical Examiners
UtahNoN/AN/AN/AUtah does not require its veterinary technicians to be licensed.Utah Veterinary Practice Act LawN/AUtah Veterinary Medical Association
VermontNoCVTYesYesVermont does not require its veterinary technicians to become certified with the Vermont Veterinary Technician Association. At least two years of education in a vet tech program is generally a requirement for most employers. Taking the VTNE upon graduation may still be advisable for those candidates interested in being employable in other states.Vermont Veterinary Medical Association2 years18Vermont Veterinary Technician Association
VirginiaYesLVTNoYesN/AVirigina Association of Licensed Veterinary Technicians 1 year6Virginia Board of Veterinary Medicine
WashingtonYesLVTNoYesWashington requires four hours of AIDS training.Washington State Association of Veterinary Technicians3 years30Washington State Department of Health
West VirginiaYesRVTNoYesWest Virginia requires a written jurisprudence examination.West Virginia Association of Veterinary Technicians 1 year12West Virginia Board of Veterinary Medicine
WisconsinYesCVTNoYesWisconsin requires an affidavit from a licensed veterinarian employer.Wisconsin Veterinary Technician Association 2 years15Wisonsin Department of Safety and Professional Services
WyomingNoCVTYesYesWyoming does not require its veterinary technicians to become certified with the Wyoming Veterinary Technician Association (WyVTA). At least two years of education in a vet tech program is generally a requirement for most employers. Taking the VTNE upon graduation may still be advisable for those candidates interested in being employable in other states.Wyoming Board of Veterinary Medicine2 years10Wyoming Veterinary Technician Association

* A limited permit may be provided for interstate transfers or on-the-job training.

** CVT = Certified Veterinary Technician, LVT = Licensed Veterinary Technician, RVT = Registered Veterinary Technician

*** Other experience or education may satisfy licensing requirements, at board discretion.

For the VTNE: 1 – 70% score required, 2 – 75% score required, 3 – 425 score required

For Renewals: 1 – Licenses expire on 12/31 of even-numbered years, 2 – License expires 1/31 of odd years, 3 – License expires 1/1 of even years, 4 – After the first renewal

For Renewal CE: 1 – Or 10, or 5, depending on when the certification originally went into effect, 2 – Every other year

 

 

VETERINARY TECHNICIAN CAREER OUTLOOK

Luckily for veterinary technicians nationwide, there is expected to be an explosion in job openings in coming years. By illustration, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS 2015) predicts that vet tech positions will swell 19 percent nationally between 2014 and 2024, much faster than the growth anticipated for all professions during that time frame (7 percent). The projected addition of 17,900 vet tech jobs nationwide will boost the employment landscape in this field on into the future.

Vet techs are employed across a variety of environments, including private clinics, wildlife preserves veterinary hospitals, pharmaceutical companies, aquariums, laboratories, animal sanctuaries, kennels, biomedical research facilities, zoos, and farms. The skill-set and training necessary generally varies by work environment, and similar to hospitals treating humans, some clinics may operate 24 hours per day for emergencies. Therefore, a vet tech career can be a demanding one, requiring a significant time commitment with some of these dedicated animal care specialists working evenings, weekends, and holidays.

In addition to the usual job-hunting websites such as Monster, CareerBuilder, Indeed, and Glassdoor, the National Association of Veterinary Technicians in America (NAVTA) maintains an active board for job postings with varied opportunities across the country at facilities such as the Heritage Animal Hospital LLC (Hilton Head Island, SC), Elko Veterinary Clinic (Nevada), Tufts University (Massachusetts), Foothill-De Anza Community College (California), and the Setauket Animal Hospital (New York).

One of the trends contributing to this increased demand is a growing awareness of animal health. It’s only in recent years that fields such as animal psychology or veterinary nutrition have become concerns for pet-owners and animal-lovers alike. As people have more access to advanced animal care, veterinary technicians who have specialty designations may have the advantage in the job market. Specialties such as veterinary anesthesia, veterinary dentistry, and animal radiology may allow students to advance quickly as the demand for targeted care rises concurrently with people’s awareness of animal health concerns. For a detailed look at the steps to joining various animal healthcare professions—including veterinary medicine and vet tech subfields such as anesthesiology, dentistry, radiology, and animal psychology—please check out the online Guide to Animal Healthcare Careers or continue reading for a detailed summary of each subfield.

There are several paths that practicing vet techs may choose to pursue. In addition to the 12 specialties below which are recognized by the National Association of Veterinary Technicians in America (NAVTA), here are a few fields for vet techs to consider to advancing their careers:

VETERINARY TECHNOLOGIST

According to the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA 2016), the main difference between vet technicians and vet technologists is the years of schooling. Technicians typically have completed a two-year associate degree, whereas technologists have a four-year bachelor’s degree. As a result of these additional two years of education, technologists may qualify for higher pay or increased responsibilities in laboratory and clinical environments.

AVIAN VETERINARY TECHNICIAN

Avian vet techs specialize in the research and medical care of bird species. While there is currently no NAVTA-approved academy which provides credentialing in this area, the Association of Avian Veterinarians (AAV) offers information about job opportunities in this area. For more information about training in the avian subfield, please visit the avian vet tech programs page.

LABORATORY ANIMAL TECHNICIAN OR TECHNOLOGIST

These specialists provide husbandry, sanitation, and basic technical procedures for animals in research facilities. The American Association for Laboratory Animal Science (AALAS) has three certifications: assistant laboratory animal technician (ALAT), laboratory animal technician (LAT), and laboratory animal technologist (LATG). To qualify, aspiring lab animal techs must pass an exam and fulfill educational and experience-based requirements, which vary by level. While certification is not mandatory in this subfield, it may be recommended to enhance one’s resume and employment candidacy. Also, the Society of Laboratory Animal Veterinary Technicians (SLAVT) offers professional, student, and associate memberships, providing members with CE opportunities, job postings, and networking.

VETERINARY RADIOLOGY TECHNICIAN

Veterinary radiology techs help diagnose internal injuries using advanced radiology equipment such as x-ray, computed tomography (CT), nuclear imaging, digital fluoroscopy, and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) machines. According to the American College of Veterinary Radiology (2016), there is no specialized certification in this subfield, although petitions are currently being filed to NAVTA to recognize Veterinary Technician Specialists – Diagnostic Imaging (VTS-DI).

MARINE AND AQUATIC VETERINARY TECHNICIAN

Marine and aquatic vet technicians treat injury and disease in animals who live in water. There is no formal credentialing entity in this area, although there are outstanding aquatic veterinary programs and excellent marine veterinary professors across the country.

VETERINARIAN

For some vet techs, their ultimate goal is to become a veterinarian. This career typically requires a total of eight years of postsecondary schooling. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS 2015) reports that veterinarians must earn a doctorate of veterinary medicine (i.e., VMD or DVM) and pass the North American Veterinary Licensing Examination (NAVLE), in addition to taking the relevant state licensure exam. From there, veterinarians may choose an advanced specialization, 38 of which are recognized by the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA). These include toxicology, dermatology, surgery, nutrition, neurology, preventative medicine, microbiology, and virology. The specialty certification requirements vary by specialty.

VETERINARY TECHNICIAN SALARY

Not surprisingly, salaries for veterinary technicians tend to vary by geographic region, industry, specialty, experience, and source of data. One of the predominant sources of wage information across the country is the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), an affiliate of the Department of Labor. According to the latest BLS (2014) figures, the 93,900 vet techs employed nationwide made an annual average salary of $32,350. In granular terms, vet techs had the following wage percentiles:

  • 10th percentile: $21,390
  • 25th percentile: $25,740
  • 50th percentile (median): $31,070
  • 75th percentile: $37,590
  • 90th percentile: $45,710

As a basis of comparison, Payscale (2016)—a prominent aggregator of self-reported salary data in popular occupations—found similar salary ranges among its 327 responding vet techs:

  • 10th percentile: $21,000
  • 25th percentile: $25,000
  • 50th percentile (median): $30,914
  • 75th percentile: $40,000
  • 90th percentile: $49,000

VET TECH SALARY BY REGION

Before delving into a regional examination of vet tech salaries, it’s important to note that while some areas offer more attractive compensation, they may also incur a higher cost of living. As proof of point, the Missouri Economic Research and Information Center (MERIC 2015) provides a list of states by affordability as well as comparative indexes for housing costs, utilities, groceries, transportation, and health. The five cheapest states in which to live are Mississippi, Indiana, Idaho, Oklahoma, and Kentucky. By contrast, the most expensive states are Hawaii, District of Columbia, New York, California, and Alaska. Please keep this in mind while evaluating the regional wage estimates.

To nobody’s surprise, three of the top five most expensive states also offer the most generous salaries to vet techs (BLS 2014):

  • Alaska: $40,970 annual average salary
  • Massachusetts: $40,120
  • New York: $39,740
  • Connecticut: $38,600
  • California: $37,220

In a departure from expectations, only one of the five cheapest states—Kentucky—offers the lowest wages in this profession:

  • West Virginia: $24,370 annual average salary
  • Utah: $27,260
  • Louisiana: $27,410
  • Georgia: $27,950
  • Kentucky: $27,980

In a good stroke of luck for Californians and New Yorkers, not only are these two of the top-paying states, but they’re also top-employing states as well, a factor that correlates roughly with population size. Here are the top-employing regions for vet techs (BLS 2014):

  • Texas: 8,870 vet techs employed
  • California: 8,820
  • Florida: 8,190
  • Pennsylvania: 4,210
  • New York: 4,190

What about metropolitan regions? For specific zip codes, Payscale (2016) can offer salary estimates. The BLS (2014) also reports on the areas with the highest compensation, most of which are concentrated in the northeast:

  • Norwich-New London, CT-RI: $50,180 average annual salary
  • Brockton-Bridgewater-Easton, MA NECTA Division: $46,960
  • Poughkeepsie-Newburgh-Middletown, NY: $44,240
  • Ithaca, NY: $43,990
  • San Francisco-San Mateo-Redwood City, CA Metropolitan Division: $43,480

By contrast, here were the lowest paying areas, two of which are located in the most affordable states nationwide:

  • Southeast Alabama Nonmetropolitan area: $17,610 annual average salary
  • Springfield MO: $20,510
  • East Georgia Nonmetropolitan area: $21,690
  • Terre Haute IN: $21,810
  • Northeastern Oklahoma Nonmetropolitan area: $22,800

Finally, the top-employing metro areas for vet techs—those which may offer the most opportunities—were scattered all over the country:

  • Chicago-Joliet-Naperville, IL Metropolitan Division: 2,300 vet techs employed
  • Houston-Sugar Land-Baytown, TX: 1,990
  • New York-White Plains-Wayne, NY-NJ Metropolitan Division: 1,980
  • Philadelphia, PA Metropolitan Division: 1,760
  • Atlanta-Sandy Springs-Marietta, GA: 1,740

To learn more about how much vet techs typically make across the US and how many are employed in different areas, please reference the comprehensive state-by-state salary breakdown below or specific state pages on this website.

VET TECH SALARY BY INDUSTRY

According to the latest BLS (2014) data, veterinary technician salaries also vary by industry. Vet techs looking for the most lucrative positions are encouraged to seek out public sector employment, although they are advised that competition for these openings can be stiff. Interestingly, three of the five top-paying sectors were related to the government, while the vast majority of vet techs work in professional, scientific, technical, and other types of services (e.g., veterinary hospitals). Here are the top-paying industries for vet techs listed with number of vet techs employed nationally and average annual salaries:

  • Management of Companies and Enterprises (40 vet techs employed nationally): $56,050
  • Federal Executive Branch (540 employed): $49,940
  • State Government (90 employed): $43,240
  • Local Government (330 employed): $42,350
  • Scientific Research and Development Services (970 employed): $41,110

And here are the top-employers of vet techs nationwide listed with their annual average salaries (BLS 2014):

  • Other Professional, Scientific, and Technical Services (86,090 vet techs employed): $31,790
  • Colleges, Universities, and Professional Schools (2,490 employed): $39,730
  • Social Advocacy Organizations (1,400 employed): $31,770
  • Scientific Research and Development Services (970 employed): $41,110
  • Federal Executive Branch (540 employed): $49,940

VET TECH SALARY BY EXPERIENCE AND SPECIALTY

Similar to most occupations, vet tech salaries also may vary substantially by years of experience. These are veterinary technicians’ median annual salaries according to different experience levels (Payscale 2016):

  • Entry-level (0-5 years): $26,000
  • Mid-career (5-10 years): $31,000
  • Experienced (10-20 years): $34,000
  • Late-career (20+ years): $35,000

Finally, although salaries also tend to vary by specialization, the BLS does not provide this data. Furthermore, sample sizes on Payscale (2016) or Salary (2016) are too small to make definitive conclusions. That said, as in many professions, there is a general positive correlation between specialized, in-depth skills (e.g., anesthesia, dentistry, clinical pathology) as a veterinary technician and one’s ability to secure employment and even higher salary prospects.

Vet Tech Employment & Salary By State (2014)

StateVet Tech Jobs (2014)2014 Salary Data
Low Salary (10th %ile)Average Salary (Median)High Salary (90th %ile)
Alabama840$18,960$28,430$38,820
Alaska210$30,750$42,190$48,650
Arizona2,320$20,160$27,340$37,460
Arkansas250$19,450$27,610$37,440
California8,820$24,810$36,490$50,850
Colorado2,910$21,280$30,440$39,640
Connecticut1,410$26,970$36,320$55,650
Delaware350$22,690$31,750$46,380
Columbia60$18,340$32,830$46,940
Florida8,190$20,940$29,570$39,110
Georgia2,790$18,370$27,250$38,070
Hawaii370$25,210$31,220$38,620
Idaho440$21,700$28,310$37,290
Illinois3,700$24,050$29,870$44,510
Indiana1,470$19,750$28,130$42,500
Iowa790$21,350$29,500$42,070
Kansas520$21,240$31,140$42,860
Kentucky1,330$19,550$26,750$38,230
Louisiana1,320$20,240$27,110$36,470
Maine720$23,040$33,640$42,750
Maryland2,250$21,100$31,860$47,680
Massachusetts2,610$27,810$39,180$54,590
Michigan2,830$20,590$30,670$43,750
Minnesota2,270$24,970$30,910$46,900
Mississippi670$20,030$30,590$42,020
Missouri1,190$18,870$31,720$48,490
Montana450$21,580$27,750$36,910
Nebraska610$20,110$28,580$37,640
Nevada640$26,140$35,460$45,560
New Hampshire740$24,690$32,850$44,830
New Jersey2,570$22,140$33,020$48,020
New Mexico410$22,960$32,100$39,180
New York4,190$26,010$37,520$58,100
North Carolina3,070$21,170$29,310$41,200
North Dakota170$23,510$28,380$47,010
Ohio3,410$21,050$30,070$45,230
Oklahoma1,060$19,690$27,860$38,180
Oregon1,450$22,690$33,600$44,370
Pennsylvania4,210$24,130$33,060$47,590
Rhode Island340$25,880$33,910$45,090
South Carolina1,450$19,390$28,250$38,840
South Dakota300$23,050$30,360$42,080
Tennessee1,580$20,460$28,080$40,420
Texas8,870$20,260$27,780$38,100
Utah960$20,630$26,880$35,720
Vermont400$26,050$32,510$42,860
Virginia1,710$25,310$36,420$51,200
Washington1,680$26,440$34,600$44,580
West Virginia300$16,910$24,310$30,610
Wisconsin1,880$21,850$31,430$44,470
Wyoming230$21,310$28,730$40,180

 

 

Jocelyn Blore (Editor)

After graduating from UC Berkeley, Jocelyn traveled the world for five years as an English teacher and freelance writer. After stints in England, Japan, and Brazil, she settled in San Francisco and worked as a managing editor for a tech company. When not writing about veterinary technology, nursing, engineering, and other career fields, satirizes global politics and other absurdities at Blore’s Razor.