Not all aspiring veterinary technicians live close enough to a brick-and-mortar school to attend a campus-based veterinary technician training program. Even when an aspiring vet tech does live within commuting distance to an on-campus program, their jobs or lives may make them too busy to attend classes during the day at a set time or to attend a full-time program.
Online veterinary technician and assistant programs offer flexibility to aspiring vet techs who are either too busy or live too far away from a college campus to attend. By combining online coursework with hands-on and supervised clinical experience in a setting of the student’s choice, these programs ensure that graduates are ready to become a successful part of a veterinary medicine team.
Just like when looking into an on-campus program, it’s important that an aspiring veterinary technician knows that their program will train them in all the skills they need to successfully enter the workforce.
Since 2010, the National Association of Veterinary Technicians (NAVTA) has created universal standards for high-quality veterinary technician training programs, including standards for online programs.
NAVTA-AVMA accredited vet tech programs meet predefined criteria for training standards, including preparing students to attain the number of supervised practicum hours to qualify for licensure in their state. While not required in every state, the majority of states do require that a veterinary technician pass the Veterinary Technician National Examination (VTNE) before entering into practice. Accredited programs generally include a component to prepare students to sit for this test.
So how do distance programs work? These convenient schools offer courses in a variety of formats:
- Synchronous learning – In this format, happens at a set time, but students can log in from wherever they choose. Whether they are attending a “live” lecture, completing group work, or taking tests, this format’s main point of flexibility is around geography.
- Asynchronous learning – In this format, students do their learning completely at their own pace. While there are deadlines for when a student needs to attend lectures or complete assignments, there is no “real-time” requirement. This format provides both geography- and time-based flexibility to learners.
- Hybrid programs combine both types of online learning – In a hybrid program, didactic coursework (lectures) is usually asynchronous and can be completed at the student’s chosen pace. More hands-on learning (lab work, externships, etc.) must be scheduled. Sometimes, hybrid programs do require students to travel to campus once per semester or program for labs, tests, or short immersions.
Before detailing veterinary technician programs, it may be useful to explain the difference between a veterinary technician and a veterinary assistant. Going to the human medicine world provides a helpful metaphor. Both vet techs and vet assistants are nurses of the animal world, trained to provide assistance. What makes them different is the level of training and the resultant responsibility that comes from that training.
Vet assistants are like the licensed vocational or practical nurses (LVNs, LPNs) of the vet med world. They undergo relatively fast training (six months to one year) which qualifies them to assist veterinary technicians and perform technical support duties (setting appointments, billing, clipping animal nails, etc.).
Veterinary technicians are the nurses of the veterinary medicine world. They undergo longer training (two years) than assistants, so that they may learn what is necessary to assist veterinarians and provide direct animal patient care (diagnostic imaging, dentistry, anesthesia, etc).
Read on to discover how online vet tech programs work, what to expect from a distance-based program, lists of accredited online vet tech and assisting programs, and details of program accreditation.
Accredited Online Vet Tech Programs
Luckily for prospective veterinary technicians who require a measure of flexibility in their education, there are a number of accredited vet tech programs online. The main accrediting body—the Committee on Veterinary Technician Education and Activities (CVTEA), a branch of the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA)—has provided a list of its approved offerings.
Some typical admissions requirements to these programs include:
- High school transcripts with a competitive GPA
- Access to a webcam-enabled computer with a fast internet connection
- Experience working under a licensed veterinarian
- Letters of recommendation
- Various immunizations
- SAT or ACT scores (generally optional)
Here is a comprehensive breakdown of the ten AVMA-accredited vet tech programs as of June 2021, including associate of applied science (AAS) and associate of science (AS) degrees, offered through distance learning:
Ashworth College, based in Georgia, provides 270 hours of clinical experience for plenty of hands-on practice working with animals. With no scheduled start times, students may enroll anytime and complete the coursework at their own pace, with clinical hours included in each semester. Coursework in the program includes small animal husbandry and restraint, veterinary anatomy and physiology, diagnostic and therapeutic techniques, and veterinary practice management.
Faculty are industry leaders in their fields with extensive experience. Offering in-depth instruction, this is one of the most affordable online veterinary technician programs available. As of May 2020, Ashworth does not have VTNE pass rates available.
Penn Foster College, based in Arizona, offers competitively priced programs at a cost of up to $117 per credit, and zero percent interest pay-plans are available. PFC has partnerships with some of the largest veterinary hospitals in the country—including VCA Animal Hospital, Banfield, and BluePearl—who recognize the quality of an AVMA-CVTEA fully accredited Veterinary Technician program.
PFC has one of the larger accredited online vet tech programs in the country, graduating over 211 students in 2017. PFC also boasted a first-time VTNE-pass rate of 71.4 percent (2018).
Cedar Valley College in Dallas County, Texas—accredited by AVMA in 2001—had a 68 percent first-time VTNE pass rate among its graduates between 2017 and 2020. This school is distinguished by its scholarship opportunities earmarked specifically for its distance students. Part of the curriculum is a ten-hour weekly minimum commitment in an approved veterinary clinic, as well as courses such as surgical preparation and assistance, pharmacology, and equine clinical management.
Finally, students are not required to travel to campus except to attend graduation if they choose. All practical skills are videotaped and then reviewed by a commission to ensure a student’s competency.
Colby Community College of Kansas offers classes at 24 locations in a 14-county service area. This program does not require any campus visits but does offer various weekend mentorships in Colby to teach students about animals that may not be endemic to their areas (e.g., large animal mentorship, laboratory animal and exotic pet mentorship, microbiology mentorship).
This school also offers three convenient start times—January, June, or August—and enjoyed a 80 percent first-time VTNE-pass rate among its graduates between 2017 and 2020.
Jefferson State Community College of Birmingham, Alabama offers a distance-based vet tech program, which has minimal campus visits. Requiring at least 20 hours of work weekly for a licensed Alabama veterinarian in addition to online didactic coursework, Jefferson students are prepared to sit for the VTNE and Alabama State Boards exams to pursue licensure. Notably, 100 percent of students receive job offers after graduation and passing boards.
This school also offers abundant scholarship opportunities to its distance students in order to cover the costs associated with tuition, books, immunizations, uniforms, equipment, and other vet tech expenses. Jefferson State’s first-time VTNE pass rate between 2016 and 2019 was 67 percent.
Medaille College had a VTNE first time pass-rate of 69 percent between 2017 and 2020 for its Rochester AAS program, and an 81 percent first-time pass rate for its Buffalo AS program. As the online program earned accreditation in 2018, VTNE pass rates for the online program are not yet available. In-person clinical experiences are required for online students, and the course for online veterinary technology preparation helps students obtain hands-on clinical experience.
Medaille College’s vet tech professors are all licensed veterinary professionals. The program prepares students to sit for the VTNE and satisfies all requirements to practice as a licensed vet tech in the state of New York.
North Virginia Community College (NOVA) has a part-time online vet tech program which typically requires only two or three Loudoun campus visits per semester. Designed with the working student in mind, coursework is offered through Blackboard and the Extended Learning Institute (ELI) and student success is evaluated through videotapes, product evaluation (e.g., lab work), and mentored task lists, among other tactics.
This three-year program requires students to be employed by a licensed veterinarian for a minimum of 20 hours per week prior to enrollment. NOVA’s first-time VTNE pass rate for online graduates between 2017 and 2020 was 84.6 percent.
Purdue University of Indiana provides a competitive vet tech program comprising 35 didactic courses and 17 clinical mentorship experiences to give a comprehensive overview of the discipline. In addition to the veterinary technology distance learning (VTDL) courses, students are required to pass a number of general education or breadth requirements. With summer, spring, and fall start dates, Purdue has a wealth of support and resources to guide students through the program including an online writing lab, an academic success center, and a number of libraries.
At 95.2 percent between 2017 and 2020, Purdue’s first-time VTNE pass rate is quite high.
St. Petersburg College (SPC) in Florida recently completed an $11 million innovative veterinary technology facility, only one of the amenities available to the on-campus and distance learning students when they come to town. There are two start dates for the program: January and August. Credits from the associate of applied science (AAS) degree can be applied to earning a bachelor’s of applied science (BAS) in veterinary technology—an attractive option to students looking for increased responsibilities or leadership positions.
Between 2017 and 2020, 82 percent of graduates passed the VTNE the first time. Furthermore, between 2012 and 2019, 93 percent of SPC AS degree graduates and 97 percent of BAS degree graduates found jobs in the field, were continuing their education while employed or were serving in the military.
San Juan College in New Mexico enjoyed an impressive 89.8 percent VTNE first-time pass rate among its graduates between 2017 and 2020. San Juan opens its program to applicants in nearly all states who can meet their off-campus clinical instruction (OCCI) and preceptor criteria. Although students aren’t required to travel to campus, they are offered the opportunity to complete “fast track labs” either at facilities near their homes or at the scenic Highlander Ranch in Waco, Texas.
Following the completion of these AVMA-accredited programs, some students choose to pursue additional certification in specialized fields such as animal dentistry, anesthesia, or exotic animal care. The North American Veterinary Technician Association (NAVTA) offers academies for 16 approved specializations.
NAVTA-Accredited Online Veterinary Assisting Programs
Although the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) does not currently have accreditation standards for online veterinary assisting programs, the National Association of Veterinary Technology in America (NAVTA) created a school approval process in 2010.
Additionally, NAVTA designates approved veterinary assistants (AVAs)—an individual, professional title that can be earned by passing a competitive examination. While this designation is not currently required for practice as a veterinary assistant, it can be an indicator to future employers that a candidate meets or exceeds established professional standards. Furthermore, this distinction may become more important in future years as the profession and rules continue to evolve.
These programs are generally open to working veterinary assistants looking to codify their skills. Other application requirements may include school transcripts, proof of immunizations, and access to a webcam-enabled computer with a fast internet connection.
Of the 25 current NAVTA-approved veterinary assistance programs as of June 2021, there are four offered online:
Penn Foster College of Pennsylvania is nationally accredited with a NAVTA-approved Veterinary Assistant online program. In a 2014 study conducted by Penn Foster, they found that 87 percent of veterinary practices are more likely to hire a veterinary assistant who graduated from a NAVTA-approved program. This school also has a sample veterinary assistant lesson online to give prospective students a flavor of what to anticipate during instruction. Students enrolled in this program will need to secure a site for an eight-week externship.
The Animal Behavior College (ABC) in lovely Santa Clarita, California provides an easy-to-follow, 11-stage curriculum for its students inspired by the Association of Veterinary Technician Educators (AVTE). The various faculties taught at ABC include animal restraint, radiology and ultrasound imaging, small animal nursing, pharmacy and pharmacology, office etiquette, and surgical preparation. This program boasts a network of over 4,000 veterinary facilities and is open to residents of all American states as well as Canada.
VetMedTeam’s online program is designed for working veterinary assistants under the guidance of student-chosen clinical mentors—credentialed technicians or veterinarians who are approved in advance by the school. This 35-week program offers rolling admissions so students working at least 20 hours per week in a veterinary setting can enroll at any time. VetMedTeam boasts a 100 percent pass rate for graduates who sit for the AVA.
VetBloom (in partnership with MedCerts) offers a 26-week veterinary assistant that prepares students to sit for the AVA, including paying for the first exam attempt. Students will be taken through a five-module curriculum—one piece of which is an externship at a local veterinary hospital of the student’s choosing. After sitting for the AVA, MedCerts also offers resume and job placement services.
Online Veterinary Program Accreditation
Prior to matriculating at any online veterinary technology or assistant program, it’s important to ensure that it has been accredited or approved by the appropriate agencies.
As mentioned above, for veterinary technology programs, the American Veterinary Medical Association’s Committee on Veterinary Technician Education and Activities (AVMA-CVTEA) is the primary accrediting body. Most states require aspiring vet techs to have graduated from an AVMA-accredited school prior to licensure, certification, or registration.
Furthermore, graduating from one of these programs is a prerequisite to sit for the Veterinary Technician National Examination (VTNE). AVMA employs rigorous criteria to evaluate programs including informational resources, physical facilities, finances, and student outcomes.
For veterinary assistant programs, the program approval process is relatively new, provided by the North American Veterinary Technician Association (NAVTA). The NAVTA guidelines are generally task-oriented and include meeting benchmarks for skills like clerical abilities, sterilization techniques, and examination room procedures.
NAVTA also identifies excellence in specialty training organizations through its Committee on Veterinary Technician Specialties (CVTS). These specialty guidelines are more organizational in nature and take into account how long the organization has been offering the specialization, the consistency of reporting, and the interest of the veterinary world in the specialty.