Vet Tech to Vet: How To Advance Your Career (With Benefits)

Updated June 30, 2023

Veterinary medicine has many career opportunities, from entry-level positions to senior and management roles. It's possible to advance to higher-level roles with additional education and experience. If you're a veterinary technician, or vet tech, you can become a veterinarian by completing some extra educational and experience requirements. 

In this article, we show you how to advance from vet tech to vet and the job duties of each role.

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What does a vet tech do?

vet tech helps veterinarians with basic and advanced medical care for animals. Duties vary across the industry depending on the work environment, but general duties for vet techs include:

  • Obtaining medical information from pet owners

  • Filing and organizing medical paperwork

  • Organizing, storing and helping administer medications

  • Collecting bodily fluid and other samples

  • Monitoring vital signs

  • Performing tests on collected samples

  • Performing dental cleanings

  • Taking X-rays

  • Administering anesthesia for operations

Read more: 5 Tips for Changing Your Vet Tech Career (Plus Alternative Jobs)

What does a veterinarian do?

Veterinarians are medical professionals who provide care, routine checkups and operations on animals. Their responsibilities can vary depending on the type of veterinarian they are, but typical duties include:

  • Advising pet owners on medical care for their animals

  • Performing surgeries and other operations

  • Administering medications

  • Tracking animal health over time

  • Examining vitals, injuries and health complications

  • Submitting paperwork for pet insurance claims

  • Adhering to medical ethics and guidelines

  • Providing routine care for pets and animals

Read more: How To Become a Veterinarian: Essential Steps and FAQs

Person with a badge around their neck pets dog on left and bunny sits in front

How to advance from vet tech to vet

Vet techs who want to advance in the field have the advantage of already studying the fundamentals of veterinary medicine. A vet learns more advanced and specific animal care skills and carries a higher level of responsibility. Here are some steps to take to go from vet tech to vet:

1. Decide on your specialization

In veterinary medicine, there are many specializations that you can pursue. Before you transition from vet tech to vet, consider your options for specialization:

  • Zoological medicine: This veterinary medicine branch covers animals' care in a zoo setting, like an animal clinic or emergency facility within a zoo. This could be an ideal choice if you want to learn and care for a wide range of animals.

  • Critical care: This career path involves caring for animals in an emergency setting, handling animals in critical condition or under extreme distress from medical emergencies. You may enjoy critical care if you prefer a fast-paced setting.

  • Internal medicine: This career path offers a more research-intensive option for those who want to study animal diseases, chronic conditions and how to improve veterinary care. Small animal internal medicine is a common specialization for vets who want to work with pets, like cats and dogs.

  • Large animal care: Larger animal bodies, like livestock or elephants, can be more complex and require greater attention, specialized knowledge and care from large animal vets. Consider this specialization if you want to work in a farm setting or with one particular type of large animal.

Related: Wildlife Veterinarian Careers: 10 Jobs for Animal Lovers

2. Earn your bachelor's degree

The next step is earning a bachelor's degree in animal biology, general biology or natural science. This provides a baseline of scientific knowledge on biological processes, like diets, reproductive habits, anatomy and physiology. A bachelor's degree usually takes three or four years, depending on the program and whether you have any transferrable credits from your vet tech program.

Related: Q&A: What Degree Do You Need To Become a Veterinarian?

3. Earn a doctorate in veterinary medicine

Once you complete your bachelor's program, you can earn a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM) degree. Attending a college accredited by the American Veterinarian Medicine Association (AVMA) is vital to earn your credential. This pathway provides advanced medical knowledge about the care of animals, including advanced anatomy and physiology, surgical techniques, anesthesia, basic medical care and emergency veterinary medical care.

During your doctoral program, you may complete both in-class instruction and clinical rotations in various concentrations, such as:

  • Radiology

  • Anesthesiology

  • Surgery

  • Equine medicine

  • Small animal medicine

  • Internal medicine

You also usually complete elective rotations in a specialization of your choice.

Related: Q&A: How Long Is Veterinary School?

4. Gain experience in the field

During and after your college education, you can gain experience in veterinary medicine or animal care. Local animal shelters, zoos, and hospitals often employ volunteers and vet techs. You can work part time while pursuing your doctoral degree. Experience in the field can help you learn more about the type of veterinary setting you like. It can also help you understand what to expect from the field, patients, pet owners and the work environment.

Related: 25 Jobs for Saving Animals

5. Earn your veterinary license

You can take the North American Veterinary Licensing Examination (NAVLE) once you graduate from your veterinary program. This exam contains around 360 questions and examines your competency in animal care, medical ethics, anatomy and physiology.

You can then apply for a license to practice in your state. Most states require proof of your veterinary degree and a passing score on the NAVLE. Some states may also require you to take an additional exam or submit supplementary documents. You can research your state's requirements before applying to ensure you're ready.

Related: FAQ: What Are the Working Conditions for a Veterinarian?

6. Complete an internship or residency (optional)

You can complete a one-year internship or a two- to three-year residency to gain more experience. Internships can give you additional training in veterinary medicine, while residencies allow you to specialize in a specific area of medicine. It's possible to complete an internship and then choose to enter a residency program. In these programs, you work under the supervision of an experienced vet. Completing your residency with a board-certified veterinarian can help you qualify for specialty certifications.

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Benefits of transitioning from being a vet tech to a vet

Working as a vet tech before becoming a vet could offer you advantages, including:

  • Industry connections: Having worked in the animal care industry, you already have relationships with experienced people in the field who could mentor you, advise you or help you find opportunities.

  • Previous knowledge: Experience working with animals and knowing how vet clinics operate may help you when studying to become a vet, as you can focus on more specialized information when you already know the fundamentals of the field.

  • Emotional preparation: People in the veterinary field face unique emotional challenges due to the nature of the job, but people with experience in the field might already know what to expect and have coping skills to overcome these challenges.

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