Veterinary technicians have been educated in the care and handling of animals, the basic principles of normal and abnormal life processes, and in many laboratory and clinical procedures. In general, veterinary technicians obtain 2-4 years of post-high school education and have an Associate's or Bachelor's degree in veterinary technology. They must pass a credentialing examination and keep up-to-date with continuing education to be considered licensed/registered/certified (the term used varies by state) veterinary technicians.
All veterinary technicians work under the supervision of a licensed veterinarian. While a veterinary technician can assist in performing a wide variety of tasks, they cannot diagnose, prescribe, perform surgery, or engage in any activity prohibited by a state's veterinary practice act.
In a clinical practice setting, such as your local veterinary hospital, veterinary technicians handle many of the same responsibilities that nurses and other professionals perform for physicians – and, like veterinarians, they are trained to work with several species of animals. They are trained to: obtain and record patient case histories; collect specimens and perform laboratory procedures; provide specialized nursing care; prepare animals, instruments, and equipment for surgery; assist in diagnostic, medical, and surgical procedures; expose and develop radiographs (X-rays); advise and educate animal owners; supervise and train practice personnel; and perform dental prophylaxes.
In addition to the responsibilities above, veterinary technicians employed in a biomedical research facility perform other duties under the supervision of a licensed veterinarian, a biomedical research worker, or other scientist, such as supervising the humane care and handling of research animals and assisting in the implementation of research projects.
While the majority of veterinary technicians are employed in private practice, the demand for technicians is rapidly expanding to include new employment opportunities in human and animal health-related areas and specialties such as military service, food safety inspection, teaching, zoo animal and wildlife care, diagnostic laboratory support, veterinary supply sales, animal control and humane society animal care, and drug and feed company technical service and sales.
Veterinary assistants support the veterinarian and/or the veterinary technician in their daily tasks. The assistant may be asked to perform kennel work, assist in the restraint and handling of animals, feed and exercise the animals, or spend time on clerical duties. There are training programs for veterinary assistants, and some are trained on the job. At this time, there is no credentialing exam for veterinary assistants.
Students interested in a career in veterinary technology should have an aptitude for general science, math and biology and demonstrate basic language and communication skills.
The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) accredits veterinary technology programs throughout the United States and Canada through the Committee on Veterinary Technician Education and Activities. Most AVMA-accredited programs lead to an associate degree after two years, but some lead to a four-year bachelor's degree. Technicians with bachelor's degrees usually receive higher salaries and greater level of job responsibilities. To find a technician education program, use this list of all AVMA-accredited accredited technician education programs.
A period of clinical experience in a veterinary practice is required for all students in an AVMA-accredited veterinary technology program. This period of hands-on training is called a preceptorship, practicum, or externship and is a critical component of the veterinary technology program.
To accommodate work and family obligations, distance learning is an option for many students wishing to earn a degree in veterinary technology from home. The AVMA accredits several distance-learning courses that meet the same standards of accreditation as traditional programs and include a clinical component. Students fulfill the clinical training through sponsorship by a licensed veterinarian.
Veterinary technicians earn salaries that compare favorably to those in other fields requiring a similar education. Salaries vary according to experience, responsibility, geographic location, and employment type.
The majority of states have regulations that provide for technician credentialing (certification, licensure, or registration). Candidates are typically tested for competency through an examination regulated by the state veterinary board. Most states require candidates to pass the Veterinary Technician National Examination (VTNE).
Veterinary technician specialties
Some veterinary technicians decide to specialize in a certain area. According to the National Association of Veterinary Technicians in America (NAVTA), an academy is a group of veterinary technicians who have received formal, specialized training, testing and certification in an area. The recognized academies include specialties in dental technology, anesthesia, internal medicine, emergency and critical care, behavior, zoological medicine, and equine veterinary nursing.
NAVTA defines a society as a group of veterinary technicians who represent a distinct and identifiable specialty, supported by a veterinary specialty. Members may or may not have received formal training and may or may not be certified in that specialty. Members of a society may go on to become members of an academy if they meet the requirements of the academy. NAVTA currently recognizes veterinary technician societies specializing in the fields of behavior, equine veterinary technology, zoo veterinary technology, and emergency and critical care.
Visit the NAVTA website (www.navta.net) for a complete list of veterinary technician academies and societies.
Many state licensing boards require a certain number of hours of continuing education (CE) to renew professional licenses. In addition, with ongoing advances in technology and treatments, most veterinary technicians find it important to continue taking advantage of educational opportunities to keep their skills and knowledge up-to-date.
National Veterinary Technician Week
AVMA Policy on Veterinary Technology
Duties of veterinary technicians and assistants, by state
AVMA-accredited technician education programs