Job Profile: Veterinary Technician
A veterinary technician (or vet tech) is a licensed professional trained to assist veterinarians with medical procedures. As part of the rapidly growing veterinary industry, the job outlook is promising for this profession.
Veterinary technicians assist veterinarians in the clinic. General duties may include helping with physical exams of patients, assisting with surgeries, running lab tests, taking and processing x-rays, performing dental cleanings, updating patient records, cleaning and sterilizing equipment, and filling prescriptions. There are many more specific duties based on the type of patients (small animal, large animal, or exotics) or the tech's individual specialty area.
Vet techs may have to work some evening, weekend, or holiday hours, depending on the needs of their veterinary clinic. Techs must also be constantly aware of the inherent risks involved with working with animals and take proper safety precautions to minimize the potential for injury.
Most veterinary technicians work with veterinarians in private practice, though some work for corporations and laboratories. The majority work with small animals, but other areas of practice include large animal, equine, and exotics. Other career options for vet techs include pharmaceutical sales, medical research, and livestock management positions.
Education, Training, and Licensing
Individuals seeking a career as a veterinary technician should have a strong background in mathematics and the biological sciences. There are approximately 190 veterinary technology programs in the U.S. that are accredited by the American Veterinary Medical Association. These programs offer a two-year associate degree. Upon completion of an accredited program, vet techs must also pass an exam, usually the National Veterinary Technician Exam (NVTE), to become eligible for licensing in their state or province.
There are 11 veterinary technician specialty areas recognized by the National Association of Veterinary Technicians in America (NAVTA). Certification as a veterinary technician specialist usually requires a degree in the field, significant work experience, completion of case logs and case reports, and documented continuing education before a candidate is eligible to sit for the certification exam. Currently recognized specialty areas include clinical practice, clinical pathology, emergency and critical care, equine, internal medicine, behavior, surgery, anesthesiology, dentistry, nutrition, and zoo.
The most recent salary survey conducted by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that the mean annual wage for the broader category of all veterinary technicians was $31,030 ($14.92 per hour) in 2010. The BLS survey indicated that in the general category of veterinary technicians and technologists, the lowest paid 10 percent of all techs earned a salary of less than $20,500 per year, while the highest-paid 10 percent of all techs earned a salary of more than $44,030 per year.
Benefits packages for veterinary technicians may include (in addition to salary) medical and dental insurance, a uniform allowance, paid vacation days, and discounts on veterinary care or boarding for the tech's own pets. As with any position in the veterinary industry, salary is commensurate with the level of experience and education.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, there were 69,870 vet techs employed in 2010, and approximately 3,800 vet techs enter the profession each year. The BLS predicts that the profession will expand at a much faster rate than average—nearly 36% from 2008 to 2018. The limited number of graduates from vet tech programs will translate to excellent job prospects in the field.
The limited number of new veterinary technicians is not expected to meet the strong demand from veterinary employers for some time to come.