Just as the human body needs specialists for different injuries, animals often require a wide range of medical attention. Additional expertise on the anatomy, pathology, behavior, and even nutrition of our pets is learned by becoming specialized in one of 12 veterinary technician careers. We’ll break down the five top-earning jobs among these, outlining the areas of expertise and salary.
You can become qualified as a technician in one of these many burgeoning disciplines with a two-year associate’s degree. Following this, through the National Association of Veterinary Technicians of America (NAVTA) you can find one of the many academies which oversees and awards certification for specialties in vet tech work.
Recognized by the American Veterinary Medical Association, NAVTA maintains their own specialities portal, underscoring a “growing interest among veterinary technicians to attain a higher level of recognition for advanced knowledge and skills in specific disciplines.” Additionally, these specializations come with a pay increase.
Each and every academy overseen by NAVTA develops its own curriculum, skill set requirements, practicums, knowledge lists, and examinations. Any candidate up for a technical certification in a specialized field must complete these courses of study and pass an examination, in addition to the standard two years time invested at a community college. Upon successful completion of all studies and examinations, you are credentialed as a veterinary technician specialist (VTS).
The Importance of Vet Tech Specialization
The best definition of a vet tech can be found on NAVTA’s website:
“Veterinary technicians and technologists are educated to be the veterinarian’s nurse, laboratory technician, radiography technician, anesthetist, surgical nurse, and client educator. A veterinary technician is a graduate from a two-year, American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) accredited program from a community college, college or university. Almost every state requires a veterinary technician/technologist to take and pass a credentialing exam.”
But this isn’t the end of possibilities for the vet tech who wants to expand their knowledge and move up professionally. Once deciding on a specialization that fits you, and once you’ve completed the requisite courses of study, what you bring to the table makes you a prime candidate for an exciting new occupation in veterinary medicine.
To assist at a veterinarian’s side and save animals’ lives each day, individuals must always be moving compassionately on a path of self-direction. To specialize as a technician in, say, equine medicine or as an animal nutritionist, is not only to increase earning potential and become a well-studied expert but also to position yourself in field that will always need expertly-trained technicians. This ensures engagement with a tech-focused field that will continue to experience promising growth and development, as well as a plethora of opportunities in the strengthening of your veterinary repertoire.
Below are the five top-paying vet tech specialist careers. To help you choose which specialization path is right for you, the average wages of all specialist careers were compared to determine which of them pay the best wage. To reach these conclusions, pay rate data was collated from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (2019), the Department of Labor, PayScale, Indeed, SimplyHired, and Zip Recruiter.
Note: Region, experience, and certification are the most pertinent factors when it comes to learning which vet tech career pays best, as states with a higher per-capita income are generally more expensive to live in and thus pay more. Keep in mind that the figures listed below are those for the career’s median wage and do not take into account prior job experience or region.
#3. Anesthesia & Analgesia Technician
The highest paying vet tech career discovered was that of the veterinary anesthesia and analgesia technician, a position that ensures that veterinary surgeons are able to carry out their duties.
Via the AVTAA, vet techs can master the skills necessary to step into these well-paying roles. While the general responsibilities of a vet anesthesia and analgesia tech match those of the other four jobs detailed above, their focus on the science of sedation puts them near the top of list.
Veterinary technician anesthetists assist veterinarians with surgical procedures performed on a variety of animals. Regular tasks likely include pre-anesthetic preparation, administering proper anesthesia, administering the proper dosage of sedative, maintaining sedation of the animal through close monitoring, and managing the animal’s emergence from the sedative state. Post-anesthetic care of the animal and maintenance of specialized equipment can also be expected.
According to PayScale, vet techs with anesthesia skills earn an average salary of as much as $33,969. Like the zoo vet tech position described above, anesthetists are often in possession of a four-year degree from an accredited veterinary institution, which significantly increases earning potential.
#2. Surgical Technician
To become a veterinary surgical technician, one needs a comprehensive course of study and certification via the Academy of Veterinary Surgical Technicians. This specialization is centered around assisting the veterinarian during surgical procedures and diagnoses.
Surgical techs have learned how to assist veterinarians with a host of surgical procedures, including diagnostic tests, surgery, proper sterility practices, and all levels of wound care. This includes changing and checking dressings of wounds, maintenance of healing wounds, and the counseling of owners with wounded animals.
In addition, there are usually clerical and administrative components of being a vet surgical tech in a clinic or office. Things like post-op consultation, medication dosings, the filling of animal prescriptions, and administering IVs, catheters, or drawing blood will likely be commonplace.
According to salary statistics on Zip Recruiter, veterinary surgical technicians can earn a average salary of $48,207.
#1. Emergency & Critical Care Technician
Just like in human medicine, emergency response personnel must be versatile and highly qualified, with a robust transcript under their belts. If you’re ready for the fast-paced world of emergency vet clinics or late-night calls, then this specialization could be your perfect fit.
The day-to-day responsibilities of an emergency vet tech require many of the same skills needed as the position of surgical tech. These professionals are able to maintain their composure in the face of challenging situations, relying on their expertise and training to help stabilize animals who need critical attention.
Shifts in the intensive care unit or a 24-hour animal hospital mean that emergency techs will be expected to take x-rays, monitor vitals, clean wounds, insert catheters, take blood or stool samples, give injections of medication or fluids, applying gauze to wounds, practicing ongoing wound care, and keeping the patient’s files in order.
According to data from the PayScale, emergency and critical care veterinary nurses (VNECC) can earn an average salary of $68,000.
Other VTS Fields to Consider
Although reliable salary data was not available for the following fields, here are two other VTS positions to consider:
Equine Nursing Technician
If you love horses, rural environments, and variety, then you might want to consider becoming an equine nursing technician, also known as a large animal vet tech. Through the Academy of Equine Veterinary Nursing Technicians, you can gain an invaluable working knowledge of the husbandry industry.
Large animal vets assist veterinarians with anything and everything that the vet might need. Their duties generally include administering medication, bandaging wounds, prepping for surgeries or procedures, running blood or fluid tests, taking x-rays, or giving injections.
Other more specialized tasks might comprise jogging horses into a pen to test how their lameness or injury has improved and maintaining physical therapy records for follow-ups or outside consultation. Scheduling appointments will likely also be a duty in this position. Large animal vets often deal with a number of husbandry animals, including cows, sheep, and hogs.
As an equine nursing technician, you will be expected to be flexible in your availability. This means being required to work nights, weekends, and holidays. During some seasons, this might also mean working overtime. And, given that horses are powerful animals, caution must always be exercised. A thorough knowledge of equine anatomy and locomotion will greatly improve the tech’s ability to account for kicks and bites.
Zoological Medical Technician
If you enjoy exotic animals and the rich learning environments of zoos, aquariums, or wildlife preserves, then a specialization as a zoological medical technician could be the right path for you.
Much like equine vet techs, zoological vet techs are second-in-command to the vet. They are both the vet’s assistant and a capable professional in their own right. In dealing with many exotic animals, the zoo vet tech must be well-versed in animal science and behavioral studies, as well as diet, sensitivities, and natural climate.
Job duties generally include wound care, taking radiographs, operating diagnostic machinery or software, filling prescriptions, administering fluids, administering medications, assisting with general physical exams, inserting catheters, and cleaning of surgical equipment, if surgical procedures are called for. Zoo vet techs must also be able to give intramuscular or intravenous injections of medication or fluids.
An Essential and Promising Field
As long as we show compassion, tenderness, and care for the world’s injured animals, we will need skilled, expert individuals with the right credentials and specialization to make a difference.
Veterinary technicians bring together knowledge, passion, and commitment to uphold a code of ethics and contribute to an ever-flourishing field.
The careers that have just been covered are only a few among dozens. These disciplines can be pursued by those who are interested and willing to embark on a course of professionalism and self-study. Based on education, region, and skills training, the wages listed here represent the many options available in one of the most in-demand fields in modern medicine. In 2019 and going forward, these industries are only expected to grow.