Veterinary Technician Fact Sheet

Veterinary technicians provide professional technical support to veterinarians and other entities that provide animal care-related services. Some of the responsibilities veterinary technicians are educated to perform include inducing and monitoring anesthesia, assisting in surgery, taking and developing x-rays, caring for patients, performing dental cleaning, and collecting and analyzing blood, urine, and fecal samples. Working with animals is only part of a technician's job. Working with pet owners is another vital part.

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.

In the past it was common for veterinarians to train their own animal care assistants. Today, approximately 80 formal academic college programs, accredited by the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), train veterinary technicians.

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 12 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.

Veterinary technicians earn salaries that are comparable to those with similar levels of education.  Salaries vary greatly according to experience, geographic location, amount of responsibility and they type of practice employed in. The national average salary for newly graduated veterinary technicians is $20,243 and $23,000 for experienced veterinary technicians, with a salary range from minimum wage to $81,000, according to the North American Veterinary Technician Association.

The employment outlook for veterinary technicians is expected to grow as fast as average for all occupations through the year 2008, although the pet population is expected to slow.

Working with pet owners and their companion animals requires patience and empathy. Some frightened, sick, or injured animals may not be cooperative patients, but humane handling and treatment should always guide those who care for them.

For a complete listing of accredited, formal academic programs for veterinary technicians contact the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA).