How to Become a Veterinary Technician: Duties, Responsibilities, Schooling, Requirements, Certifications, Job Outlook, and Salary
EMTs and paramedics are experts at helping people after a medical emergency. But people aren’t the only ones who need help from time to time. The United States is home to millions of pets, and almost all of them will need medical attention at some point or another.
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 full list of alternative jobs for EMTs and paramedics)
A veterinary technician works side-by-side with 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 an EMT or paramedic interested in a career change, trading your two-legged patients for our four-legged friends could just be the perfect job for you.
Veterinary Technician Requirements
How to Become a Veterinary Technician
There are several routes to becoming a vet tech—all of which involve additional training as you transition from working with humans to working with animals. Veterinary technician programs can be as thorough as a four-year bachelor’s degree or as quick as a two-year associates degree.
Certification is also required for veterinary technicians in most states, which can be earned 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?
The primary job of a vet tech is to support your veterinarian in the care of sick and injured animals. Pets can be even more creative than humans when it comes to getting into trouble, so every new case may be different or impossible to predict. Your mission as a veterinary tech, however, never changes: to help improve the lives of sick and injured animals, and share vital pet care information with their owners.
Common responsibilities for veterinary techs include:
- Observing and monitoring animal behaviors and conditions
- Provide emergency care for sick and injured animals
- Bathe and groom animals
- Restrain animals during procedures
- Administer anesthesia and medications to animals before, after, and during procedures
- Take x-rays and perform laboratory tests on animals
- Prepare animals for surgery
Over time, veterinary technicians may advance their careers by specializing in specific areas of animal health, such as surgical assistance or veterinary dentistry.
Veterinary Technician Job Description
What Is an Typical Day For A Veterinary Tech?
A veterinary tech’s day is a combination of routine and reaction. A typical day may begin with routine procedures, such as feeding, bathing, or walking animals that have stayed overnight in the clinic. Upon completion of these pet-care responsibilities, the doors open to a variety of new projects.
Like a hospital, some patients will arrive as part of a scheduled appointment—for shots, vaccinations, grooming, or other health maintenance. Others will arrive on an as-needed, emergency basis. A dog may be hit by a car or bit by a snake, for example, or a cat eats something poisonous or injures a paw while playing.
Treating wounded animals requires strength and dedication. Unlike human patients, animals can’t be reasoned with and may not understand what’s happening. The lack of familiarity with the clinical environment often frightens them. Therefore, veterinary techs must be gentle and reassuring as well as firm and decisive in order to delivery the appropriate care.
Veterinary Technician Hours
Unlike hospitals, most veterinary offices have standard 8-hour work shifts. Some 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.
Some veterinary offices provide care over the weekend for emergency cases.
Veterinary Tech Uniform
Exact uniform requirements will vary from office to office, but in general, most veterinary techs wear scrubs for work.
Veterinary Technician Education
What Training Is Required to Become a Veterinary Technician?
While some of the core principals of EMT and paramedic training still apply (wound dressing, patient stabilization, infection prevention, etc.), changing your emergency medicine focus from humans to animals requires some additional training.
Vet techs can train by completing a two-year associates degree or a four-year bachelor’s degree, depending on the level of specialization your future employer requires.
Veterinary Technician Programs
During your courses, you’ll 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 Be a Veterinary Technician?
Depending on your chosen course of study, it can take anywhere from two years to four years to become a veterinary technician. 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 a certification exam, the VTNE. There are only three exam windows for the VTNE each year, so passing the test on the first attempt is very important if you’re hoping to get to work quickly.
You can find the specific requirements for your state here.
The VTNE is a PSI exam (computer taken and scored) so EMTs and paramedics will be familiar with the testing process.
Veterinary Technician Required Skills
Besides the educational and certification requirements, vet techs should exhibit the following skills to achieve success:
- Communication – Vet techs work directly with veterinarians and other veterinary staff, but they also communicate with pet owners (some of whom may be anxious or distraught). 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 their caregivers is vital to their recovery and state of mind. Compassion is also critically important in dealing with anxious pet owners.
- Organization – Veterinary offices can see a lot of furry patients in one day. That means long lists of procedures, medications, specialized diets, and other details vital to their care. A good vet tech is able to keep all this information organized and accurate.
- Physical Strength – Pets may need to be moved, restrained, led, and prepped for procedures… and some of these animals can get heavy.
- Dexterity – Veterinary techs may be asked to assist in surgical procedures, so a steady hand is important.
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 a normal week, but emergency situations may call for weekend, evening, or holiday hours. As an EMT, you already know how to balance this.
- Proof of Performance – EMTs and paramedics have valuable field experience treating injuries and illnesses in the field, so their ability to handle emergency medicine is already established.
- Patient Care – Care for human patients versus animal patients is very different, but at its core, your compassion and attention to detail is necessary for both.
- Communication – You may not be able to communicate directly with your new patients, but the communication experience learned in the field as an EMT equips you for communicating with both veterinarian staff and pet owners.
- Organizational Skills – EMTs have real-world experience in collecting and organizing patient information while in the field, a skill that directly applies to veterinary medicine.
- Strong Stomach – Vet techs and EMTs will see very different injuries and illnesses from their patients, but some of the emergency situations 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?
The average salary for a Veterinary Technician is $35,560 per year (or $17.10 per hour) according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The field is also growing very rapidly, with an astounding 19% growth projection in the coming years.
Experience, specialization, and location are also factors that will determine compensation.
Highest Paid Industries for Veterinary Technicians
Here is a list of occupational settings where veterinary technicians can work, ranked in order of average salary:
|Industry||Average Hourly Wage||Average Salary|
|Colleges and universities||$19.40||$40,360|
Your city or state of residence may also affect your salary as a veterinary tech.
Highest Paying States for Veterinary Technicians
|State||Average Hourly Wage||Average Salary|
Highest Paying Cities for Veterinary Technicians
|City||Average Hourly Wage||Average Salary|
|Santa Cruz, CA||$23.77||$49,450|
|Las Vegas, NV||$22.82||$47,460|
|San Jose, CA||$22.20||$46,170|
|San Francisco, CA||$21.88||$45,500|
|Los Angeles, CA||$21.69||$45,110|
Beginning Your Career as a Veterinary Technician
Becoming a veterinary technician is just one of many career opportunities for those with EMT and paramedic experience.
If you’re not already an EMT and would like to gain real-world experience before taking the leap to 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 hard-working, smart, and dedicated employees for their teams. If that sounds like you, then today is the day to take that first step towards a bright new career in emergency medicine.