Be a Certified Veterinary Tech: Education and Licensure Information

Learn how to become a certified veterinary tech. Go over the job description and the education and licensing requirements, and find out how to start a career in veterinary medicine. View article »

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  • 0:01 Certified Veterinary…
  • 0:54 Earn a Degree
  • 2:43 Pass the Credentialing…
  • 3:19 Get Licensed, Certify…
  • 3:56 Gain Professional…

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Video Transcript

Certified Veterinary Tech Overview

Degree Level Associate's degree or vocational program; bachelor's degree (for technologists)
Degree Field Veterinary technology
Licensure and/or Certification Certification/licensure/registration required but vary by state
Experience Internship during program
Key Skills Empathy and a love for animals; composed and articulate demeanor; detail-oriented; proficiency with medical software; use and maintenance of instruments used for capturing, housing, cleaning, sedating, and providing emergency medical care to animals
Salary (2015) $31,800 (median for veterinary technologists and technicians)

Veterinary technicians and technologists (also called vet techs) are essentially the nurses of the animal medical care world. Typical veterinary tech duties include talking to pet owners, performing initial assessments, taking animals' vital signs, collecting lab samples and taking x-rays, as well as assisting veterinarians with surgery and other medical procedures. Working with sick or abused animals may be stressful to some individuals.

Veterinary technicians should have an empathy and a love for animals; however, they should also have a strong attention to detail, a composed demeanor, proficiency with medical software and proficiency with instruments used for taking care of animals.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics in 2015, veterinary technologists and technicians made a median salary of $31,800 per year.

Step 1: Earn a Degree

Veterinary technicians often hold a 2-year degree in veterinary technology from a community college or vocational school offering a program accredited by the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA). Classes may include animal anatomy and physiology, medical terminology, animal nursing and care skills, animal diseases and animal pharmacology. Additionally, a clinical internship and lab coursework are often required.

Individuals wishing to work as veterinary technologists in laboratories or research facilities will likely need to obtain a 4-year degree in veterinary technology. These programs are also accredited by the AVMA and often include similar courses to their 2-year counterparts, such as animal diseases, medical terminology, veterinary pharmacology, veterinary surgical nursing, animal research, biology and chemistry, as well as several clinical and laboratory courses. Students should research the requirements in the field/position they are interested in pursuing to determine which type of degree is appropriate for them.

Complete an internship while attending school.

Schools typically help students find internships after their sophomore year. Internships may take place at veterinary clinics, zoos, research laboratories or other animal care facilities and often involve working alongside other veterinary technicians or veterinarians. Students may also have the opportunity to gain hands-on experience with surgical and medical equipment.

Develop interpersonal and communication skills.

Since veterinary techs typically interact with pet owners, who could be distraught or upset, as well as work alongside veterinarians and other personnel, aspiring techs should develop written, verbal and interpersonal communication skills. Students can learn these skills by taking relevant coursework in areas such as speech, interpersonal communication and technical writing.

Step 2: Pass the State Credentialing Examination

Most states require prospective veterinary techs to successfully pass a credentialing examination after graduation, usually the Veterinary Technician National Exam (VTNE). However, some states and/or employers may require separate exams in lieu of or in addition to this exam. The VTNE examination is a computer-based exam that helps ensure students have sufficient knowledge to work in veterinary healthcare facilities. Students can apply to take the exam or access practice tests by logging onto the American Association of Veterinary State Board's website (www.aavsb.org).

Step 3: Get Licensed, Certified or Registered

Depending on the state in which an individual resides, he or she may have to meet additional licensure eligibility requirements before applying to take the VTNE or other required exam. Requirements could include completion of a 2-year or 4-year program in veterinary technology, proof of U.S. citizenship, completion of a background check and/or recommendation letters attesting to an applicant's moral character. Once an individual meets all the requirements and passes the exam, the state licensing board will issue a license, certification or registration, depending on the state.

Step 4: Gain Professional Certification

Students who wish to work in research facilities can demonstrate their competence by obtaining optional certification through the American Association of Laboratory Animal Science (AALAS). The AALAS offers three levels of certification to vet techs, each of which progressively demonstrates knowledge of facility administration, animal husbandry and animal welfare. Each level requires certain education and work requirements that coincide with the exam. Applying for these examinations can be done through the AALAS website (www.aalas.org).

Certification levels include the Assistant Laboratory Animal Technician (ALAT), Laboratory Animal Technician (LAT) and Laboratory Animal Technologist (LATG) designations.

Consider joining a professional organization.

Professional associations, such as the National Association of Veterinary Technicians in America (NAVTA), offer ongoing education through seminars and webinars, journals and case reports.

Veterinary technologists and technicians are required to complete at least an associate's degree or vocational program before they can go on to earn certification or licensure and practice in the field.

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