Learn About Being an Army Veterinary Technician
Get Career Info on Job Duties, Requirements, and More
"As nurses are to doctors, veterinary technicians are to veterinarians," as Dawn McKay's Career Planning Guide, aptly puts it. Army veterinary technicians, in military occupational specialty (MOS) 68T, work under the supervision of a licensed and commissioned veterinarian to provide a wide range of services to our furry friends, such as taking vital signs, giving medications, performing diagnostic tests, and assisting with surgery.
Interestingly, Army 68Ts don't just provide these services for "enlisted" animals like military working dogs -- they also live to serve the pets of military families, as well as take care of research animals. And it's not just Army animals: According to Army Times staff writer Michelle Tan, "The Army is the only service that trains animal care specialists," which means Navy, Air Force, and Marine pets and working dogs are fair game as well.
Of course, step one to joining any Army enlisted field is graduating high school or earning your GED. If your heart is set on being a vet tech, then before entering the Army you'll need to aim for a "skilled technical" score of 91 on the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB.)
GoArmy.com also recommends that potential veterinary technicians possess an "interest in general science and biology, enjoy helping others, [and the] ability to work under stressful or emergency conditions and follow directions precisely."
US Military Guide Rod Powers adds that although no security clearance is required for the job (a rare condition in today's military job market) applicants do need normal color vision and a background in biological sciences in high school.
No one wears the uniform without first learning to be a soldier, whether you're behind the gun or giving Sparky his yearly check-up. So off you go, before anything else, to boot camp.
After earning a place in today's Army, prospective veterinary technicians move on to the Academy of Health Sciences at Fort Sam Houston, Texas. (Despite its relationship with the medical sciences, the school's Department of Veterinary Science seems to be one of the few areas of study not absorbed into the huge joint-service Medical Education and Training Campus, where specialists in human health like Army medics are trained.)
The vet tech program lasts approximately three months. Interviewed by Tan for the Army Times in September 2011, schoolhouse deputy chief Dr John Cheaton revealed that at Fort Sam Houston, "students learn in 11 weeks what civilian veterinary technicians learn in two years," covering "areas as diverse as toxicology, pharmacology, respiratory and cardiovascular systems, ethics, dentistry and basic anesthesiology."
But Tan's article also highlights how training has evolved in response to the conditions faced by military working dogs in the War on Terror: The curriculum now includes treating canine "open chest wound[s] or an open abdominal wound . . . plac[ing] a tracheostomy tube . . . [and] obtain[ing] an arterial blood sample from a dog." Training culminates in a real clinical experience at Lackland Air Force Base's Military Working Dog Hospital.
Certifications and Outlook
There are four credentials for vet techs in the Army according to their Credentialing Opportunities On-Line (COOL) site. Three are covered by GI Bill money and offer increased competitiveness for promotion: Assistant Laboratory Animal Technician, Laboratory Animal Technician, and Laboratory Animal Technologist. A fourth, though not covered by financial assistance, allows a more experienced soldier to become certified as a Veterinary Practice Manager.
Be advised that according to Dawn McKay, civilian veterinary technicians must normally have a bachelor's degree and state licensure, so be prepared for off-duty education if you wish to continue working in the field after you leave the Army.
Luckily, GoArmy.com suggests that the job search might not be so bad if vet techs enroll in the Army's Partnership for Youth Success (PAYS) Program, which may be able to secure you a job interview with such employers as John Hopkins, Yale-New Haven Hospital, or the Baton Rouge General Medical Center.
And as long as you stay on top of your game professionally and academically, Ms. McKay advises that according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, veterinary technician "is on a list of occupations expected to grow faster than others that require post-secondary training or an associate degree."