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 vet anesthesiologists. According to the American College of Veterinary Anesthesia and Analgesia (ACVAA), the latter generally has more advanced knowledge. Vet anesthesiologists generally have completed veterinary school with specialized education in anesthesia. 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 with an accelerated training program, but generally need supervision to perform anesthesia.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS 2021) reports that the job outlook for veterinary technicians and technologists will be bright in the coming years. The BLS estimates that openings for these animal-care specialists in the U.S. will swell 15 percent between 2020 and 2030, faster than the 8 percent 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 NAVTA-recognized Academy of Veterinary Technicians in Anesthesia & Analgesia (AVTAA), there are several steps to becoming a certified VTSA:
1. Graduate from high school (four years).
In addition to having a love of animals, successful veterinary technician anesthetists generally have strong grades in natural sciences classes such as biology, chemistry, and anatomy (if offered), and may even garner extra experience (and letters of recommendation) volunteering through local animal hospitals, clinics, and shelters.
Aspiring VTSAs are advised to excel in classes in math and science to strengthen their applications to approved vet tech programs.
2. Complete an associate or bachelor’s degree program accredited by the American Medical Veterinary Association (two to four years).
Regardless of one’s state of residence, it’s advisable to seek out an associate or a bachelor’s degree program 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.
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.
Admissions committees at CVTEA-accredited programs generally call for official high school transcripts; official test scores (SAT or ACT, and TOEFL for non-native speakers of English); a background check; proof of immunizations and health insurance; and 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 anatomy & physiology; pathology; veterinary medical calculations; veterinary clinic management; parasitology; animal nursing; research methods; pharmacology; 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. The VetTechColleges blog offers a detailed breakdown of how to become a veterinary technician.
3. Pass the Veterinary Technician National Examination (VTNE) (timeline varies).
Offered by the American Association of Veterinary State Boards (AAVSB), this VTNE examination is a typical requirement for certification, registration, or licensure as a veterinary 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 rates among program graduates.
Most provincial agencies and states use this Veterinary Technician National Exam (VTNE) for evaluating the competency of entry-level veterinary technicians and requires a passing score for veterinary technicians to be credentialed.
Applicants are encouraged to check the passing rate of their program on this exam to verify that past graduates have met the necessary national standards. This 3-hour exam consists of 170 multiple-choice questions and costs $330. This exam tests candidates’ knowledge in nine distinct domains: anesthesia; pharmacy & pharmacology; dentistry; surgical nursing; animal care and nursing; laboratory procedures; emergency medicine or critical care; pain management or analgesia, and diagnostic imaging.
4. Become a certified, licensed, or registered veterinary technician (CVT, LVT, or RVT) (timeline varies).
A majority of U.S. states require that veterinary technicians become certified with their state veterinary medical board or professional organization. For a detailed breakdown of specific requirements across the country, please visit the VetTechColleges comprehensive vet tech licensing and renewal by state database. 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. (four years)
To qualify for specialized credentialing through the Academy of Veterinary Technicians in Anesthesia & Analgesia (AVTAA), candidates must have at least 8,000 hours of work in a veterinary clinic, 75% of which (i.e., 6,000 hours) must be in administering anesthesia. Assuming a vet tech works 40 hours/week for 50 weeks/year, these 8,000 hours would take roughly four years to accumulate.
6. Apply to the AVTAA for credentialing (timeline varies).
To administer anesthesia to animals in the U.S., aspiring VTSAs must be certified by the AVTAA. In addition to maintaining state licensure and completing 8,000 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 AVTAA 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.
AVTAA-certified techs are required to prove 90 percent mastery over core skills such as physiology, pharmacology, physiologic response, equipment use and understanding, laboratory sample collection and analysis, anesthesia- and analgesia-specific skills and techniques. Anesthesia techs must also prove 50 percent mastery over supplemental skills like setting up specialty equipment, performing techniques on species outside dogs and cats, administering class IV substances, and specialty procedures.
To qualify to sit for the AVTAA credentialing exam, vet techs must submit the following:
- Proof of licensure
- Professional history and experience form proving 8,000 hours of work experience and a minimum of four years of experience
- Proof that 6,000 experience hours involved anesthesia care
- Letter of good standing from the veterinary medical board
- Letter of Agreement signed by a board-certified vet or VTS
- Case log of 50 to 60 anesthesia cases in the year before an application
- Four in-depth case reports
- Proof of 40 hours of CE related to anesthesia
- Either a large OR small animal’s skills to list
7. Get a job as a veterinary technician specialist in anesthesia.
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. Several resources may be useful for VTSAs:
- American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA)
- Association of Veterinary Anaesthetists (AVA)
- American College of Veterinary Anesthesia and Analgesia (ACVAA)
- Veterinary Support Personnel Network (VSPN)
- National Association of Veterinary Technicians of America (NAVTA)
Certifications and Requirements to Work in Animal Anesthesia
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 Technicians in Anesthesia & Analgesia (AVTAA) following the completion of at least 6,000 hours in administering anesthesia, 40 hours of continuing 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.