Working alongside a veterinarian or animal scientist, technicians administer anesthesia, take blood and tissue samples, give injections, and assist with x-rays and other imaging.
In addition to the gratification of maintaining the health of a pet, a veterinary technician enjoys the satisfaction of preserving the human-companion animal bond. When that bond is broken due to the death of an animal, it is very sad. Old and sick pets, as well as unwanted or lost animals, may be humanely put to death and spared unnecessary suffering. Veterinary technicians sometimes must perform tasks or procedures that are ethically uncomfortable for them.
Most graduate veterinary technicians are employed in private companion animal veterinary practice. Technicians are also found in animal shelters, humane societies, biomedical research, diagnostic laboratories, zoos, veterinary supply sales, academic institutions, food inspection, and herd health.
Education and Background
Veterinary technicians usually attend two or four year programs at accredited colleges to learn animal anatomy, reproduction, physiology, and other advanced subjects. They may also need a certificate or license to work in a given state.
Approximately 80 formal academic college programs, accredited by the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), train veterinary technicians. To accommodate work and family obligations, distance learning is an option for many students wishing to earn a veterinary technician degree from home. The AVMA accredits several distance-learning courses that meet the same Standards of Accreditation as traditional programs and includes a clinical component. Students fulfill the clinical training through sponsorship by a licensed veterinarian.
Entrance requirements for these programs vary, but most require applicants to have a high school diploma or GED. College preparatory courses in English, science, and math, as well as hands-on experience with animals, are a plus. An Associate in Science degree is awarded after successful completion of study, which lasts at least two years. There are several schools in the United States that offer an accredited four-year program awarding a Bachelor of Science degree in veterinary technology. A four-year graduate may earn higher starting salaries and be more fully prepared to take on the responsibilities of practice management and public relations or to teach at a college level.
Required areas of study in AVMA-accredited veterinary technician programs include anatomy and physiology, medical terminology, veterinary office management, animal diseases, surgical nursing and anesthesia, radiography, parasitology, animal care, and management. Courses in these programs follow a prescribed sequence. Additionally you will be required to take courses such as chemistry, biology, mathematics, and humanities to round out your education. The cost to attend such programs varies considerably depending on whether they are offered through private colleges, state colleges, or community colleges. Continuing education may or may not be required by states, but keeping up on developments in veterinary medicine is professionally important and stimulating.
In approximately 40 states, veterinary technicians are certified, registered, or licensed after passing an examination administered by a State Board of Veterinary Examiners or appropriate state agency. In addition, responsibilities are often legislated by state practice acts. In general, a veterinary technician in a private veterinary practice may not diagnose, prescribe medication, or perform surgery.
Job opportunities for veterinary technicians are nearly as varied as for veterinarians. To learn more about work options, education requirements, employment outlook, and earnings potential, see: