Montana is synonymous with natural beauty. Home to expansive wilderness including Glacier National Park as well as hardworking ranchers, Big Sky Country has a special relationship with its animals. Becoming a veterinary technician in the 4th largest state in the U.S. is no easy task, but with the right education, it is possible to find a rewarding career as a vet tech in Montana. In fact, Dr. Rick Scherr, chairman for the Montana Veterinary Medical Association’s Vet Tech Board has noted that due to a shortage of local vet techs, he has traveled as far as Denver to recruit for positions at his clinic. Clearly the demand for new, trained vet techs is strong.
There are no explicit requirements for veterinary technicians in Montana to become certified. Those vet techs who do want to be certified will need to earn a degree from a program that is accredited by the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) and to pass the Veterinary Technician National Exam (VTNE). The tricky part of becoming certified in Montana is that there are no AVMA-accredited vet tech programs in Montana. That means in order to become a certified vet tech in Montana, students will actually need to attend a school in another state.
Those vet techs who are willing to pursue a non-accredited education have a few options in Montana and can begin their education and start down the path towards a non-certified vet tech career.
How to Become a Vet Tech in Montana
There is not a single path towards becoming a veterinary technician, but there are a few things that must be accomplished before vet techs are likely to find a job. The most common path is as follows:
Step 1: Graduate High School – Duration: 4 years – An aspiring veterinary technician would be hard pressed to find a job without a high school diploma or GED, and it is a prerequisite for applying to vet tech undergraduate programs. In high school, students should be sure to focus on relevant subjects including natural sciences such as biology and chemistry. High school students may also find volunteering at a local animal shelter to be a good way to gain some relevant experience.
Step 2: Complete Vet Tech Program – Duration: 2 years – Veterinary technician programs generally take just two years to complete and result in an Associate of Science degree. Vet techs for whom certification is important must select a vet tech program that has been accredited by the AVMA.
Step 3: Take VTNE – The Veterinary Technician National Exam is another certification prerequisite. You must graduate from an AVMA-accredited program in order to qualify for the VTNE exam. The exam is offered by the American Association of Veterinary State Boards and currently has an associated fee of $310. Vet techs can take the exam during any of 3 windows throughout the year.
Step 4: Apply for Certification in Montana – Certification for vet techs is not offered through a national organization. Techs who have successfully completed the VTNE must apply for certification in Montana through the Big Sky Veterinary Technician Association (BSVTA).
Step 5: Renew License – Certified vet techs must renew their certification every other year. 16 hours of approved continuing education credits are required upon renewal. In Montana, continuing education hours can consist of meeting, magazines, and online courses that are approved by AVMA, MVMA, AHHA, and RACE approved. Only 4 hours can be from alternative continuing education such as online or magazine courses.
Strong Demand for Vet Techs in Montana
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Montana currently employs 410 veterinary technicians (BLS, 2015). These vet techs work in private veterinary practice, animal shelters, and other local establishments. The same data shows that in the U.S., the demand for vet techs is expected to grow by 19% from 2014 to 2024, making it a much faster-growing occupation that the average for all occupations. In Montana specifically, things look even brighter. According to CareerOneStop, a government site which sources its data from the BLS, demand for vet techs in Montana is expected to grow by 39% from 2012 to 2022, which means an additional 170 jobs for vet techs during that span.
Because the population of Montana is not concentrated in large cities, the jobs for vet techs are also quite spread out. Following is a regional breakdown of where the most vet techs in Big Sky Country are employed:
- West Montana nonmetropolitan area: 100
- Southwest Montana nonmetropolitan area: 100
- Billings: 90
- Missoula: 60
- Great Falls: 40
In the fourth biggest state in the U.S., a region that encompasses “West Montana” is huge so vet techs should be prepared to move or travel far to get to the available jobs in the nonmetropolitan regions.
Of course, the region where a vet tech is employed can also influence the salary they can expect. A breakdown of average annual salaries around Montana looks like the following:
- West Montana nonmetropolitan area: $28,540
- Southwest Montana nonmetropolitan area: $28,070
- Billings: $41,860
- Missoula: $24,790
- Great Falls: $27,990
As you can see, salaries vary widely and the state capital of Billings is by far the highest paying area for vet techs.
Averaging salaries across the state, median pay for vet techs is lower than it is for all state in the U.S. The Montana salaries are as follows:
- 10th percentile: $21,630
- 50th percentile: $28,890
- 90th percentile: $39,220
In the U.S., vet tech salaries are as follows:
- 10th percentile: $21,890
- 50th percentile: $31,800
- 90th percentile: $47,410
National groups like the National Association of Veterinary Technicians of America (NAVTA) and local organizations such as the BSVTA offer great opportunities for vet techs to find out about training opportunities, network with other vet techs and otherwise establish a sense of community within the profession. The BSVTA site offers information on continuing education opportunities, but also has employment opportunities list on the site, which can be an asset for those techs looking for work.
|Veterinary Career||Montana Jobs||Salary Data (BLS, 2014)|
|Low Salary (10th %ile)||Average Salary (Median)||High Salary (90th %ile)|
Vet Tech Schools in Montana
As mentioned above, as of 2016 there are no vet tech schools in Montana with campuses that have AVMA accreditation. However, because there is also no vet tech certification strictly required in the state, it is possible for vet techs to graduate from a non-accredited program and still find employment.
One such program is quite new. In 2015, Pima Medical Institute in association with Montana Western University, began offering a veterinary technician associate degree program at a campus in Dillon, Montana. Because the on-campus program has not yet earned its AVMA accreditation, graduates will not be eligible for the VTNE, but may still be able to find positions due to a shortage of local vet techs.
For vet techs who wish to pursue an AVMA-accredited education within the state of Montana, it is possible to participate in distance learning through an online program, such as those that follow.
Most students may have heard of Purdue University in Indiana, but may not have known that the school offers an online vet tech program. The program has full AVMA accreditation and students who graduate receive an associate of science degree. The program includes a range of animal care courses and subjects, such as:
- Animal care
- Pre and post surgical care
Penn Foster is another option for online vet tech learning. The school has full AVMA accreditation, and offers an associate of science degree for aspiring veterinary technicians. Students in the vet tech program take courses in many different subjects, and learn how to do many things, such as:
- Administer medications or anesthesia
- Collect lab samples
- Prepare animals for surgery
- Provide first aid
- Record case histories
A third online option is San Juan College. Like the two preceding schools, it has AVMA accreditation, and offers an associate of applied science degree through online learning. Students learn about everything from animal anatomy to surgical assisting.
Students should check to see what types of clinical training online programs offer. Some programs can connect the students with shelters, clinics, and other locations so that students can complete the practical portions of their schooling via externship.
Accreditation and Certification for Vet Techs in Montana
There are no requirements for vet techs in Montana to become certified. Those that choose to do so must apply through the BSVTA and must meet at least one of the following requirements:
- You must have graduated from an American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) accredited program and must have passed the Veterinary Technician National Examination (VTNE).
- You must have worked consecutively in the capacity of a veterinary technician for five or more years, and must have passed the VTNE by December 31, 2006.
- Reciprocity is granted for technicians currently registered, licensed, or certified in another state.
AVMA accreditation means that a vet tech program meets the standards of the AVMA in terms of faculty, facilities, and curriculum. As vet tech education expands in Montana, it is likely that a local vet tech program will earn accreditation in the near future, but as of now there are no accredited programs in the state.
|Vet Techs Must Be Licensed to Practice||Licensed Vet Techs Are Called||Licensing Requirements||Additional Resources|
|Graduate from an AVMA-Accredited Program||Pass the VTNE||Additional Requirements|
|No||CVT||No||Yes||Montana does not require its veterinary technicians to become certified with the Big Sky Veterinary Technician Association. At least two years of education in a vet tech program is generally a requirement for most employers. Taking the VTNE upon graduation may still be advisable for those candidates interested in being employable in other states.||Montana Veterinary Medical Association|