How to Become a Veterinary Technician

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What is a Veterinary Technician and What Do Vet Techs Do?

A veterinary technician—a trained nurse for animals—carefully opens a sleeping dog’s mouth. She reveals two rows of sharp teeth and starts taking x-rays to show weaknesses where the enamel has worn down over time. She documents her observations from the diagnostic image and prepares the patient file. This veterinary technician specialist (VTS) has been specially trained in canine dentistry and may assist the veterinarian if her patient needs a tooth extracted. This is one of many important roles that a vet tech may assume within a clinic or animal hospital.

Becoming a vet tech can be an excellent option for animal-lovers seeking an accelerated degree program, which is more affordable and less time-consuming than attending veterinary medical school. According to the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), vet techs play a crucial role in veterinary settings by monitoring the health conditions of animal patients; taking diagnostic images with sophisticated equipment; providing veterinarians with surgical, dental, anesthetic, and other types of assistance; restraining animals during routine examinations; processing laboratory samples; liaising with pet-owners; preparing vaccines and serums; maintaining clinic inventory; and ensuring the smooth functioning of the veterinary office.

The professional dedication in this field is reflected in the Veterinary Technician’s Oath, which is quoted here in full from the National Association of Veterinary Technicians in America (NAVTA):

I solemnly dedicate myself to aiding animals and society by providing excellent care and services for animals, by alleviating animal suffering, and by promoting public health.

I accept my obligations to practice my profession conscientiously and with sensitivity, adhering to the profession’s Code of Ethics, and furthering my knowledge and competence through a commitment to lifelong learning.

Read on to discover how to become a veterinary technician, including career outlook, scope of practice, vet tech specializations, salary data, a step-by-step guide to becoming a vet tech, and interviews with vet techs.

Interviews with the Experts: Three Prominent Vet Techs

Be certain that you are taking ownership of your own nursing practice and do not be afraid to pursue what fulfills you the most.

Kenichiro Yagi, NAVTA “Vet Tech of the Year”

Read on to learn about three outstanding vet techs and educators on why they became vet techs, their greatest professional challenges, and their advice for those seeking to join this high-growth, impactful career.

Kenichiro Yagi
Kenichiro Yagi, NAVTA “Vet Tech of the Year” (2018)

Mr. Yagi is a multitalented vet tech specialist who serves as the blood bank manager and ICU supervisor at Adobe Animal Hospital in Los Altos, CA. He holds VTS certifications in emergency and critical care and small animal medicine. He has provided over 700 lectures and workshops, imparting his knowledge to others in his field.

Mr. Yagi has not only has lectured internationally, he also holds prominent leadership positions in NAVTA, the Veterinary Emergency Critical Care Society, and the Academy of Veterinary Emergency and Critical Care Technicians. He received his master’s degree in biomedical sciences, veterinary medicine, and surgery from the University of Missouri in 2016.

What made you decide to become a vet tech?

I actually had not originally planned on becoming a veterinary technician, but it was once I started to work with our patients that I realized how much of a difference I can make on a one-on-one basis for each of the animals in our care. Now I enjoy helping create the best environment and providing the tools for others to serve in this role by being an active lecturer and author.

What are some of the greatest challenges in your profession?

One of the greatest challenges in the profession lies in the fact that we cannot save all of our patients. There are various factors that come into play that lead to an outcome for a patient. We can do our best to prepare ourselves in the ability, knowledge, preparation, teamwork, and diligence to give the patients their best chance and quality of life possible given any situation.

Do you have any advice for aspiring vet techs?

Be certain that you are taking ownership of your own nursing practice and do not be afraid to pursue what fulfills you the most. Whether that means you put yourself in a practice that will utilize you to the fullest or aiming to become a veterinary technician specialist, do what you love to do, and you’ll have a successful career.

Mary Berg
Mary Berg, Professor, Owner and President of Beyond the Crown Veterinary Education, and NAVTA “Vet Tech of the Year”

Ms. Berg received her bachelor’s degree in biology/microbiology from South Dakota State University. She is a charter member of the Academy of Veterinary Dental Technicians and currently serves as treasurer for the organization. She is a professor at Colby Community College. Notably, she’s the recipient of the 2020 NAVTA “Vet Tech of the Year” award.

What does this award mean to you?

This award means so much to me as I have been involved in many aspects of the profession over the years—including research, practice, teaching, and consulting—as well as my involvement with NAVTA, AVMA, and American Association of Veterinary State Boards.

Do you have any advice for aspiring vet techs?

Being a veterinary technician has been a wonderful career and I have loved every minute of it,” she said. “I challenge each veterinary technician to follow your dreams, and don’t be afraid to step outside of your box. Say yes to opportunities; you never know where they will lead you.

Kenichiro Yagi
Sandra Bertholf, Licensed Veterinary Technologist and Instructor

Ms. Bertholf received her bachelor’s of science in veterinary technology with cum laude honors from Mercy College, where she now serves as an associate professor. She teaches courses including the introduction to veterinary science, surgical nursing and radiography, and small animal disease treatment. She’s currently in practice at Animal Medical of New City. She holds a master’s of science in organizational leadership. She states: “I hope to use [the graduate degree] to help promote the profession, as I feel the public still does not understand what vet techs are/do and what an important part of the veterinary team vet techs are.”

What made you decide to become a vet tech?

I decided to become a veterinary technologist because I always had a love for animals and I really enjoy working with my hands, problem-solving and being part of team. Ironically enough, I was enrolled and scheduled to go to college for audio engineering when I realized my passion was really for animals. At the time, I didn’t know there was such a thing as becoming a licensed vet tech. In 1994, I couldn’t do a Google search, as it wasn’t the age of information.

My mother was a nurse and I always admired how she dedicated her life to caring for people. Once I found out there was such a thing in the veterinary field, I jumped at the opportunity. I wanted a career where I could make a difference, not just a job. It was so exciting to know that I would be able to affect the lives of each animal I worked with.

What are some of the greatest challenges in your profession? And how do overcome them?

There are many challenges in this field, but I think some of the greatest ones are preventing compassion fatigue and advancing within the field. I think both of these factors [shorten the typical workspan] of many technicians in clinical practice, which is generally 5-10 years—a startling statistic. To prevent compassion fatigue, I think it’s crucial to recognize that many of our patients have short lifespans, especially when we compare them to our human counterparts in the human medical profession.

Our patients don’t live as long, so we are going to be exposed to more death on a daily basis. I have been able to focus on how I have been able to be a part of improving the lives of my patients. Even during euthanasia, I am thankful that I am able to be a part of the process, ensuring they are treated with love and respect, making it peaceful, loving and pain free. If I can aid in that process, even at the end of their life, I see that as a success, rather than a failure.

I see it as a gift of peace and I have been able to develop a healthy perspective about it, focusing on what I can give in each situation, what I can learn, and how that will help my future patients. I strive to look forward, rather than dwell on the past and what I couldn’t change, and I also celebrate the ways I was able to comfort that animal and the owner of that pet, even in the worst of times.

I know finding opportunities for advancement within the field is cited by many as an issue for vet techs. I have been able to overcome this by always thinking about what other responsibilities I can take on, what additional skills—technical, administrative, and leadership-oriented—I can obtain to be more valuable.

Do you have any advice for aspiring vet techs?

My advice for aspiring veterinary technicians would be to focus on math and science in the years leading up to college, as it is a big part of what we do every day in practice. [These skills] will help them be successful in a vet tech program. Many students cringe at the thought of math, but I encourage my students to recognize what a big part math will play in helping animals, such as alleviating pain, calculating anesthetic dosages and giving life-saving medication.

To me, it’s all about mindset. Once it’s something that is important to you, it changes your view about it. I wasn’t exactly passionate about math in high school, but once I realized how important it was in relation to my ability to help an animal in need, it changed everything. Critical thinking and problem-solving are a big part of our job, and being able to develop these skills will allow you to provide better care for your patients and make you a more valuable team member, allowing you to do wonderful things for these animals who are relying on you for help.

Scope of Practice for Vet Techs

NAVTA (2022) distinguishes between veterinary technicians and vet technologists. Technicians typically have a two-year associate degree, while technologists have a four-year bachelor’s degree and may take on greater responsibilities in a clinic. The scope of practice and laws governing professional credentialing vary widely by state in both fields.

The American Medical Veterinary Association (AMVA 2022) provides a table of regional restrictions on authorized procedures. For example, 32 states allow non-veterinarians to perform equine dentistry. Other states do not allow vet techs to fulfill this function. Most states require their vet techs to secure state licensure, certification, or registration, while others do not regulate professional credentialing.

Please visit the AVMA list of veterinary state board websites for each state’s scope of practice details.

Schools By State

How to Become a Veterinary Technician

State and specialty requirements vary by state and specialty. Different regional laws define the scope of practice in this field. For example, New Jersey does not require their vet techs to be professionally credentialed. Other states, such as Indiana and Tennessee, require these animal healthcare workers to be licensed and registered.

For areas requiring professional certification, registration, or licensure, the requirements typically involve completing two to four years of postsecondary education at an approved institution, paying an application fee, and maintaining the credential through completing continuing education (CE) hours.

Here’s a step-by-step guide to becoming a vet tech:

Step 1: Graduate from high school or earn a GED.
In addition to a love of animals and empathy, vet techs typically have strong backgrounds in science with high marks in classes such as biology, physiology (if offered), and chemistry. Due to the hands-on lab work involved in many vet tech positions, students must be comfortable handing sensitive scientific instruments, conducting tests, and interpreting results. Some people at this stage may find it helpful to volunteer in animal clinics, shelters, or other facilities handling furry, feathered, or scaly-skinned patients.

Step 2: Complete an accredited degree program in veterinary technology or animal science (2-4 years). Regardless of one’s state of residence, it’s advisable to seek out an associate or bachelor’s program accredited by the Committee on Veterinary Technician Education and Activities (CVTEA), a branch of the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA). The CVTEA evaluates a program’s comprehensiveness of curricula, student outcomes, quality of facilities, finances, and admissions processes.

Admissions committees at CVTEA-accredited programs generally call for official high school transcripts (with coursework specified above); official test scores (SAT or ACT, and TOEFL for non-native speakers of English); undergoing a background check; providing proof of immunizations and health insurance; and paying an application fee. Some more competitive programs may call for veterinary experience, letters of recommendation, or candidate interviews.

Typical courses in these veterinary technology programs include:

  • Anatomy & physiology
  • Anesthesia
  • Animal dentistry
  • Animal nursing
  • Clinical toxicology
  • Diagnostic imaging
  • Mammalian anatomy & physiology
  • Microbiology
  • Parasitology
  • Pathology
  • Pharmacology
  • Research methods
  • Veterinary clinic management
  • Veterinary medical calculations
  • 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. Please verify regional requirements with local boards, a list of which is provided by the American Association of Veterinary State Boards (AAVB 2022).

Step 3: Pass the Veterinary Technician National Examination (timeline and state requirements vary). This test—commonly referred to as the VTNE—is offered by the American Association of Veterinary State Boards (AAVSB). The VTNE is a typical requirement for licensure, certification, or registration as a vet tech in most U.S. states. In addition, as a proxy for program quality, national law mandates that schools must disclose their three-year, VTNE first-time passing rate among program graduates. Therefore, prospective students are encouraged to check out their program’s pass rate on this exam to verify that past students have met national standards.

The cost of the VTNE exam is $330. It is offered annually for three months and tests candidates’ knowledge in nine distinct domains: pharmacy & pharmacology; surgical nursing; dentistry; laboratory procedures; animal care and nursing; diagnostic imaging; anesthesia; emergency medicine; and pain management.

Step 4: Apply for state credentialing (timeline and state requirements vary). As mentioned above, vet tech credentialing standards vary by state, but typically involve sending official transcripts from a CVTEA-accredited program, submitting VTNE scores, and paying an application fee. Some states, such as Washington, also require a state examination as part of their credentialing process. Others ask for official proof of American citizenship, passport photos, or a background check.

States also vary by the nomenclature of their credentialing in the profession, whether it be registered veterinary technician (RVT), certified veterinary technician (CVT), or licensed veterinary technician (LVT). For more information on the professional credentialing process, please reference the section below or individual state program pages.

Step 5: Renew credential and complete continuing education (CE) requirements (timeline and state requirements vary). Vet techs must maintain their professional licensure, registration, or certification by completing CE hours. These can be fulfilled through qualified conferences, publications, presentations, online coursework, and other methods. The types of approved CE vary by region. A list of every state’s credentialing requirements, agencies, and a list of vet tech CE resources are included in the sections below.

Veterinary Technician Licensure & Certification

The National Association of Veterinary Technicians in America (NAVTA) prefers the term “credentialed veterinary technician” to cover all options to minimize confusion among state-based licensure, certification, and registration processes for vet techs. While not all states require vet techs to become credentialed, it may be advisable to enhance one’s job candidacy, earning potential, and opportunities for career enhancement & specialization.

Please see the veterinary state board websites for specific information about state-based requirements, credentialing entities, and continuing education (CE) requirements.

The typical requirements for becoming a credentialed vet tech include:

  • Submitting proof of having graduated from a program accredited by the Committee on Veterinary Technician Education and Activities (CVTEA), the program-approval body established by the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA)
  • Passing the Veterinary Technician National Examination (VTNE)
  • Paying an application fee

Some of the competencies tested on the VTNE, a $330 exam given during three-month-long windows per year, include:

  • Nine Domains
  • 70 Task Area Statements
  • 49 Knowledge Area Statements

The nine domains—primary areas of responsibility— are:

  • Pharmacy and Pharmacology
  • Surgical Nursing
  • Dentistry
  • Laboratory Procedures
  • Animal Care and Nursing
  • Diagnostic Imaging
  • Anesthesia
  • Emergency Medicine (Critical Care)
  • Pain Management (Analgesia)

Finally, veterinary medical boards and other credentialing entities require vet techs to complete CE hours. To maintain active credentials, here are some resources for vet tech CE hours:

  • Colorado State University Continuing Education
  • Maryland Veterinary Technician Association
  • National Association of Veterinary Technicians in America (NAVTA)
  • Ohio State University Continuing Education
  • VetBloom
  • Veterinary Support Personnel Network (VSPN)
  • VETgirl
  • VetMed Team

Veterinary Technician Salary

Not surprisingly, salaries for veterinary technicians tend to vary by geographic region, industry, specialty, and experience. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS May 2021), a Department of Labor affiliate, shows that the 118,670 vet techs employed nationwide made an annual average salary of $38,250. In granular terms, vet techs had the following wage percentiles:

  • 10th percentile: $28,370
  • 25th percentile: $29,810
  • 50th percentile (median): $36,850
  • 75th percentile: $45,750
  • 90th percentile: $48,100

As a basis of comparison, Payscale (2022)—a prominent aggregator of self-reported salary data in popular occupations—found similar salary ranges among its 2,695 responding vet techs:

  • 10th percentile: $28,000
  • 50th percentile (median): $39,000
  • 90th percentile: $55,000

Vet Tech Salary by Region

Before delving into a regional examination of vet tech salaries, it’s important to note that while some areas offer more attractive compensation, they may also incur a higher cost of living. As proof of this point, the Missouri Economic Research and Information Center (MERIC) provides a list of states by affordability and comparative indexes for housing costs, utilities, groceries, transportation, and health.

For example, in June 2022, the five states with the lowest cost of living were Mississippi, Kansas, Alabama, Oklahoma, and Georgia. Conversely, the most expensive states to live in were Hawaii, the District of Columbia, New York, California, and Massachusetts.

To illustrate this point, the five top-paying states are also in MERIC’s top ten list of most expensive states to live in, paying the highest annual salaries to vet techs (BLS May 2021):

  • District of Columbia: $68,110 per year
  • Washington: $47,550
  • New York: $45,560
  • California: $45,140
  • Connecticut: $44,380

In a stroke of luck for Californians and New Yorkers, these two are the top-paying states, but they’re also top-employing states, a factor that correlates roughly with population size. Here are the top-employing regions for vet techs (BLS May 2021):

  • Texas: 13,910 vet techs employed
  • California: 9,350
  • Florida: 8,580
  • Pennsylvania: 5,370
  • New York: 5,100

What about metropolitan regions? For specific zip codes, PayScale (2022) can offer salary estimates. The BLS (May 2021) shows the metropolitan areas with the highest levels of compensation are concentrated on the west coast:

  • San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara, CA: $57,990 average annual salary
  • San Francisco-Oakland-Hayward, CA: $52,220
  • Santa Cruz-Watsonville, CA: $51,340
  • Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue, WA: $49,920
  • Santa Rosa, CA: $48,320

Finally, the top-employing metro areas for vet techs—those which may offer the most opportunities—were scattered all over the country (BLS May 2021):

  • New York-Newark-Jersey City, NY, NJ, PA: 5,030 vet techs employed
  • Dallas-Fort Worth-Arlington, TX: 3,890
  • Chicago-Naperville-Elgin, IL, IN, WI: 3,260
  • Houston-The Woodlands-Sugar Land, TX: 3,180
  • Los Angeles-Long Beach-Anaheim, CA: 2,990

Vet Tech Salary by Industry

According to the latest BLS (May 2021) data, veterinary technician salaries vary by employment industry. For example, vet techs looking for the most lucrative positions are encouraged to seek jobs in the pharmaceutical industry. Interestingly, three of the five top-paying sectors were related to the government, while most vet techs work in colleges and universities (e.g., veterinary hospitals). Here are the top-paying industries for vet techs listed with the number of vet techs employed nationally and average annual salaries:

  • Pharmaceutical and Medicine Manufacturing (140 vet techs employed nationally): $64,720
  • Scientific Research and Development Services (1,010 employed): $56,450
  • Federal Executive Branch (510 employed): $55,990
  • Local Government (610 employed): $45,470
  • Colleges, Universities, and Professional Schools: (2,990 employed): $45,310

And here are the top employers of vet techs nationwide listed with their annual average salaries (BLS May 2021):

  • Other Professional, Scientific, and Technical Services (109,620 vet techs employed): $37,720
  • Colleges, Universities, and Professional Schools (2,990 employed): $45,310
  • Social Advocacy Organizations (1,850 employed): $36,390
  • Other Personal Services (1,020 employed): $38,470
  • Scientific Research and Development Services (1,010 employed): $56,450

Vet Tech Salary by Experience and Specialty

Like most occupations, vet tech salaries may also vary by years of experience. Here are veterinary technicians’ median annual salaries according to different experience levels, based on 2,695 salaries (PayScale 2022):

  • Entry-level (less than one year): $27,518
  • Early career (1-4 years): $29,952
  • Mid-career (5-9 years) (median): $33,897
  • Late-career (10-19 years): $36,566
  • Experienced (20 or more years): $38,334

Finally, although salaries also vary by specialization, the BLS does not provide this data. Furthermore, sample sizes on Payscale (2022) or Salary.com (2022) are too small to make definitive conclusions. However, as in many professions, there is a general correlation between specialized, in-depth skills (e.g., anesthesia, dentistry, clinical pathology) as a veterinary technician and one’s ability to secure employment and command higher salaries.

Veterinary Technician Career Outlook

Luckily for veterinary technicians nationwide, there is expected to be an explosion in job openings in the coming years. By illustration, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS 2021) predicts that vet tech positions will swell 15 percent nationally between 2020 and 2030, much faster than the growth anticipated for all professions during that time frame (8 percent). As a result, the projected addition of 17,100 vet tech jobs nationwide will boost the employment landscape in this field in the future.

Vet techs are employed across various environments, including private clinics, wildlife preserves, veterinary hospitals, pharmaceutical companies, aquariums, laboratories, animal sanctuaries, kennels, biomedical research facilities, zoos, and farms. The skill-set and training necessary generally varies by the work environment, and similar to hospitals treating humans, some clinics may operate 24 hours per day for emergencies. Therefore, a vet tech career can be demanding, requiring a significant time commitment, with some of these dedicated animal care specialists working evenings, weekends, and holidays.

In addition to the usual job-hunting websites such as Monster, CareerBuilder, Indeed, and Glassdoor, the National Association of Veterinary Technicians in America (NAVTA) maintains an active board for job postings with varied opportunities across the country at facilities such as the Heritage Animal Hospital (Hilton Head Island, SC), Elko Veterinary Clinic (Nevada), Tufts University (Massachusetts), Foothill-De Anza Community College (California), and the Setauket Animal Hospital (New York).

Veterinary Technician Specialty Areas

To enhance one’s employment and earning prospects, aspiring vet techs may choose to pursue a specialty. These subfields of veterinary science allow animal healthcare workers to deepen their knowledge and skills in an in-demand area. Some of the most popular fields have been recognized by the National Association of Veterinary Technicians in America (NAVTA) has identified several societies and academies in specialized vet tech fields, such as:

  • Anesthesia & analgesia
  • Critical care
  • Surgery
  • Clinical pathology
  • Animal behavior & psychology
  • Dentistry
  • Dermatology
  • Nutrition
  • Equine nursing
  • Zoological medicine
  • Laboratory animals
  • Rehabilitation

One of the trends contributing to this increased demand is a growing awareness of animal health. It’s only in recent years that fields such as animal psychology or veterinary nutrition have become concerns for pet-owners and animal-lovers alike. As people have more access to advanced animal care, veterinary technicians who have specialty designations may have an advantage in the job market. Specialties such as veterinary anesthesia, veterinary dentistry, and animal radiology may allow students to advance quickly as the demand for targeted care rises concurrently with people’s awareness of animal health concerns.

Keep reading for a detailed look at the steps to joining various animal healthcare professions—including veterinary medicine and vet tech subfields such as anesthesiology, dentistry, radiology, and animal psychology.

Veterinary Technician (Vet Tech) Specialties

There are several specialty paths available to vet techs. The National Association of Veterinary Technicians in America (NAVTA) recognizes vet tech specialties, including those listed below.

Read on for a list of specialty fields for vet techs to pursue.

Veterinary Technologist

According to the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA 2022), the main difference between vet technicians and vet technologists is the years of schooling. Technicians typically have completed a two-year associate degree, whereas technologists have a four-year bachelor’s degree. As a result of these additional two years of education, technologists may qualify for higher pay or increased responsibilities in laboratory and clinical environments.

Avian Veterinary Technician

Avian vet techs specialize in the research and medical care of bird species. While there is currently no NAVTA-approved academy that provides credentialing in this area, the Association of Avian Veterinarians (AAV) offers information about job opportunities in this area. For more information about training in the avian subfield, please visit the avian vet tech programs page.

Laboratory Animal Technician or Technologist

These specialists provide husbandry, sanitation, and basic technical procedures for animals in research facilities. The American Association for Laboratory Animal Science (AALAS) has three certifications: assistant laboratory animal technician (ALAT), laboratory animal technician (LAT), and laboratory animal technologist (LATG).

To qualify, aspiring lab animal techs must pass an exam and fulfill educational and experience-based requirements, which vary by level. While certification is not mandatory in this subfield, it may enhance one’s resume and employment candidacy. Also, the Society of Laboratory Animal Veterinary Technicians (SLAVT) offers professional, student, and associate memberships, providing members with CE opportunities, job postings, and networking.

Veterinary Radiology Technician

Veterinary radiology techs help diagnose internal injuries using advanced radiology equipment such as x-ray, computed tomography (CT), nuclear imaging, digital fluoroscopy, and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) machines. In addition, NAVTA offers the Veterinary Technician Specialists – Diagnostic Imaging (VTS-DI) certification, which lasts for five years.

Marine and Aquatic Veterinary Technician

Marine and aquatic vet technicians treat injury and disease in animals who live in water. Unfortunately, there is no formal credentialing entity in this area, although there are outstanding aquatic veterinary programs and excellent marine veterinary professors across the country. The International Association for Aquatic Animal Medicine (IAAAM) provides global resources for learning more about this specialty.

Veterinarian

For some vet techs, their ultimate goal is to become a veterinarian. This career typically requires a total of eight years of postsecondary schooling. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS 2021) reports that veterinarians must earn a doctorate of veterinary medicine (i.e., VMD or DVM) and pass the North American Veterinary Licensing Examination (NAVLE), in addition to taking the relevant state licensure exam.

Veterinarians may choose an advanced specialization, 46 of which are recognized by the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA). These include toxicology, dermatology, surgery, nutrition, neurology, preventative medicine, microbiology, and virology. The specialty certification requirements vary by specialty.

Veterinary Technician Specialists – VTS Certification

In addition to location and years of experience, obtaining a specialized VTS certification is one way to increase earning potential in this field.

The National Association of Veterinary Technicians in America (NAVTA) provides 12 VTS specialties to further enhance a candidate’s earning and career advancement potential. Vet tech specialists (VTS) possess a deeper medical understanding of a particular species or field of care. In some cases, an area of specialization may lead to a higher-paying position.

Please note that to be credentialed by a NAVTA specialty academy, candidates must typically submit the following:

  • An application (including a resume and a processing fee)
  • Copy of official licensure, registration, or certification as a vet tech in their state
  • Proof of 1,000-10,000 hours of experience in the specialty area
  • Verifiable hours of continuing education (CE)
  • Letter(s) of recommendation
  • A skills assessment (typically signed by a supervising vet)
  • A portfolio of case logs and detailed case studies
  • Pass an exam

Here is a list of the 12 veterinary technician specialists (VTS) certification requirements.

1. Veterinary Anesthesia & Analgesia Technicians – VTS

Veterinary anesthesia techs help provide pain management during animal surgical procedures. These specialists are credentialed by the Academy of Veterinary Technicians in Anesthesia and Analgesia (AVTAA) after accumulating 6,000 hours in administering anesthesia; completing at least 50 case logs; writing four in-depth reports; submitting 40 hours of continuing education (CE); and passing an exam.

2. Veterinary Behavior Technicians – VTS

Animal behavior technicians perform research and assist animals in overcoming common behavioral (and psychological) issues. After accumulating 10,000 hours of verified experience in this field, they may be eligible for recognition by the Academy of Veterinary Behavior Technicians (ABVT). Included as part of the application process, aspiring vet behavior techs must also send their CV; proof of membership in the National Association of Veterinary Technicians in America (NAVTA) and the Society of Veterinary Behavior Technicians (SVBT); two letters of recommendation; a skills assessment form; proof of 40 hours of CE; a case log with 40 patients; and five in-depth case reports. Also, they must publish a peer-reviewed article.

For more information about this field, please visit the following pages: veterinary psychologists and animal behavior programs, how to become an animal psychologist, and top 15 animal behavior professors.

3. Veterinary Clinical Pathology Technicians – VTS

These specialists have targeted training in collecting and analyzing biological samples such as bodily fluids to diagnose health conditions. The Academy of Veterinary Clinical Pathology Technicians (AVCPT) offers credentials to applicants who complete 4,000 hours of relevant experience; 40 hours of CE; a skills assessment; a case log with 50-75 patients; and three detailed case reports. Additionally, applicants must submit two letters of recommendation and pass a comprehensive exam to become members.

4. Veterinary Clinical Practice Technicians – VTS

Veterinary clinical practice technicians have targeted skills working in an animal healthcare clinical setting, typically with a specific species. The Academy of Veterinary Technicians in Clinical Practice (AVTCP) offers three specialized VTS credentials in this area: small animal, exotic companion animal, or production medicine.

To qualify, candidates must provide proof of state vet tech credentialing; have 10,000 hours of experience (with 75 percent in chosen specialty); complete 40 hours of CE; submit a skills assessment & knowledge list; provide five completed examination questions; send a case log with at least 50 cases & four case reports; get one letter of recommendation; and pay an application fee. The annual exam gauges candidates’ knowledge in anesthesia & analgesia, behavior, general medicine, imaging, and surgical nursing.

5. Veterinary Dental Technicians – VTS

Veterinary dental techs help veterinarians in animal dental hygiene and surgical procedures. The Academy of Veterinary Dental Technicians (AVDT) provides a credentialing process in this field. To qualify, candidates must have 4,000 hours (i.e., three years) of experience as a vet tech (including 3,000 hours in vet dentistry); establish a VTS (Dentistry) mentor who can sign off on completed requirements; complete specialty training (25 hours in wet lab, 15 hours in advanced dental procedures); submit two case logs; complete two intra-oral radiological scans (one dog, one cat); fulfill equipment and reading list requirements; and pass a three-part exam.

Please visit our Vet Dental Professors page for information on some of the most talented instructors in this field.

6. Dermatology Veterinary Technicians – VTS

These animal skin specialists comprise one of the newest specialties for vet techs. The Academy of Dermatology Veterinary Technicians (ADVT) offers a VTS specialization. Applicants must apply with a $25 non-refundable fee, complete personal information, and work experience form due annually on August 1st. From this moment, candidates have three years to submit credentials and take an exam offered annually. In 2022 the exam will take place in New Orleans, and the 2023 location is to be determined.

7. Veterinary Emergency & Critical Care Technicians – VTS

Veterinary emergency & critical care (ECC) technicians are trained to assist veterinarians with acute, critical care, and emergencies with animals. The Academy of Veterinary Emergency and Critical Care Technicians and Nurses (AVECCTN) credentials these specialists. To qualify, aspiring VTS(ECC) must have NAVTA membership; submit a copy of current vet tech license, registration, or certification in their state of practice; provide proof of having worked a minimum 5,760 hours in ECC; complete 25 hours of relevant CE; send 50 case logs & four case reports; get two letters of recommendation; complete a skills checklist; and pass an exam.

8. Equine Veterinary Nursing Technicians – VTS

Equine vet techs provide horses with surgical assistance, tooth floating, vaccinations, and midwifery. The Academy of Equine Veterinary Nursing Technicians (AEVNT) requires prospective members to submit a letter of intent; a resume; proof of state vet tech credential; at least 50 case logs; five detailed case reports; two letters of recommendation; a skills checklist; a CE form; and an application fee. Additionally, applicants must pass a comprehensive exam to earn the VTS-EVN (equine veterinary nursing) credential.

9. Internal Medicine Veterinary Technicians – VTS

These specialists are experts in non-surgical diseases and conditions in animals. The Academy of Internal Medicine for Veterinary Technicians (AIMVT) credentials applicants following the submission of a state vet tech license, certification, or registration; a CV; proof of 40 RACE-approved CE hours; a skills form; a knowledge checklist; a case log form; four detailed case reports; two letters of recommendation; three electronically completed potential exam questions; and an application fee. Applicants must also pass an exam with five major domains: oncology, small animal medicine, large animal medicine, neurology, and cardiology.

10. Veterinary Nutrition Technicians – VTS

Veterinary nutrition techs are experts in animal nutrition and educate others on feeding and exercise routines. The main credentialing entity in this field is the Academy of Veterinary Nutrition Techs, which requires candidates to show proof of state vet tech credentialing; have at least 4,000 hours of relevant experience; complete 40 hours of qualifying CE; and provide evidence of advanced competence through case logs, in-depth case reports, and letters of recommendation. Vet techs can complete this VTS specialty in either clinical or research areas.

11. Veterinary Surgical Technicians – VTS

Veterinary surgical technicians—the group requiring the most rigorous training—must have 10,000 hours (i.e., five years) of experience as a vet tech before seeking credentialing through the Academy of Veterinary Surgical Technicians (AVST). At least 6,000 of these hours must have been in a surgical environment, with 4,500 dedicated exclusively to performing surgical duties. Additional application requirements include 40 hours of CE; a skills form; a case log of at least 50 cases; four detailed case reports; two letters of recommendation; and passing an exam.

12. Veterinary Zoological Medicine Technicians – VTS

Veterinary zoological medicine technicians provide healthcare services (e.g., phlebotomy, pharmacology, emergency care, diagnostic imaging, etc.) for exotic animals. Many hands-on exotic animal vet tech programs across the US may qualify candidates to work in zoos, animal sanctuaries, park services, research centers, and wildlife refuges. The Academy of Veterinary Zoological Medical Technicians (AVZMT)—the leading credentialing organization in this subfield, requires candidates to work at least 10,000 hours in zoological medicine. Additionally, applicants must submit a CV; proof of 40 hours of CE; 13 advanced skills checklists; 40 case logs; and five detailed case reports. Finally, they must pass an exam offered annually.

Jocelyn Blore (Chief Content Strategist)

After graduating from UC Berkeley, Jocelyn traveled the world for five years as an English teacher and freelance writer. After stints in England, Japan, and Brazil, she settled in San Francisco and worked as a managing editor for a tech company. When not writing about veterinary technology, nursing, engineering, and other career fields, she satirizes global politics and other absurdities at Blore’s Razor.