What is a Veterinary Technician?

Veterinary technicians are educated professionals who help veterinarians care for pets by providing nursing support, acting as patient advocates, performing diagnostic procedures, and assisting in anesthesia and surgery. While they may have the opportunity to cuddle the occasional puppy or kitten, a vet tech’s job is much more than playing with cute dogs and cats.

Veterinary technician responsibilities

A veterinary technician career is rewarding but also challenging, requiring technical skills, an interest in science and math, communication capabilities, and a deep love for animals. They play many practice roles, but most importantly, they support veterinarians, allowing them to focus on critical tasks such as diagnosing conditions, performing surgery, and prescribing medications.

A vet tech’s responsibilities on a typical day may include:

  • Gathering information from pet owners about their pet’s condition
  • Performing physical exams
  • Caring for hospitalized pets
  • Collecting diagnostic samples (i.e., urine, blood, feces, ear swabs, and skin scrapings)
  • Performing laboratory procedures
  • Preparing pets, instruments, and equipment for surgery
  • Placing intravenous (IV) catheters
  • Assisting with surgical procedures
  • Performing professional dental cleanings
  • Monitoring anesthetized animals
  • Cleaning and sterilizing surgical equipment and instruments
  • Taking X-rays
  • Educating pet owners

Veterinary technician educational requirements

Veterinary technicians must be knowledgeable and skilled in numerous areas because they are required to perform a diverse range of tasks. To become a vet tech, a person must be a high school graduate with a strong foundation in subjects such as biology, chemistry, and algebra. Aspiring veterinary technicians must enter an American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA)-accredited veterinary technology program, which is typically 18 to 36 months long and includes classroom education and hands-on clinical experience in many subjects, including:

  • Animal anatomy and physiology
  • Veterinary pharmacology
  • Medical terminology
  • Animal handling and nursing
  • Radiology
  • Laboratory skills
  • Surgical nursing
  • Anesthesiology

To become credentialed, the individual must then pass the Veterinary Technician National Exam (VTNE), which is a standardized test that ensures every veterinary technician has the knowledge and skills they need to effectively perform their responsibilities.

Veterinary technician career opportunities

Most licensed veterinary technicians work in veterinary clinics and hospitals where they care for their patients alongside veterinarians, gaining practical experience and specialty skills and taking on more responsibility as they become more knowledgeable and experienced.

A traditional veterinary practice may be the usual career path, but vet techs have other options, including:

  • Specialization — Vet techs can become specialized in a particular area, such as anesthesia, emergency and critical care, dentistry, internal medicine, and radiology. Vet techs who have specialty training typically earn higher compensation and have more job opportunities.
  • Beyond veterinary practice — Other vet tech career options include zoos, rehabilitation facilities, animal shelters, pet food companies, veterinary pharmaceutical companies, and regulatory agencies.
  • Career advancement — Vet techs who want to advance their career can move to supervisory or management roles or teach students seeking a veterinary technician career.

Veterinary technician challenges

Like most careers, working as a veterinary technician is rewarding and fulfilling, but also challenging. All veterinary professionals are at risk for:

  • Compassion fatigue — Vet techs often must deal with severely sick or injured animals, and sometimes euthanasia is necessary to prevent suffering. These emotionally fraught experiences can lead to compassion fatigue, with emotional, physical, and mental repercussions.
  • Injury — Vet techs often need to restrain animals who are stressed or in pain, which can lead to a serious bite or scratch.
  • Burnout — Most vet techs are highly empathetic and will overextend themselves to take care of patients, working long hours and neglecting their own self-care. Other vet techs are expected to work nights, weekends, or holidays, and miss out on important time with family. These situations can lead to burnout.

Most veterinary technicians love their job, feel satisfied with their work, and enjoy contributing to their patients’ health and well-being.

Becoming a veterinary technician isn’t for the faint of heart, but knowing what the career involves can alleviate the challenges. These devoted professionals love animals as much as you love your pet and always work to ensure pets receive the care they need, so be sure to thank your vet tech during your next appointment!



Subscribe to Your Pet