Nursing Our Animal Friends: Vet Tech Degrees

Animal lovers might want to consider a career as a veterinary technician. Online veterinary technician programs usually take two to four years to complete. Plus, you have to pass state examinations to practice the profession.

There are two levels of training in this field:

  • Veterinary Technicians- two year program
  • Veterinary Technologist- four year program

The curriculum includes courses in:

  • Animal anatomy and physiology
  • Hospital supplies and medications
  • Animal care and management
  • Animal husbandry
  • Animal diseases
  • Surgical nursing

Veterinary technicians assist veterinarians by:

  • Performing medical tests
  • Drawing blood
  • Cleaning teeth
  • Analyzing urine

Basically, a veterinary technician or technologist performs as the equivalent of a medical nurse. Many technicians end up specializing in a particular animal group like dogs and cats, exotic animals, etc. They can work in veterinary clinics and zoos.

Veterinary Technician Degree Information

Most people begin their veterinary technician career with an associate’s degree, a two year program that incorporates both classroom training and clinical, hands-on experience. A bachelor’s degree is earned by Veterinary Technologists in a four year program. Veterinary assistants, however, get training on the job and are not licensed nor credentialed. Although both veterinary technicians and vet technologists perform the same duties in a vet clinic or hospital, and both are licensed, vet technicians can start their careers earlier with their two year degree. Vet technicians learn to:

  • Monitor animals’ vital signs and clinical symptoms in treating injured or ill animals
  • Assist in surgery
  • Perform lab texts by collecting and analyzing specimens
  • Develop x-rays
  • Administer medications
  • Monitor animals after surgery
  • Give anesthesia during surgery
  • Perform injections of shots and vaccinations
  • Run IVs

Online Vet Technician Curriculum

Some vet tech schools offer an online degree program. This is beneficial for working students who can’t take off two years for their education. Since hands-on clinical experience remains a necessary part of the training, students in online programs are assisted in finding volunteer positions at a vet office, animal clinic or hospital. While they’re continuing their studies online, vet tech students are also volunteering a number of hours every week learning to take care of the dogs, cats, cows and horses in their care. Online and traditional classes in the vet tech program include classes such as clinical medicine, chemistry, veterinary terminology, pharmacology, anesthesia, large animal treatment, vet office procedures and animal technology.

Associate’s

Veterinary technicians earn an associate’s degree in a two year program. The degree prepares students to pass the Veterinary Technician National Exam, after which the student is ready to begin work as a licensed vet technician. Three categories of vet tech exist: registered, licensed and certified, all of which are determined by which state you live and work in. All three are basically the same, doing the same job and getting the same level of pay. Before deciding which vet tech program to attend, be sure and check if the school is accredited and if it will actually prepare you for the licensure or certification exam. It’s also a good idea to see if the traditional vet tech school program has an internship or externship for the clinical training part of the program.

When the student has finished the veterinary technician program at an accredited school, the next obstacle is the national certification exam. While each state may require different things from vet techs, they all require taking the test before the vet tech becomes registered, licensed or certified. The competency of the student is tested in three ways: practical skills, written questions and oral examination of the student’s knowledge.

Coursework

Vet tech classes are focused on learning how to treat injured or ill animals, so a big part of any vet tech program includes courses on clinical animal medicine and pharmacology, among many other classes. Most programs will contain classes on:

  • Animal anatomy and physiology
  • Clinical medicine
  • Chemistry
  • Animal technology
  • Clinical laboratory procedures
  • Surgical nursing
  • Radiography
  • Anesthesia
  • Veterinary terminology
  • Veterinary pharmacology
  • Large animal theory
  • Veterinary office procedures
  • Large animal practicum

Career Opportunities

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects a rosy future for veterinary technicians. This career category is growing by 52 percent, much faster than average. People are beginning to better understand the need for caring for their pets and are beginning to invest in health insurance for them. Improvements in care for household pets will increase demand for veterinary technicians, technologists and assistants for the next 10 years. Specialty areas such as internal medicine, surgical procedures and animal dental care will also create more jobs for vet techs. Veterinary technicians can also expect to find jobs working in animal control facilities, wildlife facilities, biomedical centers, diagnostic laboratories and pharmaceutical laboratories. While most veterinary techs work in veterinarian private practices, others work in kennels, animal hospitals and humane societies.

Earning Potential

The BLS quotes the median salary for vet techs in 2010 as $29,710 or $14.28 an hour. In 2002, the average pay was $22,950, so wages have gone up since that time. Most vet technicians receive traditional benefits as well as their salary, including health insurance, sick and personal days and paid vacations. Many vet clinics will also pay for any continuing education credits for vet techs. Vet technicians who work for the federal government can earn a higher salary of around $43,000. Veterinary technicians working for medicine manufacturers and pharmaceutical companies also earn more at about $42,240 a year. On average, the top 10 percent of vet techs earn $33,750 while the lowest 10 percent earned $16,170.

Veterinary Technician FAQ

What types of jobs can I expect with a veterinary technician degree?

The majority of veterinary technicians work for veterinarians in typical veterinary clinics in private practice. They generally work 40 hours a week, although the job varies greatly depending on their day to day duties. One day might be spent in surgery, another monitoring animals recovering from surgery and another in cleaning the kennels. Vet techs are expected to learn the proprietary veterinary software and to perform administrative duties as well. Experienced vet techs may move into supervisory positions. Vet techs who go into research will work with the same animals for a certain length of time, while vet techs at a veterinarian’s will work with different animals every day. Vet techs will certainly have the opportunity to love and care for their patients, one of the great benefits of the job.

How long does earning a vet tech degree take?

Training for a veterinary technician takes two years to earn the associate’s degree. Veterinary technologists, who also assist veterinarians in much the same way, get their four year bachelor’s degree.

Where are the highest-paying veterinary technician jobs?

Veterinary technicians who work for the federal government can make up to $48,020. State governments pay $44,770, according to the BLS. Animal surgical hospitals pay an average of $43,400 a year for vet techs. Veterinary technicians working in research and development or for universities earn a higher salary of around $37,000, while those working in animal production industries earn about $35,000. Humane societies and other animal advocate organizations pay around $33,000 a year. Vet techs in California and New York out-earn those working in other states.

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