These animal care professionals—also called vet tech specialists in anesthesia (VTSAs)— are on the front lines of veterinary surgery. They are uniquely trained to help administer anesthesia to patients of many different species and sizes, in addition to managing their patients’ fluid levels, ventilation, and emergence from pain management procedures.
Vet tech anesthetists typically assist veterinary anesthesiologists and veterinarians in performing surgeries on animals. There is a difference in credentials and responsibilities between vet tech anesthetists and veterinary anesthesiologists. Vet anesthesiologists typically graduate from veterinary school with specialized education in anesthesia, according to the American College of Veterinary Anesthesia and Analgesia (ACVAA). They may even have achieved certification through the multi-year dedicated residency with the ACVAA, the only recognized North American credential for individual expertise in this area. By contrast, vet tech anesthetists may become certified for practice in a shorter period of time with an accelerated training program, but generally require supervision in order to perform anesthesia.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS 2014) reports that the job outlook for veterinary technicians and technologists will be bright in coming years. The BLS estimates that openings for these animal-care specialists in the U.S. will swell 30% between 2012 and 2022, almost triple the 11% growth projected for all occupations.
So how does someone join this high growth career for animal-loving healthcare professionals?
Steps to Becoming a Vet Tech Anesthetist
Due to the invasive nature of animal surgery, vet tech anesthetists must have specialized training. According to the Academy of Veterinary Technician Anesthetists (AVTA), there are a number of steps to becoming a certified VTSA:
1. Graduate from high school.
Aspiring VTSAs are advised to excel in classes in math and science (e.g., algebra, biology, chemistry) to strengthen their applications to approved vet tech programs.
2. Enroll in an accredited veterinary technology program (2 – 4 years).
Candidates typically earn at least a two-year associate degree from a program accredited by the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA). These programs offer classes such as animal restraint, anatomy of domestic animals, and fundamentals of veterinary radiography. Some programs offer advanced anesthesia training electives to help students prepare for their future specialization. The AVMA reports that there are currently 225 accredited vet tech programs in the U.S., including 23 granting four-year degrees, and nine distance-learning options. The VetTechColleges blog offers a detailed breakdown of how to become a veterinary technician.
3. Pass the Veterinary Technician National Examination (VTNE).
In order to qualify for certification, veterinary technicians must pass the VTNE, a test given by the American Association of Veterinary State Boards (AAVSB), is offered during three month-long windows annually. The test comprises 200 multiple choice questions, in addition to 25 pilot items used to test new material that do not count toward the person’s score. The exam includes subjects such as pharmacology, surgical preparation and assisting, dentistry, and lab procedures.
4. Become a certified, licensed, or registered veterinary technician (CVT, LVT, or RVT).
A majority of U.S. states require that veterinary technicians become certified with their state veterinary medical board or professional organization in order to practice, or continue practicing. For a detailed breakdown of specific requirements across the country, please visit the VetTechColleges comprehensive guide to vet tech licensing and renewal by state. Please note that these credentials must typically be maintained with renewal applications and continuing education requirements.
5. Get specialized training and experience in administering anesthesia (3 years).
In order to qualify for specialized credentialing through the Academy of Veterinary Technician Anesthetists (AVTA), candidates must have at least 6,000 hours of work in a veterinary clinic, 75% of which (i.e., 4,500 hours) must be in administering anesthesia. Assuming a vet tech works 40 hours/week for 50 weeks/year, these 6,000 hours would take roughly three years to accumulate.
6. Apply to the AVTA for credentialing.
In order to administer anesthesia to animals in the U.S., aspiring VTSAs must be certified by the AVTA. In addition to maintaining state licensure and completing 6,000 clinical hours, candidates are expected to undergo 40 hours of continuing education related to anesthesia, demonstrate their proficiency in the discipline, and pass a comprehensive written examination. The AVTA also requires vet techs to keep case logs of at least 50 cases a candidate has anesthetized between January and December in the year the application is submitted. Additionally, candidates are expected to complete four in-depth case reports.
7. Get a job as a veterinary technician specialist in anesthesia (VTSA).
VTSAs are typically employed in veterinary hospitals, clinics, zoos, animal parks, marine sanctuaries, and research labs. Some working VTSAs may choose to specialize in a patient category (e.g., small animals, large animals, equines, exotics). Some VTSAs may choose to work in veterinary pharmaceuticals or device sales as well.
Once veterinary technician specialists in anesthesia start working, they may seek a professional network of colleagues for support in the field. There are a number of resources that may be useful for VTSAs:
Certifications and Requirements to Work in Animal Anesthesia
In order to administer anesthesia to animals in the U.S., veterinary technicians must have the proper credentials. As outlined above, aspiring VTSAs must not only be certified, licensed, or registered within their state as a veterinary technician, but they must also apply for specialized licensure through the Academy of Veterinary Technician Anesthetists (AVTA) following the completion of at least 4,500 hours in administering anesthesia, 40 hours of continued education credits, and a special exam. The exam comprises two components: a four-hour written portion and a three-hour practical evaluation.
For animal-lovers who are seeking a specialized career as a veterinary technician, becoming a licensed VTSA can be a strong option. As people continue to invest more time and money in their pets, the incidence of health-promoting and life-saving surgical procedures on animals may rise, adding to the already robust projected job openings for veterinary technicians in coming years.