Love Dogs? Consider Becoming a Veterinary Technician
Most people take a long time to choose their career path. Rebecca Rose, author of Career Choices for Veterinary Technicians: Opportunities for Animal Lovers (AAHA Press 2009), on the other hand, hit the ground running after she left school. “My mother worked for a veterinarian in the early 1970s,” says Rose. “I can remember helping her with the animals after school. When I was in high school, I researched my career options, and becoming a veterinary technician was the most appealing option.”
If you too enjoy working with dogs and other animals and relish being part of a team that takes care of them, becoming a veterinary technician is a great way to do what you love.
What Do Veterinary Technicians Do?
Most veterinary technicians handle basic medical tasks within an animal hospital. These tasks can include recording a canine’s, or another animal patient’s, medical history; assisting with surgeries and other medical procedures; collecting blood, urine or stool samples; developing radiographs; preparing animals and equipment for surgery; and processing laboratory tests. Some veterinary technicians also serve as office managers for animal hospitals.
However, technical skills aren’t all a vet tech needs to succeed. “The most overlooked skill is that of great communication,” says Rose. “When a technician can properly communicate with clients, other team members and veterinarians, that technician will reach higher levels of success.”
Many veterinary technicians work in a single animal hospital. Others find work in zoos; research laboratories; or at several veterinary clinics, filling in as relief vet techs, depending on where they’re needed. Others parlay their skills into related dog-oriented businesses, such as grooming and dog day-care ownership.
And just as veterinarians can specialize in certain types of medicine or species, so can vet techs. Among the specialties available to veterinary technicians are animal behavior, anesthesiology, emergency and critical care and dentistry.
Additionally, some vet techs like Rose work as consultants to help others in the field develop their careers and reach their goals. In some states, technicians can even become practice owners.
Becoming a Vet Tech
Not surprisingly, the skills a vet tech needs aren’t acquired overnight. Education and certification are a must. To gain hers, Rose attended Colorado Mountain College, a two-year college in Glenwood Springs. There, she earned an associate degree in applied sciences.
In fact, most of the 160 veterinary technician education programs that are accredited by the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) are two-year programs. Another 20 are four-year programs that lead to bachelor’s degrees, and nine programs are distance-learning initiatives. Some institutions offer more than one program. For example, Northern Virginia Community College offers both a two-year on-campus program and a three-year distance-learning program. (The latter is tailored to individuals who already work in veterinary offices.) The AVMA Web site lists all vet tech programs accredited by the organization.
A typical two-year veterinary technician degree program includes course work in anatomy, behavior, chemistry, clinical practices, pathology, diseases and pharmacology, as well as writing, mathematics and public speaking. Admission requirements vary, but most programs seek applicants who have a high school diploma or equivalent, with passing grades in one course each of high school algebra, biology and chemistry.
After students complete the course work, they must obtain a license from the veterinary regulatory board in their state. Licensing provisions vary from state to state but often require an applicant to take the Veterinary Technician’s National Examination, a test administered by the American Association of State Veterinary Boards (AASVB). The AASVB Web site describes the examination and also offers contact information for the veterinary regulatory boards of every state.
Becoming a veterinary technician is not easy, but for those who love dogs and other animals, the profession offers a rewarding career path. Animal lovers with entrepreneurial skills can find success in this profession too. “There are numerous options and opportunities for veterinary technicians,” says Rose. “Truly, the sky is the limit, and technicians are limited only by their own imaginations.”