If you enjoy taking care of animals but do not want to get a four-year or post-graduate degree for your career, you can become a veterinary technician.
A career as a veterinary technician lets you work directly with animals, performing almost all of the same tasks and responsibilities as a veterinarian.
However, you are required to have half or less of the required training as a veterinarian. Veterinary technicians make sure animals are handled appropriately and given humane treatment throughout their examinations and procedures at a veterinary hospital, office or clinic.
Most veterinarians work with dogs and cats, but you may also choose to specialize in working with birds, cattle, pigs, sheep, rats, mice, reptiles or any other animal traditionally treated in your state. You can even be a veterinary technician specializing in an animal not kept as a pet but found instead in zoos or the wild. Veterinary technicians are in very high demand, since there are always new pet owners who require specialized care for their beloved pets.
Veterinary technicians deal with surgery assistance, nursing care, radiology and lab work, among other general tasks involving the health care of animals. The primary difference between veterinary technicians and veterinarians in terms of the duties they perform is veterinary technicians cannot prescribe medication, diagnose health issues or perform surgery on an animal. Beyond those tasks, a veterinary technician can do pretty much everything else a veterinarian can do. Veterinary technicians commonly work in animal hospitals and private animal clinics helping veterinarians care for animals.
As a veterinary technician, you must also:
Due to the great deal of lab tests and medication calculations you will be performing, you must be strong in math and science in order to be a competent veterinary technician. You also need to be compassionate and have good communication skills to put both the animals and the people who care for them at ease while medical procedures are performed. You must have physical strength to handle animals and you must be manually dexterous and detail oriented to perform the necessary procedures accurately. Finally, you need to have good problem-solving abilities to help recognize issues, assess injuries and make other medical observations as they occur.
If you are considering a career as a veterinary technician, you should also be aware you may be called upon to work odd or long hours, including possible nights, holidays and weekends. In addition, as a veterinary technician, your job will likely be emotionally and physically demanding.
You may encounter animals who have been abused and you may be called upon to euthanize animals too injured or ill to be helped. You must also be aware of the potential for being scratched, clawed, kicked or bitten by an aggressive or frightened animal.
Veterinary technicians typically earn either a two- or four-year degree in the field of veterinary technology. Typically, veterinary technicians complete a two-year associate degree program while veterinary technologists complete a four-year bachelor’s degree program.
Whichever program you complete, to be a veterinary technician, you must also pass an exam called the Veterinary Technician National Examination, given by the American Association of Veterinary State Boards. You must also get properly licensed, registered or certified, depending on the regulations of the state in which you are employed.
If you plan to work in more than one state, then you need to comply with the regulations of each and every state in which you wish to work. There were 211 educational American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) accredited programs in veterinary technology in 2016. Certification of veterinary technicians is handled by the National Association of Veterinary Technicians in America.
In 2016, there were 102,000 veterinary technician jobs in the United States. From 2016 to 2026, the demand for veterinary technicians is projected to rise at a rate of about 20 percent, or by 20,400 jobs, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). This is considering significantly faster than the growth rate for jobs overall in the nation over the same period.
In addition to the demand for veterinary technicians in treating animals in animal hospitals and clinics, veterinary technicians are also in increasing demand in the areas of national disease control, food safety and public health. Demand for veterinary technicians also exists among academic institutions, specifically professional schools, colleges, universities and junior colleges, as well as organizations for social advocacy.
Many of the veterinary technician jobs in academic institutions, however, are mostly or exclusively research positions. The reason for the broadening demand for this profession, according to the BLS, is the increasing value Americans place on their pets, including a willingness to spend more to treat their pets with advanced medicine. Skills as a veterinary technician may also make you qualified for work as a veterinary assistant, laboratory animal caretaker or animal care and service worker.
The median salary for veterinary technicians in 2016 was $32,490, with a low of $22,340 and a high of $48,330. The unemployment rate for veterinary technicians is 3.6 percent. Based on the 2017 median pay for veterinary technicians of $33,400, the median hourly wage for veterinary technicians is $16.06. While there are other careers in the health sciences that pay more, these wages
Of the different types of institutions hiring veterinary technicians, academic institutions pay the most, while veterinary services and social advocacy organizations both pay the least. There may be additional benefits available depending on where you work.