How to Become a Veterinary Technician: Duties, Requirements, Certifications, Job Outlook, and Salary
We all know that EMTs and paramedics are experts at helping people in medical emergencies. But it’s important to remember that people aren’t the only ones who need help. For example, the United States is home to millions of pets, and almost all will need medical attention at some point.
And just as people rely on EMTs, paramedics, and emergency room technicians for help during an emergency, our furry friends rely on veterinary technicians for the same type of medical support.
(See our list of alternative jobs for EMTs and paramedics)
A veterinary technician works alongside a licensed veterinarian to care for sick and injured animals. During any given shift, a vet tech may handle sick animals, administer medicine, assist with veterinary surgery, or even help diagnose a pet’s medical problems.
For EMTs or paramedics interested in a challenging yet rewarding career change, trading your human patients for animals and pets could be the perfect move for you.
Veterinary Technician Requirements
How to Become a Veterinary Technician
There are several routes to becoming a vet tech—though not surprisingly, they all involve additional training as you go from working with humans to working with animals. Veterinary technician programs can be as in-depth as a four-year bachelor’s degree or as quick as a two-year associate degree.
Certification is required for veterinary technicians in most states. You can get certified by passing the VTNE (Veterinary Technician National Exam).
Veterinary Tech Might Be a Good Fit for You If:
- You enjoy working with animals
- You aren’t bothered by the sounds and smells of sick pets
- You are comfortable administering injections and other medications
- You are a naturally compassionate person
Veterinary Technician Duties & Responsibilities
What Does a Veterinary Technician Do?
Simply put, the primary job of a vet tech is to support the veterinarian in caring for sick and injured animals. Pets can be even more creative than humans when it comes to getting into trouble, so the variety and unpredictability of cases can be widespread. However, the mission of a veterinary tech never changes: to help improve the lives of sick and injured animals and share vital pet care information with their owners.
Typical responsibilities for veterinary techs include:
- Observing and monitoring animals
- Providing emergency care for sick and injured animals
- Bathing and grooming animals
- Restraining animals during procedures
- Administering anesthesia and medications to animals before, after, and during procedures
- Taking x-rays and performing laboratory tests on animals
- Preparing animals for surgery
Over time, many veterinary technicians choose to advance their careers by specializing in specific areas of animal health, such as surgical assistance or veterinary dentistry.
Veterinary Technician Job Description
What Is a Typical Day For A Veterinary Tech?
A veterinary tech’s day is a combination of routine and reaction. It may begin with a standard list of routine procedures, such as cleaning enclosures, and feeding, bathing, or walking animals that have stayed overnight in the clinic. After that, a veterinary tech’s day tends to become much less routine.
Just like in a hospital, some patients will arrive as part of a scheduled appointment—in this case, for shots, vaccinations, grooming, or other health maintenance. Other pets will come on an emergency basis. This could include anything from a cat hit by a car, a dog bit by a snake, to a rabbit with an ear infection. The variety of animals and their conditions is widespread and varied.
Treating wounded animals requires a unique type of strength and dedication. Unlike human patients, animals can’t be reasoned with and may not understand what’s happening. In addition, the clinical environment often frightens them. Therefore, veterinary techs need to be gentle, reassuring, firm, and decisive to deliver appropriate and effective care.
Veterinary Technician Hours
Another benefit to working with animals over people is that unlike hospitals, most veterinary offices have standard 8-hour work shifts. However, busier clinics may employ two shifts to provide care into the evening, so be sure and check with potential employers to fully understand their expectations.
Additionally, many veterinary offices provide care over the weekend for emergency cases. So again, it’s good to know your potential employer’s expectations.
Veterinary Tech Uniform
Exact uniform requirements will vary from one veterinary office to another, but most veterinary techs generally wear scrubs at work.
Veterinary Technician Education
What Training Is Required to Become a Veterinary Technician?
While many of the core principles of EMT and paramedic training still apply (wound dressing, patient stabilization, infection prevention, etc.), it’s not surprising that changing your medical focus from humans to animals requires some additional training.
Vet techs can train by completing a two-year associate degree or a four-year bachelor’s degree, depending on their goals and the level of specialization your future employer requires.
Veterinary Technician Programs
During your vet tech courses, you’ll typically study:
- Basic animal nursing care
- Anesthesia training
- Veterinary Anatomy and physiology
- Surgical nursing for animals
- Animal pathology
- Animal pharmaceuticals
- Hands-on clinical training
How Long Does It Take to Become a Veterinary Technician?
Depending on your chosen course of study and your ultimate goals, it can take anywhere from two to four years to become a veterinary technician. However, once you’ve completed your program and passed your certification exam, you may also have the opportunity to continue your education while on the job—advancing to new levels of specialization.
Veterinary Technician Certification
In most states, once you’ve completed your veterinary technician course of study, you’ll need to pass the VTNE certification exam. There are only three exam windows for the VTNE each year, so passing the test on the first attempt is essential if you’re hoping to get to work quickly. But if you don’t, your next window is not too far behind.
You can find the specific requirements for your state here.
The VTNE is a PSI exam (computer taken and scored), so EMTs and paramedics should be familiar with the testing process.
Veterinary Technician Required Skills
Besides the educational and certification requirements, successful vet techs typically exhibit the following skills:
- Communication – Vet techs work directly with veterinarians and other veterinary staff, where accurate, clear communication is a must. They also communicate with pet owners, some of whom may be anxious or upset. So, a gentle, sympathetic approach can be a real asset. Occasionally, vet techs may also counsel owners on pet care and nutrition.
- Compassion – Sick or injured animals are often frightened and confused, and compassion from caregivers is vital to their recovery and well-being. Empathy is also critically important in dealing with anxious pet owners.
- Organization – Veterinary offices can see a lot of patients in one day. That means lists of procedures, medications, specialized diets, and other details vital to their care. A good vet tech can keep all this information organized and accurate.
- Physical Strength –Pets may need to be moved, restrained, led, and prepped for procedures. Some of these animals can be heavy.
- Dexterity – Veterinary techs may assist in surgical procedures, so a steady hand is essential.
From EMT to Veterinary Technician
How Will My EMT Experience Help Me Become a Veterinary Tech?
- Shift Experience – Veterinary techs may work standard office hours during an average week, but emergencies may require weekend, evening, or holiday hours. As an EMT, you’re already a pro at this.
- Proof of Performance – EMTs and paramedics have valuable experience handling emergency medicine by treating injuries and illnesses in the field.
- Patient Care – Care for human and animal patients is very different, but compassion and attention to detail are necessary for both.
- Communication – You may not be able to communicate directly with your veterinary patients. Still, the communication experience learned as an EMT equips you to effectively communicate with veterinarian staff and pet owners.
- Organizational Skills – EMTs have real-world experience in collecting and organizing patient information in the field, a skill that directly applies to veterinary medicine.
- Strong Stomach – Vet techs and EMTs will see very different injuries and illnesses in their patients, and some emergencies will be similar. Most importantly, EMTs and paramedics have established field experience that proves they can handle whatever emergency arises.
Veterinary Technician Salary
How Much Does a Veterinary Technician Make?
In 2021, the average salary* for a Veterinary Technician was $38,000 per year (or $18 per hour), according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The field is also growing rapidly, with an astounding 15% growth projection in the coming years.
Experience, specialization, and location are also factors that will determine your pay.
Highest Paid Industries for Veterinary Technicians
Here is a list of occupational settings where veterinary technicians can work, ranked in order of average salary:
|Average Hourly Pay
|Pharmaceutical and medicine manufacturing
|Scientific research & development services
|Federal executive branch
|Colleges, universities, and professional schools
Highest Paying States for Veterinary Technicians
Your city or state of residence may also affect your salary* as a veterinary tech. Here are the highest-paying states for vet techs:
|Average Hourly Pay
|District of Colombia
Highest Paying Cities for Veterinary Technicians
The highest-paying cities for vet techs are:
|Average Hourly Pay
|San Jose, CA
|San Francisco, CA
|Santa Cruz, CA
|Santa Rosa, CA
|New York, NY
|Mount Vernon, WA
Beginning Your Career as a Veterinary Technician
Becoming a veterinary technician is just one of many exciting career opportunities for those with EMT and paramedic experience.
If you’re not already an EMT and want to gain real-world experience before becoming a veterinary technician, you can start by training for EMT certification.
Jobs for both veterinary techs and EMTs are in high demand, and employers are constantly looking for dedicated employees for their teams. If that sounds like you, then today is the day to take a step towards a bright new career in emergency medicine.