Veterinary technicians are the nurses of the veterinary world, providing many of the same types of assistance to veterinarians that a nurse would to a physician. They usually work for a veterinarian in a private practice, treating and diagnosing pets and other animals. They perform a wide variety of tests, including urinalysis and blood counts. While some duties are performed in a laboratory, many are performed in close contact with animals and their owners, such as exposing x-rays and providing nursing care. They may supervise or train other employees, or they may discuss the condition of an animal with its owner.
In smaller practices, veterinary technicians typically work with dogs and cats, although they sometimes work with smaller animals, such as mice, fish, and birds. Some may work in research facilities where they administer medications to animals, prepare laboratory samples, and monitor animals' physical condition. Some provide support to veterinarians during surgery and post-surgery recovery. Others are required to vaccinate or even euthanize ill animals.
Veterinary technicians need to be skilled communicators, because they are often required to discuss sensitive issues with pet owners who have developed a strong emotional bond with their pets. They should be able to work well in a team setting. They also should be organized and detail-oriented.
In 2002, veterinary technicians earned a median annual salary of $22,950. Earnings ranged from the lowest 10%, who earned less than $16,170, to the highest 10%, who earned more than $33,750.
Training and Education
For entry-level veterinary technician jobs, a 2-year associate degree in veterinary technology is required. Some positions either require, or favor applicants who have earned, a 4-year bachelor's degree in veterinary technology. There are more than 80 veterinary technology programs in the United States that are accredited by the American Veterinary Medial Association (AVMA). Veterinary technicians are regulated by each State in a different way, but all States require applicants for registration or licensure to pass a written, oral, and practical exam. These exams are regulated by the State Board of Veterinary Examiners or a State agency. Most States use the National Veterinary Technician (NVT) test.
Veterinary technicians seeking work in research laboratories must become certified by the American Association for Laboratory Animal Science (AALAS) in one of three areas: animal husbandry and welfare, facility administration and management, and animal health. Certification requires work experience, education, and an examination. Veterinary technicians usually begin work by training under the direction of a veterinarian. Those who have had more hands-on training do not usually have to be trained for as long a period. As experience is gained, veterinary technicians move on to more responsibility and less supervision. They may eventually become supervisors.
In 2002, veterinary technicians held about 53,000 jobs. Most worked in veterinary services, while the rest worked in boarding kennels, animal shelters, stables, grooming shops, zoos, and local, State, and Federal agencies.
Between 2002 and 2012, employment of veterinary technicians is expected to increase much faster than the average due to the growing affluence of pet owners and their increasing willingness to spend more money on their pets. However, job competition is expected to be very fierce because of an expected slow growth in zoo capacity, low turnover in the occupation, the limited number of jobs, and the attractiveness of the occupation.
For more information on becoming a veterinarian, please see our directory of Veterinary Schools