How to Become a Veterinary Technician Specialist (VTS)

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).

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 to unite vet techs who are interested in a specific veterinary discipline (i.e., societies). In order to qualify for credentialing in any vet tech specialty, candidates must typically be licensed/credentialed/registered vet techs who have the requisite training, experience, and education to qualify for an academy’s specialty exam.

As of March 2021, NAVTA listed five fully recognized and 11 provisionally recognized academies offering specialized certification for qualified VTS candidates. The subfields are as follows:

  • Emergency and Critical Care
  • Dental
  • Internal Medicine
  • Anesthesia and Analgesia
  • Zoological Medicine
  • Laboratory Animal (provisional)
  • Veterinary Behavior (provisional)
  • Clinical Pathology (provisional)
  • Clinical Practice (provisional)
  • Dermatology (provisional)
  • Equine (provisional)
  • Physical Rehabilitation (provisional)
  • Veterinary Nutrition (provisional)
  • Ophthalmology (provisional)
  • Surgical (provisional)
  • Diagnostic Imaging (provisional)

This piece examines why a vet tech may want to pursue a VTS certification, and how to become a VTS, including a discussion of the education and certification requirements of each specialized academy.

Why Become a VTS?

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS 2020), veterinary technicians and technologists occupy a high-growth career. The BLS projected a 16 percent expansion in openings for vet techs across the country between 2019 and 2029, quadruple the average growth anticipated across all occupations during that time period (4 percent).

In 2019, these vet techs earned, on average, $35,320 per year ($16.98 per hour). With 18,300 new vet tech jobs anticipated during this time period, earning a VTS may give a vet tech certain advantages over vet tech generalists.

Earning a VTS certification is proof of deep dedication to the vet tech occupation, and to a vet tech’s commitment to perpetual growth within the specialization, which can translate into more opportunity and/or more earning. With most VTS certifications requiring a minimum of three years and thousands of hours of experience dedicated to a specialty, having the certification is a clear sign and signal to employers of quality knowledge and skills. While not easy to attain, VTS can help a job candidate to be more competitive in the job market or earn more at their current position.

While data is not available for all specialties, vet techs who reported salaries to Payscale.com (2021) indicate that specialty knowledge and skills can lead to salaries that are anywhere from 1 percent to 28 percent higher than what an average vet tech makes.

To learn which specialties have the most earning power, visit the page top paying vet tech specialist careers.

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 (two to four 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); complete prerequisite coursework before applying, 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 2021) or through individual vet tech state licensure pages on this site.

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

The VTNE is offered by the American Association of Veterinary State Boards (AAVSB) and is the main national credentialing test for veterinary technicians. 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 $330.

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 (three or more years)

The final step to becoming 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
  • 40+ hours of continuing education (CE) related to the specialization
  • Letter(s) of recommendation
  • Skills assessment signed by a supervisor
  • Case logs
  • Detailed case studies
  • Passing score on a specialized exam
  • Application fee
  • Exam fee

Continuing education (CE) in a vet tech’s speciality is required to qualify for most VTS credentials. CE is also required to maintain state licensure and VTS status. Specialized CE opportunities are available on most academy websites and include the following resources:

  • National Association of Veterinary Technicians in America (NAVTA)
  • Colorado State University Continuing Education
  • Ohio State University Continuing Education
  • VetMed Team
  • VetBloom
  • Veterinary Support Personnel Network (VSPN)

Specific Requirements to Qualify for VTS Credentialing Exams

Each NAVTA-recognized academy has specific requirements a vet tech must complete before sitting for a VTS credentialing exam. What follows is a general overview of the academy-specific requirements as of March 2021.

Because each academy has a unique process by which candidates must submit proof of requirement completion, it is imperative that VTS candidates visit specific academy websites and contact academy representatives to precisely understand what is required and how to submit all required documentation.

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.

ALAT Exam Requirements LAT Exam Requirements LATG Exam Requirements
Schooling + Lab Animal Science Experience (one of the following)
  • No HS Diploma + two years
  • HS diploma/GED + one year
  • College degree + 0.5 years
  • HS diploma/GED + three years
  • AA/AS + two years
  • BA/BS + one year
  • ALAT Certification + HS Diploma/GED/Degree + 0.5 years experience after ALAT
  • ALAT Certification + no HS diploma + two years experience after ALAT
  • HS diploma/GED + five years
  • AA/AS + four years
  • BA/BS + three years
  • LAT Certification + HS Diploma/GED/Degree + 0.5 years experience after LAT
Fees
$160 AALAS members
$235 non-members
$210 AALAS members
$295 non-members
$260 AALAS members
$335 non-members

Lab tech specialists looking for additional resources, CE opportunities, and professional support can visit 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).

To sit for the VTS (Anesthesia & Analgesia) exam, candidates must submit the following:

  • Proof of 8,000 hours of work experience earned over a minimum of four years
  • Proof that 6,000 experience hours were administering anesthesia-related care
  • Letter of good standing from veterinary medical board
  • Letter of Agreement signed by a board-certified vet or VTS
  • Proof of LVT/RVT/CVT status
  • Case log of 50 – 60 anesthesia cases
  • Four in-depth case reports
  • Proof of 40 hours of CE related to anesthesia
  • Either a large or small animals skills list signed off by a VTS or a board-certified vet
  • $60 application fee
  • $150 exam fee

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).

To sit for the VTS (Behavior) exam, applicants must submit the following to ABVT:

  • Timesheet proving a minimum of three years of animal behavior experience with 1,000 hours of treatment + 3,000 hours of preventive care
  • A letter of intent/cover letter
  • CV
  • Completed skills assessment form in either clinical track or research track
  • Proof of NAVTA and Society of Veterinary Behavior Technicians (SVBT) membership
  • Proof of graduation from an AVMA accredited vet tech program
  • Proof of vet tech licensure, credential, or registration
  • Two letters of recommendation (one from VTS, one from ACVB diplomat)
  • Proof of 40 hours of CE related to behavior
  • Case log featuring a minimum of 50 cases
  • Five detailed case reports
  • Written and published (or pending) peer-reviewed journal article on animal behavior
  • $50 application fee
  • Exam fee

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).

VTS (Clinical Pathology) candidates who want to take the exam must submit the following:

  • Proof of 4000 hours of clinical pathology experience earned over a minimum of three years
  • Statement of purpose
  • Proof of graduation from an AVMA accredited vet tech program and/or proof of vet tech licensure/credential/registration
  • Proof of NAVTA membership
  • 40 CE hours in clinical pathology
  • Two letters of recommendation
  • Completed skills form
  • Case logs representing 170 cases
  • Three detailed case reports in hematology, serum clinical chemistry, and urinalysis
  • Standard operating procedures
  • Quality control procedures
  • Application fee
  • Exam 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 submit:

  • Proof of 10,000 hours (five years) of experience, including 7,500 hours in the intended speciality area
  • Proof of 40 hours of CE
  • Proof of LVT/CVT/RVT
  • Knowledge list signature form
  • Completed skills demonstrated 80 percent mastery of listed skills.
  • Five examination question related to the sub-specialization of application
  • Four detailed case reports
  • Case log with 50 to 75 cases
  • Two letters of recommendation
  • $50 application fee
  • $210 exam fee
  • $300 to $325 symposium fee (the exam is administered at the Symposium)
  • $50 annual dues

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. Unlike other VTA programs, the dental tech is a multi-part process whereby the candidate applies to be a part of a mentorship program before they sit for the exam. (The information listed here is based on the 2021-2023 credentialing packet.)

Prior to being admitted into the two year ADVT mentorship program, 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 in the two years prior to application.
  • Access and ability to take intraoral x-rays where they’re collecting cases for logs and reports.
  • NAVTA membership, and be in good standing.

Upon acceptance into the two-year AVDT mentorship program, the applicant must:

  • Establish a VTS (Dentistry) mentor
  • Commit to a minimum of 3,200 hours of practice, with 2,780 of those hours in vet dentistry

One the candidate is accepted into the two-year mentorship program they will receive a credentials packet that outlines what they must achieve. Candidates must complete:

  • Three to four forms confirming that the 3200/2780 hour requirements were met.
  • 27 hours of CE wet lab training
  • 19 hours of advanced dental procedures CE lectures
  • Case log for 75 cases completed during two-year mentorship
  • Five detailed case reports
  • One dental chart from each case log category
  • One set of intra-oral dental radiographs of a dog and cat
  • A list of accurately labeled photos of equipment, instruments, and supplies, arranged by category
  • Required reading list
  • Skills form

Once the credentialing packet has been submitted and accepted, the candidate is eligible to sit for the two-part exam. The first part is a remote, written exam of 150 to 200 questions, and the second part is a practical, hands-on test.

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) offers the VTS (Dermatology) credentialing exam.

To request an application packet, VTS (Dermatology) hopefuls must first submit:

  • An applicant information and and work experience form
  • A $25 request fee

Upon receiving the form and fee, applicants will receive a credentialing packet that requires candidates to submit:

  • Proof of NAVTA membership
  • Two letters of recommendation
  • A skills list
  • Case reports
  • A case record log
  • Proof of continuing education
  • $25 application fee
  • Exam fee

Details on the ADVT website as per minimum experience are not clearly listed. Please contact ADVT for more detailed information.

How to Become an Emergency & Critical Care Vet Tech

Vet emergency and 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),

AVECCT requires VTS (ECC) exam candidates to have:

  • Proof of CVT/LVT/RVT
  • Proof of three years of full time work experience demonstrated at least 5,760 hours of emergency and critical care
  • Proof of 25 hours of CE related to emergency and critical care
  • Two letters of recommendation from a VTS or board-certified emergency veterinarian
  • Proof of mastery of 29 of 38 essential skills through certified VTS signatures and photos
  • $75 application fee
  • Exam 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)

To sit for the VTS (Equine) exam candidates must submit:

  • A letter of intent
  • Proof of LVT/CVT/RVT
  • CV
  • Proof of at least 5,000 hours (three years) of work experience, including 3,750 hours working in equine nursing; proof of vet tech credentialing
  • Completed advanced skills checklist
  • Two letters of recommendation
  • Proof of 50 CE hours completed in the previous four years, with at least ten in the previous year
  • A case log with 50 to 75 cases
  • Five detailed case reports
  • $50 application fee
  • $100 exam fee

Please note that starting in 2022, candidates will need 8,000 total hours of experience (four years), including 5,000 (70 percent) in equine veterinary nursing.

How to Become an Internal Medicine Vet Tech

Internal medicine vet techs are knowledgeable of common veterinary illnesses and how to treat them. The Academy of Internal Medicine for Veterinary Technicians (AIMVT) offers subspeciality credentialing for vet techs working in Small Animal Internal Medicine (SAIM), Large Animal Internal Medicine (LAIM), Cardiology, Neurology, and Oncology.

Candidates interested in sitting for the VTS (Internal Medicine) must submit:

  • Proof of 6,000 hours (minimum three years) of internal medicine experience with a minimum of 4,500 hours in the applicant’s chosen subspeciality
  • Intent to apply form
  • Two letters of recommendation
  • Proof of graduation from an AVMA accredited vet tech program
  • Proof of CVT/LVT/RVT
  • Three exam questions specific to chosen subspeciality
  • Proof of 40 hours of CE, 70 percent (28 hours) in the applicant’s chosen subspecialty
  • Completed advanced skills list
  • Four in-depth case reports
  • Case logs with 50 to 75 cases
  • $75 application fee
  • Exam fee

Each subspeciality also has unique requirements that are listed in detail on the AIMVT website.

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:

  • Credentials to practice as an LVT/CVT/RVT
  • At least 4,000 hours of experience (three years), in animal nutrition
  • 40 hours of CE in animal nutrition or nutrition research (ten hours must be in the year previous to the application)
  • A completed veterinary nutrition technician skills form
  • Clinical Track: Case log with 40-60 cases
  • Research Track: one research log documenting one study within three years preceding application
  • Five detailed case reports
  • Two letters of recommendation
  • $50 application fee
  • $200 exam fee

How to Become an 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:

  • Credentials to practice as an LVT/CVT/RVT
  • Proof of NAVTA membership
  • 6,000 hours (three years) experience as a vet tech, with 75 percent of experience in ophthalmology
  • 40 hours of CE in the field of ophthalmology
  • Completed advanced ophthalmology skills list
  • Four in-depth case reports
  • Case log with 50 to 60 cases
  • Three questions for future examinations
  • Two letters of recommendation
  • $35 application fee
  • Exam fee

How to Become a Surgical Vet Tech

Veterinary surgical technicians are certified by the Academy of Veterinary Surgical Technicians (AVST).

The AVST VTS (Surgery) application requires techs to submit the following to qualify for the exam:

  • Proof of CVT/LCT/RVT status.
  • Proof of graduation from an AVMA accredited program
  • Case log with 50 to 75 entries
  • Four detailed case reports
  • Completed advanced skills list
  • Proof of 40 hours of CE in surgery
  • Letter of Intent
  • CV
  • Two letters of recommendation; One from a VTS, one from a veterinarian
  • Five copies of the completed application submitted on a USB flash drive
  • Application fee
  • Exam 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:

  • A minimum of 10,000 hours (five years) of experience
  • 40 hours of CE in zoological medicine
  • Completed advanced skills list with 13 advanced skills assessments
  • A case log with 40 medical or surgical cases
  • Five detailed case reports
  • Two letters of recommendation
  • $50 application fee
  • Exam fee

Please note that for additional professional support, there’s also an Association of Zoo Veterinary Technicians.

How to Become a Diagnostic Imaging Vet Tech

Diagnostic imaging techs assist vets with radiological exams, including x-rays, CTs, nuclear imaging, and MRIs, to name a few. The Academy of Veterinary Technicians in Diagnostic Imaging (AVTDI) provides credentialing.

To qualify to sit the for VTS (diagnostic imaging) exam, AVDTI requires candidates to have:

  • An LVT/RVT/CVT credential
  • A passing VTNE score
  • At least 10,000 hours (five years) work experience, where 75 percent (7,500) hours are diagnostic imaging (clinical or research)
  • 40 CE hours in the realm of veterinary diagnostic imaging and advanced imaging modalities
  • Two letters of recommendation
  • Completed diagnostic imaging skills form
  • Case log with 45 to 60 cases showing a minimum of two species
  • Six detailed case reports
  • Five exam questions
  • $25 pre-application fee
  • $50 application fee
  • Exam fee

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:

Become an 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.

Become a 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.

Become a 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.

Jocelyn Blore (Chief Content Strategist)

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, she satirizes global politics and other absurdities at Blore’s Razor.