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 (Dec. 2015) reported that job openings for veterinary technicians and technologists nationwide are predicted to increase 19 percent between 2014 and 2024—the expected addition of 17,900 fresh vet tech positions—nearly three times the average growth projected for all US occupations during that time period (7 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 2016) 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. In 2016, a NAVTA’s demographic survey of 2,790 vet techs nationwide gave a snapshot of who works as a vet tech, what education they have, and their most common work concerns. Notably, the bulk of responding vet techs were concentrated in both the lower and upper age ranges; 22.9 percent were 29-34 years old, and 19.5 percent were 50+. The vast majority (94.7 percent) were women, and an impressive 79.8 percent had graduated from an AVMA-accredited (i.e., CVTEA-accredited) program. Fully 55 percent held associate degrees, and 30 percent held bachelor’s degrees. Finally, 45 percent of the vet techs who weren’t working in the field had left to work in human healthcare, veterinary pharmaceutical sales, or vet tech education. Other common reasons for leaving included difficulty finding childcare and compassion fatigue.
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.
How to Become a Veterinary Technician
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 (2-4 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 1 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.