There are approximately 80,000 veterinary technologists and technicians in the United States. Job growth indicators suggest that over the next decade, the field will grow by 36%; this is far beyond the average rate of growth for all jobs.
Veterinarian technologists and technicians assist veterinarians just as nurses assist doctors. Technologists can work in a private practice veterinary clinic, or take on more complex research-related work. For the most part, technicians limit their work to privately owned veterinary clinics. In a clinic, a licensed veterinarian supervises both technologists and technicians as they diagnose, test and treat diseases, disorders and other medical conditions in animals. The work done by technologists and technicians is widely various. Among potential tasks they may be given over the course of a day are preparation of tissue samples, drawing blood, testing urine, blood counts, supporting a veterinarian with dental work, and more. Some of this work is accomplished in a lab, while some of it might be administrative; for example, technicians might document or review patients’ case histories, nurse sick animals or develop x-rays. Those with sufficient experience are permitted to talk to a pet’s owners about the animal’s condition. Those who work in small animal clinics might combine caring for common pets like cats and dogs with less common ones, like monkeys or fish. For the most part, veterinary technologists do not work in practices that treat both small animals and large, undomesticated ones.
Veterinary technologists working in research are supervised by veterinarians, or physicians if the research is being done for human benefit; for example, research in cloning, gene therapy, animal-to-human infection, or transplants. Under supervision technologists are permitted to administer drugs, prepare laboratory samples, document a pet’s diet, medications, weight, genealogy, and signs of pain. In some cases, vet techs might sterilize surgical or laboratory equipment or assume the responsibilities of postoperative care. Technologists are authorized to give vaccinations and to administer euthanasia to pets that are in the process of actively dying from injury or disease. Some vet techs specialize in managing livestock, treating undomesticated animals, biosecurity or pharmaceutical sales.
Veterinary clinics can be chaotic when sick animals are under stress. The work requires stamina and sometimes a degree of strength. Vet technologists and technicians are likely to be on their feet throughout most of the work day. There will be times when they will lift or carry heavy animals or move bulky equipment. Euthanizing a pet will be difficult for many technologists and technicians, especially if the animal is simply unwanted but otherwise healthy. For all vet techs, there is always the danger of being bitten or attacked by a frightened animal in pain. Safety measures must be put in place when using germicides or insecticides. Good veterinary technicians and technologists are clear communicators and are able to behave in a professional manner. Some research facilities, animal shelters and veterinary hospitals are open around the clock. Veterinarian technologists and technicians might be assigned evening or night hours on a regular or rotating schedule as well as working overtime.
Most veterinary technicians have graduated with an associate’s degree from a two-year program that has been accredited by the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA). Veterinary technologists must complete a four-year program, again in an accredited program. Students will be given formal instruction in the classroom as well as hands-on laboratory work with live animals. There are approximately 160 accredited veterinary technician schools in the United States. Once graduated, students are eligible to take the state credentialing exam. High school students interested in becoming a veterinary technician or technologist are encouraged to take classes in biology, math and science. Entry-level new hires will continue training on the job under the technologists, and technicians usually begin work as trainees under the direction of a licensed veterinarian.
All states require veterinary technicians and technologists to pass at least one credentialing examination. This exam is administered by the State Board of Veterinary Examiners or another state agency. Passing this credentialing exam results in registration, licensing, or certification, depending upon the state. States which use the same exam allow reciprocity. The American Association for Laboratory Animal Science (AALAS) certification is highly regarded for vet techs interested in doing research. AALAS provides certification as an Assistant Laboratory Animal Technician, a Laboratory Animal Technician, or a Laboratory Animal Technologist in three areas: animal health and welfare, facility management, and animal husbandry.
Experience allows veterinary technicians and technologists to take on greater responsibility. Some advance to a supervisory position. Technicians might return to school to become a technologist, while technologists might advance a career through research or marketing and sales of veterinary products.
The median annual income for veterinary technologists and technicians is around $29,000. Those in the midrange in terms of pay earn between $24,000 and $35,000. Those in the bottom 10% receive less than $20,000, while those at the top can earn as much as $42,000.