How to Become a Vet Tech
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- The BLS projects more households will adopt pets, increasing the need for vet techs.
- Aspiring vet techs can usually begin working within 2-3 years.
- Three states offer alternative pathways to becoming a vet tech.
- Vet techs can specialize in emergency care, dentistry, and many other areas.
If you want to help sick or injured animals, training to become a veterinary technician can give you the opportunity to enter an in-demand field in about 2-3 years.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects that 18,300 veterinary technologist and technician positions will be added to the U.S. economy between 2019-2029. This increase would translate to 16% job growth during that time, which is about four times faster than the average projected growth for all occupations in the U.S. Growth should be driven by an increase in the number of households with pets.
In most states, veterinary technicians need at least an associate degree and a license or other credential. In three states — Alaska, California, and Wisconsin — veterinary technicians can qualify for the Veterinary Technician National Examination (VTNE) after completing alternative degrees or by gaining on-the-job training. The American Association of Veterinary State Boards (AAVSB) oversees and administers the VTNE. Some states, such as Massachusetts, may not require a license.
Wages vary for vet techs depending on their location, experience, and academic background. However, vet techs made a median salary of $36,260 in 2020, according to the BLS.
Pursuing a specialization in an area like dentistry, anesthesia and analgesia, zoological medicine, or critical care can give vet techs greater career mobility to work outside of veterinary offices and earn higher wages. Many advance to work in biomedical research or supervisory positions, such as an animal shelter manager.
What Are the Requirements to Become a Vet Tech?
- Complete High School. Future vet techs need either a high school diploma or GED certificate. Many students have a solid background in science and/or health, which prepares them for vet tech training.
- Get an Associate Degree. Most states require veterinary techs to hold an associate degree accredited by the American Veterinary Medical Association's Committee on Veterinary Technician Education and Activities. The typical associate program takes about two year to complete. However, students can complete some accelerated veterinary tech programs in less time.
- Get Specialized Training. The National Association of Veterinary Technicians in America (NAVTA) recognizes academies that offer certifications in specialized areas. Students can become trained in specialties such as emergency and critical care, internal medicine, and zoological medicine.
- Earn Credentials. Most states require vet techs to get licensed, registered, or certified.
The particular credential needed depends on the state. Some states, such as Arizona, Colorado, and Florida, require professional certification. In California, Indiana, and Ohio, vet techs must be registered with the state. Alaska, Texas, and Washington require licensure. Check with the appropriate credentialing body in your state to verify local requirements.
What Does Vet Tech Training Look Like?
Vet tech training in an associate program includes classroom lessons on theory and on-the-job experiences working under the supervision of a veterinarian. Students must complete at least 60 credits, including general education courses.
Possible major-related courses include equine science, veterinary anatomy and physiology, veterinary pharmacology, and veterinary anesthesia and surgery. Many programs offer online formats or blended programs that pair distance learning with in-person lessons.
“I enjoyed all of the hands-on skills schooling provided me.”
No matter the format, students gain clinical skills through required volunteer experiences and/or internships at a veterinary facility. Degree-seekers learn how to administer medication, perform diagnostic imaging, provide preventative care to animals, and maintain medical records. Vet tech training also teaches students administrative skills and how to assist veterinarians. Required clinical hours vary by state.
Jackie Nickerson, a veterinary technician who began as a veterinary assistant and completed her veterinary technician degree in early 2020, feels the clinical skills she acquired during her program have served her well as she has advanced in her career. "I enjoyed all of the hands-on skills schooling provided me and feel like I learned a lot throughout it."
Alaska, California, and Wisconsin allow individuals to become vet techs without an associate degree. In these states, students can gain training through alternative pathways, such as by completing a combination of academic credit and clinical hours.
How Long Does It Take to Become a Vet Tech?
The length of time it takes to become a vet tech depends on the requirements in your state and your specialty. In some states, vet techs can gain work experience to get an exemption from the educational requirements. Generally, it takes about 2-3 years to complete a training program and then get credentialed. The typical associate in veterinary technology degree takes two years to complete when students go to school full time.
Some schools may offer accelerated or part-time programs that alter the graduation timeline. A program's length depends on its format and the vet tech requirements, including academic credits and clinical hours. Additionally, pursuing a specialization may require thousands of hours of work experience in your specialty area, as well as continuing education courses.
Frequently Asked Questions About Becoming a Vet Tech
Yes. States such as Alaska, California, and Wisconsin allow vet techs to take the VTNE if they complete a certain amount of work experience or an alternative training program. The AAVSB directory offers more state-specific information about eligibility requirements.
How much a vet tech program costs depends on the school. For example, students attending a local community college often pay $50-$300 per credit. Programs tend to be more expensive at four-year institutions, out-of-state schools, and private schools.
According to NAVTA, 19 states require professional association or independent board certification to become a vet tech: Arkansas, Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Idaho, Illinois, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Montana, Mississippi, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Oregon, Rhode Island, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Vermont, Wisconsin, and Wyoming.
Jackie Nickerson, CVT, is a lead veterinary technician and Hospital Manager for Vet’s Best Friend. Jackie began working as a Veterinary Assistant in 2014 and completed her Veterinary Technician degree from Penn Foster in January 2020, passing the Veterinary Technical National Exam (VTNE) in June 2020. Jackie has been the Hospital Manager at Braintree Veterinary Care in Braintree Massachusetts since the hospital’s opening in June 2020.
Feature Image: fstop123 / E+ / Getty Images
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