Career Development

How to Become a Vet Tech

February 22, 2021

Veterinarian technicians, or vet techs, have important roles in the veterinary industry. Working under the supervision of a veterinarian, you will help care for animals in various conditions requiring different levels of medical attention. In this article, we explore the responsibilities of vet techs and the steps you can take to become one.

What does a vet tech do?

A vet tech works with a licensed veterinarian to conduct medical tests, diagnose animals' injuries and illnesses, and work with owners to maintain a high quality of life for their pets. This job focuses on ensuring animals are handled carefully, treated humanely and cared for properly. Some vet tech responsibilities include:

  • Collecting laboratory samples and performing exams
  • Administering vaccines and medications
  • Taking X-rays
  • Preparing animals, instruments and rooms for surgery
  • Collecting and recording animal case histories
  • Bathing and nursing animals
  • Observing animals' behavior and conditions

Average salary

On average, veterinary technicians make $15.86 per hour. This salary is reported on Indeed from vet techs and other users. Vet techs usually spend less than one year with an employer.

How to become a vet tech

If you want to pursue a career as a veterinary technician, you should be highly organized, dedicated and love animals. Veterinary technicians require a high school diploma or equivalent to begin specialized education for the career. Here are the basic required steps to becoming a vet tech:

  1. Earn a degree in veterinary technology
  2. Pass the national exam
  3. Secure a job in a clinic
  4. Maintain certifications
  5. Consider joining an association

1. Earn a degree in veterinary technology

Technicians usually have an associate degree in veterinary technology. This two-year degree allows you to enter the workforce quickly and gain on-the-job training needed to maintain a successful career as a vet tech. There are bachelor's programs available in veterinary technology. A bachelor's degree can help you gain additional training and experience, but usually takes two more years than an associate program.

When earning either degree, you'll likely take courses in basic animal care, pathology, anatomy, anesthesia and animal nursing. Programs require you to complete an externship with an animal clinic or hospital. During an externship, you'll gain hands-on clinical experience needed for your career.

2. Pass the national exam

For most states, you'll need to pass the Veterinary Technician National Examination. The exam is administered by the American Association of Veterinary State Boards, and it measures entry-level competency covering topics such as dental procedures, pharmacology, lab procedures and animal nursing. The exam is computer-based.

3. Secure a job in a clinic

The majority of veterinary technicians work in a medical setting at a clinic or lab. Starting a search in one of these settings will help you secure a position in this field. When applying, consider including a cover letter focusing on the qualifications listed in the job description. Your resume should include any academic achievements, relevant hard and soft skills and your vet tech certification.

4. Maintain certifications

As with many positions in the medical field, continuing education credits are necessary to maintain credentials. There are a number of venues, both online and in-person, that offer additional training to further your knowledge, advance your career and maintain your certification. The American Veterinary Medical Association is a resource to consider when searching for professional development opportunities.

5. Consider joining an association

The National Association of Veterinary Technicians welcomes new and experienced members year-round. Its mission is to give voice to vet techs through education, awareness and member support. Becoming a member offers opportunities such as scholarships, educational articles and continuing education credits. You'll also be able to connect with other veterinary technicians, building your professional network.

Read more: Veterinary Technician Cover Letter

Important characteristics of vet techs

The role of a vet tech requires a unique set of qualities that help guarantee the success of a clinic and the health of the animals they care for. Some essential characteristics of a successful vet tech include:

  • Compassion: Vet techs should be able to respond to animals in need with kindness and show sensitivity when communicating with pet owners.
  • Communication: Effectively communicating with veterinarians and owners to best help animals is crucial to supporting the overall well-being of the pets. You may need to listen to the owner while they explain their pet's symptoms, relay the information to the vet and describe the issue.
  • Detail-oriented: Observing and reporting details when in operating rooms or examining animals and recording information helps to process and diagnose issues correctly. Having good attention to detail is also important when measuring and administering medication.
  • Stamina: Veterinary technicians may spend a lot of their time on their feet and moving animals. They need to lift large animals, move them in certain positions and hold them for a period of time. Having stamina ensures that you are able to perform all of the duties associated with the job.

Frequently asked questions

These are some answers to common questions about being a veterinary technician:

How long are vet tech programs?

The length of time you spend on your veterinary technician certification depends on the program you complete. An associate program takes two years to complete, while earning a bachelor's degree usually takes four years. There may be accelerated programs available in your location, though the most traditional educational course is an associate program.

How long is the Veterinary Technician National Exam?

The Veterinary Technician National Exam is three hours long, consisting of 170 multiple-choice questions. Your score is based on 150 questions with 20 field questions, or pilot questions, included. You can take the VTNE up to four times.

Are there risks involved in being a vet tech?

Vet techs may occasionally encounter difficult working environments. They may need to make stressed animals feel more at ease, risking bites and scratches. With the proper safety gear and precautions, vet techs can reduce the risk of injury to themselves and animals.

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