How to Become a Veterinary Technician

Female vet examining horse teeth

When it comes to working with animals, becoming a veterinarian is a logical path. You not only get to play with animals all day, but your work is fulfilling knowing that you’re assisting with life or death situations on a daily basis.

Becoming a vet tech or nurse isn’t easy though, you need to go through vigorous training and examinations to ensure that you’re capable of working with animals; from taking temperatures to blood tests and x-rays. But if you have the passion and dedication to succeed in this rewarding career path, here is all you need to know.

1. Research the Profession

When it comes to choosing a career, it’s best to know exactly what you’re getting into. In-depth research is the first step to building a long-lasting and fulfilling career. But if you’re short on time (and let’s face it, who isn’t?), we’ve compiled everything you need to know in the section below.

Job Description

The job title animal technician was first created in the 1960s, however, throughout the years the role has evolved and requires a lot more knowledge than previous years. Instead of simply cleaning cages, feeding animals and answering phone calls; vet nurses now have a more hands-on role.

Much like how nurses help doctors carry out their work, vet techs assist veterinarians on a number of administrative and technical tasks that are needed on a daily basis. Some of these tasks include:

  • performing initial evaluations and tests on animals
  • checking vitals and collecting urine samples
  • providing first-aid to animal patients
  • administering medications, drugs and vaccines as instructed by the vet
  • observing animals patients for any behavioural changes
  • maintaining and updating patient records
  • preparing equipment for surgical procedures
  • assisting during surgery and other examinations
  • preparing blood work
  • placing catheters
  • managing anaesthesia and monitoring animal patient
  • assisting in euthanasia procedures

Essential Skills and Qualities

It goes without saying that to succeed in this profession, you must love animals, have a great work ethic and stamina to face anything that the day with bring. To see if you’re a good fit for this career, you’ll typically need to possess some essential skills and qualities:

  • Patience: You’ll deal with all kinds of animals and owners which requires a lot of patience to remain calm at all times.
  • Compassion: Being able to empathise with animals and pet owners is a very important part of this profession in order to make your clients feel comfortable and understood.
  • Resilience: Burnout is high among vet techs; to last in the job you must foster this trait to push through the hard times.
  • Physical stamina: Working long hours while assisting and taking care of animals is hard. You must be physically fit to handle all these tasks.
  • Flexibility: No two days are the same for vet techs. You should be able to handle these unexpected changes at ease.
  • Excellent memory: You must know the anatomy of different animals and memorise numerous medical terms and conditions which involve them.
  • Multi-tasking skills: You’re expected to handle many tasks efficiently and at the same time.
  • Excellent communication skills: You should be able to easily and eloquently explain the pet’s condition to its owner.

Working Hours and Conditions

Humans don’t choose when and how they get sick, and animals don’t either. For that reason, vet techs typically have erratic and unpredictable schedules. They can be called on the weekends and occasionally, even in the middle of the night to assist with emergencies.

It’s also a job that comes with a few occupational hazards. You’ll be dealing with nervous and hurt animals that all react differently - some may be cooperative while others can get aggressive.  Some pets may also be bigger and more powerful than you which will require a lot of personal strength to take control of the situation.

Lastly, a vet tech’s job can be emotionally stressful. You’ll be asked to assist in euthanasia procedures which can be draining for animal lovers, especially if various procedures are scheduled all throughout the day. You must be prepared for these types of encounters and not let your emotions get the best of you.

Salary Prospects

Much like any job, your salary will depend on your experience and where you work. For example, vet techs working in a hospital or private practice may earn a little bit more than those working in an animal shelter or zoo.

According to the Bureau of Labour Statistics, vet techs usually earn a median salary of $33,400. Meanwhile, according to the National Careers Service, veterinary nurses in the UK earn approximately £18,000 to £26,000 per year.

Job Outlook

Over the years, animal health care has become more complex creating more openings for vet techs in the industry. According to the Bureau Labor of Statistics, the demand for this job is also expected to increase by 20% in the next decade which is relatively high compared to most professions in the same industry.

2. Get the Qualifications

Unlike in the 1960s, where anyone and everyone could perform the job of a vet tech, nowadays the requirements are a lot more rigorous and multifaceted.

To become a veterinary technician in the US, you must have a high-school diploma and a two-year associate degree from any vet tech program that’s accredited by the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA). After taking the program, you’re also required to pass the Veterinary Technician National Examination (VTNE) that are offered by the American Association of Veterinary State Boards.  Once you’ve passed both exams, you can apply for a state license. Take note that some states have age requirements, too.

Meanwhile, in the UK, you’ll need a Level 3 diploma or a foundation degree in veterinary nursing. After which you must register at the Royal College of Veterinarian Service (RCVS). Unlike in the US, however, you may also be in this profession through an apprenticeship

3. Land Your First Job

Once you’ve passed the necessary requirements and exams, landing your first job will take some work. Similar to veterinarians, vet techs can usually find openings in their local animal shelters or hospitals. To make your CV stand out, be sure to include any volunteer or work experience you’ve had and include a list of names as reference.

When it comes to this field, experience is essential which is why you should consider finding an internship that can turn into a full-time job. You may also want to check job postings from zoos or animal shelters. Remember: even if you don’t wind up getting your first choice, working in any of these new environments will make for a good learning experience that will help you in the long run.

4. Develop Your Career

There are many ways to develop your career as a vet tech. The most common method is to specialise in a specific field. These days, there are more specialities to choose from and the more knowledgeable you are in one area, the more in demand you’ll be in some industries. Some examples of vet tech specialities are avian medicine, clinical pathology, dentistry among many others.

Another way you can develop your career is by joining professional organisations. Some of the most popular and prestigious groups include the National Association of Veterinary Technicians in America (NAVTA) and the British Veterinary Association (BVA).

Working with animals isn’t always easy, but if you have the heart and patience for it, you can enjoy a long and prosperous career.

Have you always wanted to work with animals? What was your favourite pet growing up? Let us know in the comment section below.