Emergency & Critical Care Vet Tech - Programs, Certification & Salary

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People head to an emergency vet clinic when a life-threatening pet health crisis hits. After-hours vet clinics provide animal healthcare outside of traditional primary care veterinary clinics. Emergency and critical care vet techs are an important part of veterinary medical teams, providing vital support to veterinarians in emergency veterinarian clinics, and helping to stabilize and treat sick and injured animals.

Emergency and critical care vet techs are specially trained to provide care for animals and pet owners in life-threatening situations. Once a vet tech has completed an accredited program and passed a board exam, they are on their way to pursuing a rewarding career in emergency and critical care veterinary medicine.

Survey data from IndeVets showed that in 2020, veterinary ER clinics saw a 10 to 12 percent increase in clinic patients, bringing in 25 to 30 percent more revenue than in previous years. The US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS 2022) confirms this, showing that veterinary technologist and technician positions are poised to grow 20 percent nationally from 2021 to 2031.

While responsibilities in emergency vet clinics are high, so are the rewards. In fact, according to self-reported responses from Payscale.com (2022), 284 vet techs rank their jobs as highly satisfying. Those with a passion for helping animals and calm-under-pressure personalities should consider a career as an emergency and critical care vet tech to play a vital role in the health and well-being of peoples’ furry, finned, and feathered friends.

Read on to learn more about pursuing a challenging and rewarding specialized career as an emergency and critical care vet tech, including a step-by-step guide, career outlook, and salary data.

Requirements to Become an Emergency & Critical Care Vet Tech

Emergency and critical care vet techs work closely with veterinarians to provide direct patient care, including emergency and urgent care. Certain situations require emergency and critical care vet techs to think quickly and act decisively to save the lives of their patients.

While a two- or four-year degree, board certification, work experience, and licensure are firm requirements, other skills necessary to become a successful emergency and critical care vet tech include:

  • Ability to work under pressure
  • Able to listen well and take instruction from veterinarians and teams
  • Administering and monitoring anesthesia
  • Attentive to processes and details
  • Compassionate communication skills when interacting with stressed-out animal owners
  • Hand-eye coordination
  • Patience with animals who are sick or in pain
  • Physical strength (in the case of caring for large dogs or livestock)
  • Prepping surgical spaces adequately

If you’re interested in pursuing a career in emergency animal medicine, there are several accredited veterinary technician programs to choose from. Keep reading for a step-by-step guide to becoming an emergency and critical care vet tech.

Steps to Becoming an Emergency & Critical Care Vet Tech

While there is some variance, most vet techs pursue common educational, experience, and licensure career pathways.

Step 1: Graduate from High School (Four Years)

Earning a high school diploma or GED equivalent is a key stepping stone for many rewarding careers. Some emergency and critical care vet tech positions may not require postsecondary education, but the most common pathway involves earning a two-year associate’s degree and earning a professional license.

High school students interested in vet tech careers should do their best to prepare for college-level coursework by taking as many math and science courses as possible. In addition, pursuing an internship or involvement in extracurricular groups such as 4-H or Future Farmers of America (FFA) provides real-world experience and sets students apart on admissions and scholarship applications.

Step 2: Enroll in an AVMA-Accredited Vet Tech Program (Two to Four Years)

Emergency and critical care vet techs must complete an accredited veterinary technician program, which typically takes two years. Veterinary technician programs typically award two-year associate’s degrees, while veterinary technologist programs confer four-year bachelor’s degrees.

To qualify for licensure, aspiring vet techs must enroll in a degree program accredited by the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA). Here are AVMA-accredited programs offering two- and four-year vet tech degrees:

Penn Foster College offers an online veterinary technician associate’s degree program. This self-paced course features visual learning and interactive assessments through its online learning platform.

Students in this 73-credit program are prepared to sit for the veterinary technician national exam (VTNE). This program features two externships providing clinical experience in four semesters. Coursework covers animal anatomy and physiology, pharmacology for veterinary technicians, and small and large animal medicine.

  • Location: Scranton, PA
  • Duration: Nine to 24 months
  • Accreditation: American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA)
  • Tuition: $85 per credit

St. Petersburg College offers an on-campus veterinary technician associate degree program that students can complete in two years and a four-year online bachelor’s degree in veterinary technology.

This program teaches hands-on vet tech skills in a 32,000 square feet state-of-the-art LEED-certified facility. Between 2012 and 2019, 93 to 97 percent of graduates from this program were employed or advancing their studies.

  • Location: St. Petersburg, FL
  • Duration: Two to four years
  • Accreditation: American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA)
  • Tuition: $123 per credit (residents); $426 per credit (non-residents)

The College of Veterinary Medicine at Mississippi State University offers a four-year veterinary medical technology program. This on-campus program is one of 22 four-year veterinary medicine programs in the country and allows students to specialize in energy and critical care.

Students in this program learn hands-on vet tech skills through on-campus facilities which feature clinical experiences and animal-related club organizations. Applicants to this program must complete prerequisite courses in general education courses with a grade of C or higher.

  • Location: Mississippi State, MS
  • Duration: Four years
  • Accreditation: American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA)
  • Tuition: $13,413 per semester

Step 3: Pass the VTNE Vet Tech Exam (Timeline Varies)

Emergency and critical care vet techs must pass the Veterinary Technician National Exam, or the VTNE to become licensed or certified in most states. This exam is offered three times a year. To qualify for the exam, US-based candidates must complete a two- or four-year AVMA-accredited program. The exam is three hours long and covers 170 multiple-choice questions. In 2022, the exam fee was $340.

Step 4: Apply for Vet Tech State Licensure (Timeline Varies)

After passing the VTNE, you will then need to obtain a state license. Each state has different requirements for licensure, so be sure to check with your state’s licensing board.

Once you are licensed, you can begin pursuing specialty care as an emergency and critical care vet tech.

Step 5: Gain Professional Experience (Three Years)

Before earning specialty certification, emergency and critical care vet techs must complete a minimum of three years of full-time work experience, or 5,760 hours in clinical rotations in an emergency vet clinic to gain experience in this specialty area.
Those who want to earn this credential must first apply for it and then earn the requisite number of hours within five years. Continuing education hours in emergency vet care are also required to sit for the exam.

Step 6: Earn AVECCT Specialty Certification (Timeline Varies)

The Academy of Veterinary Emergency and Critical Care Technicians and Nurses (AVECCT) offers the AVECCT credential to help vet techs working in emergency care stand out as exemplary professionals. In addition, this credential demonstrates to employers and pet owners that vet techs with this specialization have extensive educational and professional experience in this specialized field of veterinary medicine.

Career Outlook for Emergency & Critical Care Vet Techs

The career outlook for emergency and critical care vet techs is positive, with the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projecting a 15 percent growth in employment for vet techs from 2020 to 2030. This rate is nearly double the national average for all occupations (8 percent) and represents the creation of 17,100 new jobs.

How Much Do Emergency & Critical Care Vet Techs Earn?

Veterinary technologists and technicians earned a median annual salary of $36,850 ($17.72 per hour), according to the BLS (May 2021). The top-paying employers of vet techs in May 2021 were as follows:

  • Colleges, universities, and professionals schools: $46,780 per year average
  • Veterinary services: $36,770
  • Social advocacy organizations: $35,480

Annual wage percentiles were as follows (BLS May 2021):

  • 10th percentile: $28,780
  • 25th percentile: $29,810
  • 50th percentile (median): $36,850
  • 75th percentile: $45,750
  • 90th percentile: $48,100

While this data does not explicitly represent salaries for emergency and critical care vet techs, data from Payscale.com in October 2022 shows the average annual salaries and wage percentiles are similar to the BLS, with an average base hourly rate of $17.74 based on 80 self-reported salary profiles.

Rachel Drummond (Writer)

Rachel is a freelance writer, educator, and yogini from Oregon. She’s taught English to international university students in the United States and Japan for more than a decade and has a master’s degree in education from the University of Oregon. A dedicated Ashtanga yoga practitioner, Rachel is interested in exploring the nuanced philosophical aspects of contemplative physical practices and how they apply in daily life. She writes about this topic among others on her blog (Instagram: @racheldrummondyoga).