Starting a Career for Animal Lovers: How to Become a Vet Tech
Photo by Pranidchakan Boonrom
Do you love animals?
Do you wish you could have a career where you get to spend all day with them?
Are you looking for a career that gives you purpose and leaves you feeling fulfilled at the end of the day?
What if you could have all of that without having to spend years in school to become a veterinarian?
Whether you are a recent high school graduate or are looking to make a career change, becoming a vet tech could be right for you. Keep reading to learn more about how to become a vet tech and what makes it such a great career choice.
What Does a Vet Tech Do?
Before we get into the details of how to become a vet tech, let’s take a few minutes to explore the job itself. Being a vet tech is an extremely rewarding job, but it’s not for everyone.
In your job as a vet tech, (or officially a veterinary technician) you will provide direct care to sick and injured animals as well as help healthy animals stay in good health. You will work under the supervision of a licensed veterinarian and with a team of other vet techs, vet assistants, and office staff.
Vet techs can work with dogs, cats, small animals, exotic animals, lab animals, farm animals, and even zoo animals. Your job is to provide front-line care and do your best to keep your animal patients as comfortable as possible during their procedures.
Here are some of the duties you will perform as a vet tech:
- Provide first aid and nursing care to animals
- Assist veterinarians with procedures and examinations
- Prepare animals for surgery
- Induce anesthesia
- Assist in surgery
- Help animals recover after surgery
- Phlebotomy (collecting blood/fluid samples)
- Place intravenous catheters
- Monitor animal patients and document medical charts
- Dispense prescription medication
- Perform or assist with routine procedures like dental cleanings and vaccinations
- Perform or assist with diagnostic testing like radiology, fecal tests, bloodwork, and urinalysis
- Educate and work with pet owners to promote and maintain their pet’s health
Zoie Barber, IMBC Vet Tech Student/Alumnus
Qualities of a Great Vet Tech
If you have an interest in science and a love for animals, becoming a vet tech is an excellent career choice. As a vet tech, you will have the opportunity to develop personal relationships with your animal patients and their owners over the course of their lives.
You have the power to make a significant difference in the lives of your animal patients as well as their human companions with the level of care and education you provide both in the office and at the animal’s home.
As you can imagine, being an animal lover is a must. However, you will also need to be able to communicate professionally with the human owners of your animal patients, who are likely to be upset if their animal is sick or injured.
To be a great vet tech you will need to have strong communication and animal handling skills. You will also need to be able to work and maintain composure in stressful situations.
Being a vet tech is a unique role that combines skills from many disciplines including nursing, customer service, imaging, and lab work.
Where Do Vet Techs Work?
Vet techs can find employment in a variety of different environments. Being a vet tech is a flexible career and you can easily transition between environments over the course of your career, expanding your skillset and changing your scenery.
Most vet techs work in one of the following environments:
- Private clinics
- Animal hospitals (including general, specialty, and emergency practices)
- Animal shelters
- Rescue leagues
- Boarding facilities
However, if these settings do not interest you, there are other options. Vets techs can also find employment in non-traditional settings. These include:
- The military
- Livestock facilities
- Wildlife control services
- Governmental agencies
- Research labs
- Pharmaceutical sales
- Veterinary medical equipment sales
What your typical day and work schedule may look like depends a lot on where you work and the type of employment you choose. If you work at a private clinic, you will probably have regular business hours.
If you work in an emergency facility, you will likely be expected to work some evenings, weekends, and holidays. Even if you expect to work a regular business schedule, you should prepare to be flexible in this environment.
It is not uncommon for vet techs to work late or through their lunch to care for a sick animal patient. You might also come in on evenings and weekends to take care of hospitalized animals.
You may be required to work some early morning shifts to admit patients for surgery. Most vet techs are okay with this work schedule because they are able to care for and save animals.
What Do Vet Techs Earn?
The annual median salary for a vet tech in the U.S. is $31,800. The middle 80% of vet techs earn between $21,890 and $47,410. This data represents all vet techs – including those who have been working for a while. If you are new to the field, you should expect to earn less at first.
The average hourly wage for a credentialed vet tech is $17.40. Vet techs who work for research labs, governmental agencies, and colleges typically earn the highest wages.
Working in a specialty such as dentistry, animal behavior, surgery, or anesthesia will also earn you a higher wage. Like with any industry, your salary should increase with education and experience; and may vary between urban and suburban regions.
Vet Tech Employment Outlook
The employment outlook for vet techs is predicted to increase by 19% between 2014 and 2024. This is significantly faster than the average outlook for all occupations.
You will likely not have to worry about securing employment as a vet tech, but may have to relocate to find the right job. The industry growth is due to factors including advances in technology leading to new diagnostic and procedural capabilities, increased availability of specialized care, and a changing perception of pets in the family.
Pet owners are seeking more complex and specialized care for their furry family members. This creates a demand for veterinary specialties including dentists, orthopedic surgeons, and cardiologists.
In turn, there has been an increase in demand for vet techs.
How to Become a Vet Tech
Now that you know why you should become a vet tech, let’s take a look at what it takes to get there. The first thing you must to do to become a vet tech is to earn a high school diploma or GED.
EARN YOUR DEGREE
To most common way to become a vet tech is to earn an associate degree by completing a two-year vet tech program.
Unless you live in Alaska, California, or Wisconsin, you will need to attend an accredited school. These states allow on the job training as a substitution for a degree.
It is also possible to earn a bachelor’s degree in veterinary technology by attending a four year school. This is more than what is necessary for most prospective vet techs.
You should look for a school that is accredited by the American Veterinary Medical Associated (AVMA). This additional accreditation means that the school has met the high standards of AVMA for teaching, curriculum, and student outcomes.
Some schools offer accelerated learning that will allow you to graduate in under two years. Vet tech schools are often designed for adults who have jobs and other responsibilities, so they offer flexible class scheduling and sometimes evening classes.
OBTAIN YOUR CREDENTIALS
After completing your education, you will most likely need to obtain official credentials. While it depends on what state you live in, most states require credentialing such as:
- Licensed (LVT) – This credential is given by an authority, often the state veterinary medical board
- Certified (CVT) – This credential is given by a professional or private program
- Registered (RVT) – This requires registration by a governmental agency
Unless you live in Alaska, California, or Wisconsin, you will be required to complete a state-approved training program and pass an exam. All programs that are accredited by the AVMA are also state-approved. The state exam may be waived if you have passed the Veterinary Technician National Exam.
Once you become a licensed vet tech, your career possibilities are limitless. You can continue your education to become a veterinarian or you can pursue advanced specialization and certification. You may work your way up within your practice to a supervisory role where you can inspire and manage others.
Take the Next Step Toward Becoming a Vet Tech
Now that you have a better idea of how to become a vet tech and the paths you can take, it is time to explore your training options. You do not have to spend years in school to have a rewarding and lucrative career you enjoy.
If you love animals and have a passion for hard work and science, consider attending our vet tech program at IMBC in Erie, PA. The future is bright for veterinary medicine and there has never been a better time to get your foot in the door.
Contact us today for more information and to learn more about the programs we offer.