Veterinary assistants, technicians, and technologists enjoy a rewarding career. They nurse animals back to health and ensure the smooth functioning of veterinary facilities. Joining one of these careers affords people the opportunity to work with animals but with less of an investment of time and money than becoming a veterinarian. Some veterinary technicians & technologists (collectively known as vet techs) prefer the title ‘veterinary nurse’ and provide a wealth of services for their furry, feathered, and scaly-skinned patients. They help veterinarians with common procedures; collect and analyze biological samples to diagnose conditions; monitor patients after surgeries; provide administrative support; and teach animal owners about proper care, among other duties.
Not only can becoming a vet tech provide a fulfilling job for animal-lovers, but it’s also expected to be ripe with opportunities in coming years. In fact, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS 2021) reported that job openings for veterinary technicians and technologists nationwide are predicted to increase 15 percent between 2020 and 2030—the expected addition of 17,100 fresh vet tech positions—nearly twice the average growth projected for all US occupations during that time period (8 percent).
So how does an individual become a vet tech or assistant? In general, veterinary assistants and animal caretakers have on-the-job training or a postsecondary certificate. Vet techs, by contrast, typically must have a degree from a program accredited by the Committee on Veterinary Technician Education and Activities (CVTEA), a branch of the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA). This is the predominant program-approval body in this field. Graduating from a CVTEA-accredited program is a prerequisite for vet tech credentialing (licensure, registration, or certification) in most states. While veterinary assistants may learn on-the-job or pursue a postsecondary certificate, veterinary technicians generally have at least a two-year associate degree, and veterinary technologists normally have a four-year bachelor’s degree.
The National Association of Veterinary Technicians of America (NAVTA) is the main professional group which supports vet techs in their work, providing resources such as continuing education (CE) opportunities, networking, conferences, a virtual career center, and a scholarly journal.
Finally, a growing number of vet techs are choosing to specialize and become veterinary technician specialists (VTS), focusing their clinical and academic work in areas such as veterinary radiology, animal psychology, vet dentistry, and animal nutrition, among many other subfields of this discipline. To learn in-depth about how to become a vet tech and the varied pathways, please visit the veterinary technician page.
While the specific pathway to become a veterinary technician varies by state, there are some commonalities. Feel free to scroll down to the interactive map below to find out regional information about accredited vet tech programs (including online programs), expected salaries, and state credentialing.
As mentioned above, vet techs typically need at least a two-year associate degree (usually in veterinary technology or animal science) to qualify for employment in this growing career field. Here is a step-by-step summary of how to become a vet tech, a more detailed version of which is available on the main vet tech career page:
Step 1: Graduate from high school or get a GED. Aspiring vet techs are strongly encouraged to receive high marks in classes such as biology, chemistry, and other scientific subjects in order to qualify for postsecondary training. Additionally, high school students should consider volunteering in an animal shelter or another veterinary care setting not only to get a feel for their desired profession, but also to gain references or letters of recommendation for the most competitive vet tech schools
Step 2: Graduate from an accredited associate or bachelor’s degree program in veterinary technology (two to four years). While not all states require aspiring vet techs to graduate from a program accredited by the aforementioned Committee on Veterinary Technician Education and Activities (CVTEA)—the AVMA’s program-approval entity in this field—it may be advisable to secure the greatest employability, particularly as local credentialing standards continue to evolve. Vet tech programs generally involve coursework in areas such as pharmacology, anatomy & physiology, pathology, diagnostic imaging, veterinary dentistry, clinical toxicology, vet clinic management, research methods, microbiology, and other areas. Please note that there are both on-campus and online vet tech schools, and some states such as Alaska allow applicants for vet tech licensure to have two years of on-the-job experience (700 hours) in lieu of a qualifying associate degree.
Step 3: Pass the Veterinary Technician National Examination (less than one year). The VTNE, a competency exam administered by the American Association of Veterinary State Boards (AAVSB), is the main national credentialing exam for vet techs. It measures a candidate’s knowledge in nine major domains covered in accredited vet tech programs: pharmacy & pharmacology, surgical nursing, dentistry, laboratory procedures, animal care & nursing, diagnostic imaging, anesthesia, emergency medicine, and pain management. Additionally, vet tech schools are legally obligated to share their three-year VTNE passing rates among first-time graduates, which can be telling measures of program quality.
Step 4: Apply for vet tech licensure, registration, or certification (less than one year). As mentioned, the specific credentialing procedures vary widely by state and are covered at length in the state pages below. In order to become a licensed, registered, or certified vet tech—LVT, RVT, or CVT, respectively—candidates must typically send their official transcripts from an AVMA-accredited program, submit proof of citizenship, offer passport-style photos, and pay an application fee. Some states require background checks as well.
Step 5: Maintain vet tech credentialing (timeline varies). Lastly, in order to keep active licensure, registration, or certification, vet techs must complete a set number of hours of continuing education (CE). Opportunities for CE credit are widely available through the NAVTA, AVMA, local vet tech associations, and other entities.
Veterinary techs are the nurses of the animal world. Their responsibilities may include administering medication, laboratory analyses, and assisting with surgeries.
Veterinary assistants maintain veterinary offices. Their responsibilities typically involve scheduling appointments with pet-owners, maintaining medical records, and feeding or grooming patients.
Here is an interactive map which links to detailed pieces about how to become a vet tech in specific states, including discussions of AVMA-accredited programs, salary information, and credentialing procedures.
For aspiring vet techs living in rural states or those with familial or professional commitments, there are ten AVMA-accredited online vet tech programs. These distance-based programs typically combine online coursework with in-person clinical trainings at approved veterinary facilities close to a student’s home. For example, Indiana-based Purdue University provides an online association of applied science (AAS) program in veterinary technology, which comprises 35 classes and 17 mentorships in specific subjects. Notably, between 2017 and 2020, 95.2 percent of Purdue’s online vet tech students passed the VTNE on their first attempt.
Ashworth College (sponsor) based in Georgia provides 270 hours of clinical experience working with animals. With no scheduled start times, students may enroll anytime and complete the coursework at their own pace, with clinical hours included in each semester. This program is ideal for anyone with a high school diploma or GED who loves caring for animals, but doesn’t necessarily want to put forward the time and money to become a full-fledged veterinarian. Faculty are industry-leaders in their fields with extensive experience, and this is one of the most affordable online veterinary technician programs available.
Penn Foster (sponsor) offers competitively priced programs. The Penn Foster veterinary technician associate degree program features two clinical externships for hands-on experience, and has partnerships with some of the largest corporate veterinary hospitals in the country—including VCA Animal Hospital, Banfield, and BluePearl—who recognize the quality of the college’s AVMA-CVTEA fully accredited program. With faculty that include Veterinary Technician Specialists (VTS), textbook authors, and national leaders in the profession, as well as a first-time VTNE pass rate of 75.86 percent (2018-2021), Penn Foster is one of the largest accredited online vet tech programs in the country.
Please visit the main online vet tech programs page to learn about the gamut of distance-based programs available and expected coursework.
Large animal and equine vet techs work with animals such as horses, cows, and goats. They are employed in a range of contexts, including animal breeding centers, ranches, zoos, and research institutes. Their responsibilities typically involve surgical assistance, vaccinations, and animal midwifery.
Marine and aquatic animal vet techs care for species of fish, amphibians, reptiles, and mammals that live in water. They can work in research facilities, animal sanctuaries, and aquariums for the public. Their responsibilities generally include treating animal injury and disease, laboratory studies, and ecological analyses.
Avian vet techs help rehabilitate and cure birds suffering from disease or injury. They're employed in clinics, avian sanctuaries, zoos, and poultry farms. Their responsibilities can include injury assessments and treatment, laboratory testing, and client education on avian care (e.g., nutrition, habitat, behavior).
Sometimes ill or injured animals need testing that goes beyond a routine veterinary examination. In this case, veterinary radiology technicians can perform advanced diagnostic testing, such as x-rays, computed tomography (CT), nuclear imaging, digital fluoroscopy, and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).
Veterinary nutrition techs provide guidance in maintaining animal health by way of proper eating and exercise routines. They work in animal clinics and hospitals, or offer outpatient consulting services for animals in need. Their responsibilities include keeping abreast of scientific developments in animal nutritional science and providing pet-owner education.
Veterinary dental techs assist in giving animals the dental services they need. They work in private clinics, hospitals, zoos, or large farms. Their responsibilities typically include administering anesthetics, oral cleaning and plaque removal, surgical assistance, and dental hygiene education for animal-owners.
The VTC blog offers a wealth of resources for people interested in veterinary technician schools and careers. It provides advice about education in specialized careers such as equine vet techs and exotic animal vet techs, as well as interviews with esteemed animal healthcare professionals across the country. In addition, VetTechColleges.com bloggers offer a fresh perspective on scholarships, professors, and how to start a career in veterinary technology.
Who’s to say a vet tech internship can’t be educational, rewarding, and cool all at once? These internships provide some interesting twists on the traditional. Many are based in zoos or animal rehabilitation facilities, and offer an opportunity to provide supervised, hands-on animal care to a diverse variety of species. Some cater specifically to large farm animals or marine mammals.
Many veterinary potentials are intrigued by the care, biology, and future of animals like zebras, ocelots, and lemurs. And, while many colleges provide excellent veterinary courses that define and familiarize students with these creatures, only a small number of schools provide on-site zoo animal experience.
As the nurses of the animal medicine world, veterinary technicians are an essential part of the animal healthcare team. By taking on administrative, customer-facing, and routine clinical tasks, vet techs extend the capacity of a veterinarian to focus on diagnosis, surgery, and treatment planning. While many vet techs enjoy fulfilling careers working as generalists, some find that there is a specific arm of animal medicine in which they’re particularly interested and skilled. Vet techs who wish to follow their passion into a specialization will find that they can level up to become veterinary technician specialists (VTS).