Veterinary Surgical Technician
Veterinary surgical technicians are specially trained and certified to assist vets with surgical procedures.
Veterinary surgical technicians are qualified to assist veterinarians with a variety of surgical procedures. Daily duties may include such tasks as performing pre-surgical diagnostic lab tests, preparing and scrubbing surgical sites for sterile procedures, assisting the veterinarian during surgeries, handing out necessary surgical tools during procedures, bandaging wounds, changing wound dressings as needed, placing catheters, and taking radiographs (x-rays).
Other duties may include operating and maintaining surgical equipment, administering fluids, giving intravenous or intramuscular injections, drawing blood, updating patient charts, filling prescriptions, assisting with regular exams when no surgeries are scheduled, and advising pet owners on post-operative care and medication dosages.
Vet techs, including surgical vet techs, may be required to work nights or weekends depending on the schedules of the clinic. They must also be aware of the risks inherent in working with animals and take proper safety precautions to minimize the potential for injury from bites, scratches, or kicks.
Veterinary surgical technicians may find employment with large animal vets, small animal vets, equine vets, or exotic vets. They may work in a variety of locations such as animal hospitals, veterinary clinics, zoos, aquariums, and research facilities.
Veterinary surgical techs may also work primarily for a surgeon who is a specialist in a particular aspect of surgery such as neurology, ophthalmology, or orthopedics.
Some veterinary technicians transition to other careers in the animal health industry. Veterinary pharmaceutical sales is a popular choice for those with experience in the field.
Surgical veterinary techs might also find employment with companies that manufacture and sell veterinary surgical equipment, tools, or other medical devices.
Education & Licensing
There are more than 160 veterinary technician programs in the United States that grant two year Associates degrees in the field. Upon completion of an accredited training program, vet techs must also be licensed to practice in their specific state. In most cases, achieving state certification involves successful completion of the Veterinary Technician National Exam (VTNE), though specific requirements may vary from one state to another.
The National Association of Veterinary Technicians in America (NAVTA) recognizes 11 specialties for veterinary technician specialist (VTS) certification. The recognized specialties for veterinary technicians are anesthesia, surgery, internal medicine, dental, emergency & critical care, behavior, zoo, equine, clinical practice, clinical pathology, and nutrition.
The Academy of Veterinary Surgical Technicians (AVST) offers VTS certification to vet techs that have documented at least 6000 hours (3 years) of vet tech work experience (with at least 4500 of those hours consisting of surgical work).
Certification in this specialty area was first announced in 2010. Veterinary technicians meeting the significant prerequisite hours of experience may take the specialty exam that is offered yearly at the American College of Veterinary Surgeons Symposium (ACVS).
Vet clinics may place particular value on job candidates who hold surgical or anesthesia specialty certification, as these individuals will have the significant experience with surgical procedures that is required to achieve VTS certified status. The new VTS surgical certification should become increasingly important for job seekers in the veterinary surgical technician field.
According to SimplyHired.com, veterinary surgical technicians earned an average salary of $37,000 in 2012. This is slightly higher than the $30,290 ($14.56 per hour) median annual wage for all veterinary technicians reported by the Bureau of Labor Statistics in 2012.
The BLS also reported that (in the job category of veterinary technicians and technologists) the lowest 10 percent earned less than $21,030, while the highest 10 percent earned more than $44,030.
Benefits for veterinary technicians may include a variety of perks such as health and dental insurance, paid vacation days, a uniform allowance for scrubs, and discounts on veterinary care for their pets.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, there were 84,800 vet techs employed in 2012, and approximately 3,800 vet techs are expected to enter the profession each year. The BLS predicts that the profession will expand at a rate of more than 30% from 2012 to 2022, which is much more rapid growth than the average for other professions.
The BLS projects that the supply of new vet techs will not be able to meet the demand for their services by veterinary employers. Due to the relatively few new vet tech graduates entering the field each year, and the even smaller number of vet techs that will achieve surgical specialty certification, job prospects should be very strong for veterinary surgical technicians over the next decade.