Veterinary Technician Job Description
Veterinary technicians work closely with vets in animal hospitals, clinics and research facilities.
They help vets diagnose, treat and care for sick or healthy animals, providing routine or emergency care.
They assist a vet by doing laboratory or diagnostic tests, providing an extra hand during check-ups, and by communicating with pet owners.
Duties and Responsibilities – What Does a Vet Tech Do?
The duties of a vet tech will vary depending on what type of facility they work in.
Some graduates work in research laboratories. Their workday is often consumed with performing various tests and doing other lab work.
But the vast majority of graduates work in a clinical setting, assisting vets and pet owners in a face-to-face environment.
The most common clinical practice is working with canine and feline companion animals, but some clinics specialize in exotic pets or farm animals or livestock.
A vet tech works for a veterinarian in a way that is similar to how a nurse works for a doctor. They help the animal, the veterinarian and the animal’s owner.
They perform a variety of duties under the direction of the veterinarian. Some typical responsibilities include:
- Taking medical backgrounds from pet owners
- Performing initial examination of an animal
- Obtaining blood, urine, or stool samples
- Testing blood, urine, or stool samples
- Maintaining medical records of patients
- Taking and monitoring vital signs
- Taking x-rays or using other diagnostic equipment
- Administering medications, vaccines, or shots
- Administering anesthesia
- Preparing pets for surgery or other procedures
- Assisting during surgery
- Placing catheters
- Providing emergency first aid when necessary
- Restraining animals for exams or treatments
- Educating and communicating with pet owners
- Bathing and caring for animals
- Maintaining the clinic’s medical equipment
Whenever a veterinarian is working, there is usually a tech nearby to help out.
Some clinics are open beyond the standard day hours. They can be open during the night and on weekends. And a few are 24-hour emergency centers.
Tasks Vet Techs Are Not Allowed To Do
Certain animal care duties are reserved solely for veterinarians to do. These are tasks a vet tech cannot do.
Basically, restricted activities are anything that is described as outside of the scope of what the state declares a tech vet may do.
The three main areas that are restricted are these:
- Creating a diagnosis without a vet’s help or approval
- Prescribing any medication
- Performing any type of surgery
Career Options – Where Do Vet Techs Work?
Most veterinarian techs work in private clinical practice.
These jobs are in veterinary clinics or hospitals, but others work in zoos and research laboratories.
Five common positions:
- Veterinary offices
- Emergency pet hospitals
- Research laboratories or the government
- Larger animal shelters
There are opportunities too in other health-related areas such as food safety inspection, teaching, military service animal care, humane society options or animal control.
Some veterinary technicians will transition into a different position in the animal health industry, such as veterinary pharmaceutical and feed company sales.
The formal education path for a veterinary technician is either a two-year associate degree or a four-year bachelor’s degree.
While most students settle for the two-year degree option, someone who wants to work in an organization such as the U.S. Department of Agriculture might opt for the four-year degree.
Vet Technician vs. Vet Assistant
What’s the difference between a vet technician and a vet assistant?
The main difference is technicians receive formal education training and are licensed.
Veterinary assistants do not have formal education requirements and are not licensed by the state. Vet assistants may have some previous general training, but they learn most of their skills on the job.
While both work to support veterinarians, their roles are somewhat different.
Vet techs are authorized to perform certain clinical tasks, such as administering shots and drawing blood samples.
Assistants commonly perform tasks related to clerical duties, scheduling appointments, feeding animals, exercising animals, and cleaning equipment.
Vet Tech Requirements for Education and Certification
Depending on the state in which an applicant plans to work in, applicants have to become certified, licensed, or registered to actually practice their job.
To receive certification, students have to meet general education guidelines, obtain some actual work experience with live animals, and pass an exam. Specific requirements can vary by state.
There are over 160 accredited programs in the United States that offer a two-year Associate degree.
Specialties for veterinary technicians include clinical practice, anesthesia, behavior, nutrition, surgery, dental, internal medicine, emergency care, equine and more.
The training curriculum provides education in many aspects of animal care and handling, including lab equipment procedures and surgical procedures. Some topics include:
- Medical terminology
- Animal anatomy
- Animal nursing and handling
- Preparing and administering drugs
- Taking and testing laboratory samples
And a short period of actual hands-on experience in a veterinary practice is required for students in an AVMA-accredited program. This period of hands-on training is a critical component of these programs.
Once a student completes a program (which usually takes 18 to 36 months), they must pass a licensing examination in their state of residence before being allowed to actually practice their new profession.
The American Association of Veterinary State Boards (AAVSB) provides the Veterinary Technician National Examination.
There are three certification levels for veterinary techs:
1. Assistant Laboratory Technician
2. Laboratory Animal Technician
3. Laboratory Animal Technologist
A two-year associate’s degree is the common path for most technicians, but some lead to a full four-year bachelor’s degree.
Graduates with bachelor’s degrees usually receive a higher level of job responsibility and increased advancement opportunities.
The Veterinary Technician National Exam (VTNE)
This test, prepared by the American Association of Veterinary State Boards (AAVSB), is the exam most often used by states.
It’s a three-hour test. It usually has 170 multiple-choice questions.
The test covers nine major subjects:
- Animal Nursing
- Diagnostic Imaging
- Emergency Medicine
- Laboratory Procedures
- Pain Management
Some states require a practical exam that you need to pass in addition to the written national exam.
Once you are a credentialed and working vet tech, most states require you to complete some continuing education credits each year to renew your license to work.
Veterinary Technician Work Environment
While some technicians work at research laboratories, zoos or colleges, most work at a clinic or animal hospital.
These jobs are almost always full-time. The clinic will determine the working hours — many are open on weekends or evenings.
And some clinics are open for emergencies which can happen at any hour of the day.
Techs interact with everyone in the staff, all the animals, and many of the pet owners too as they perform a variety of tasks.
Aspects of the Job Which Most People Don’t Like:
1. The work environment requires standing for long periods of time as you help out with exams and medical procedures.
2. Touching or restraining hurt or scared animals can expose you to bites or scratches.
3. Dealing with worried or grieving pet owners can be difficult.
4. It can be distressing working with sick, abused or dying animals.
5. Animals sometimes need to be euthanized. It can be an emotional situation.
But most vet techs love animals and appreciate being able to spend their workday around them.
Techs offer technical support in all aspects of care to their animal patient.
They will often do a basic physical exam of the animal, including taking his temperature and listing to his heart.
She will also attend to the animal when the veterinarian performs her exam, holding and calming him.
Techs will draw blood or collect urine, and they may use those samples for lab tests, which she will also conduct.
If a pet requires surgery, the tech will often be the one who shaves the animal and prepares the operation site. She will gather the necessary equipment and instruments.
She will also be responsible for placing an intravenous catheter (an IV) into the pet in order to administer anesthesia for the surgery. And she will monitor the animal’s vital signs during the operation.
As the patient wakes up when the procedure is over, she will do her best to comfort him as he regains consciousness.
Veterinary technicians may meet with the owners in order to answer questions or let them know how to administer medicine or care once the pet is back at home.
Veterinary Technician Specialties
Some people decide to specialize in one or another specific area of veterinary medicine.
Some veterinary technicians go beyond the normal training and receive formal, specialized instruction, testing and certification in one specialized area.
These specialties include anesthesia, animal behavior, dental technology, emergency care, internal medicine, nutrition, surgery, equine care, or zoological medicine.
Personal Skills and Competencies Needed for Success
In general, there are some personal qualities that are needed for someone to be successful and happy in this field.
First, obviously, you have to love animals. If you don’t really like animals, you will be making a big mistake getting into this field.
Second, hopefully, animals like you back too. There are some people that animals just seem to trust, hopefully, you are one of those people.
You will be around animals that are sick or injured. Some will actually be dying. Some will need to be euthanized. You will need to feel compassion for the pets and their owners.
You will be working on your feet almost all day. Big animals are heavy and strong. It can be hard work.
You will need to understand and remember instructions your supervising vet gives you and accurately relaying all necessary details to the pet owners or other members of your clinic.
You need to be understanding and forgiving. Animals can be so sick that they don’t keep up with their personal hygiene. Anything fluids that come out of them might end up on you somehow. You just have to accept it.
Veterinary Technician Salary
The average annual income of a veterinary technician is about $36,000.
Of course, how much a person is paid will be dependent upon where they live and what kind of place they work at.
Specialists and folks working in research tend to earn more than the average.
Employment is expected to grow as veterinarians continue to need technicians, technologists, and assistants in their practices.
Demand for new candidates is expected to increase in the coming years due to an increase in the number of households with pets.
In fact, some experts believe that the number of new workers will not meet the demand needed.
Job prospects are anticipated to increase faster than the typical profession.
Experts believe that the future job outlook for this profession is bright.
Steps For Getting a Vet Tech Job
Before you enroll in a training program, you should get a full-time, part-time, or even a volunteer job at a clinic or animal shelter. Find out if working with animals is really what you want.
Once you have decided that you want to pursue this career, you will want to find a good school that offers an associate’s degree.
While you are taking your core classes, you may be interested in taking other biology or chemistry classes to help you in the future.
You will usually need to work for two years to earn your Associate’s degree.
While you most likely will not need a bachelor’s degree to get started, some students will carry on to finish a four-year diploma in order to qualify them for future potential.
Once you have your diploma, you need to get certified or licensed in your state. Almost all states require students to pass an exam in order to earn their state license.
Once you have a job, you will really learn a lot every day.
As you gain experience, you may discover that there is one specialty that interests you more than the rest. You may decide to focus on one of these specialties.
Some of the areas you can specialize in include emergency care, dental care, exotic pet care, or specializing in laboratory or research.
If this sounds like the career for you, you can get started quickly.
NOTE: This article is not intended to be healthcare or career advice. This article is not intended to be professional or veterinarian advice. For guidance with your career, you should consult with a professional career advisor in your area who can understand you and your situation. This article is meant to be taken as general information only.
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