Veterinary Technologist & Technician
A veterinary technologist and technician could...
|Make sure animals in clinic cages are clean, fed, and given fresh water.||Hold and calm a frightened animal so that a veterinarian can perform a procedure.|
|Take and develop x-rays to help a veterinarian diagnose an injured animal.||Help collect and examine urine and blood samples to diagnose why a dog has been losing weight.|
Key Facts & Information
|Overview||Everyday heroes in the animal healthcare world are veterinary technicians and technologists. Just as nurses assist doctors, veterinary technicians and technologists are on the front lines, assisting veterinarians. As part of their duties, they perform initial physical exams, take samples, run tests in the lab, monitor patients' heart and respiratory rates, give shots, and assist in surgery and dental work. Their work helps relieve animal suffering and prevent future disease.|
|Key Requirements||Organized, detail-oriented, patient, empathetic, with good physical and emotional condition, a love for animals, and excellent communication skills|
|Minimum Degree||Associate's degree|
|Subjects to Study in High School||Biology, chemistry, algebra, geometry, algebra II, English; if available, physiology, biomedical science, foreign language|
|Projected Job Growth (2014-2024)||Faster than Average (14% to 20%) In Demand!|
Training, Other Qualifications
There are primarily two levels of education and training for entry into this occupation: a 2-year program for veterinary technicians and a 4-year program for veterinary technologists.
Education and Training
Most entry-level veterinary technicians have a 2-year associate's degree from an American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA)-accredited community college program in veterinary technology, in which courses are taught in clinical and laboratory settings using live animals. About 16 colleges offer veterinary technology programs that are longer and that culminate in a 4-year bachelor's degree in veterinary technology. These 4-year colleges, in addition to some vocational schools, also offer 2-year programs in laboratory animal science. Several schools offer distance learning.
In 2006, 131 veterinary technology programs in 44 states were accredited by the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA). Graduation from an AVMA-accredited veterinary technology program allows students to take the credentialing exam in any state in the country.
Persons interested in careers as veterinary technologists and technicians should take as many high school science, biology, and math courses as possible. Science courses taken beyond high school, in an associate's or bachelor's degree program, should emphasize practical skills in a clinical or laboratory setting.
Technologists and technicians usually begin work as trainees in routine positions under the direct supervision of a veterinarian. Entry-level workers whose training or educational background encompasses extensive hands-on experience with a variety of laboratory equipment, including diagnostic and medical equipment, usually require a shorter period of on-the-job training.
As veterinary technologists and technicians often deal with pet owners, communication skills are very important. In addition, technologists and technicians should be able to work well with others, because teamwork with veterinarians is common. Organizational ability and the ability to pay attention to detail also are important.
Nature of the Work
Owners of pets and other animals today expect state-of-the-art veterinary care. To provide this service, veterinarians use the skills of veterinary technologists and technicians, who perform many of the same duties for a veterinarian that a nurse would for a physician, including routine laboratory and clinical procedures. Although specific job duties vary by employer, there often is little difference between the tasks carried out by technicians and by technologists, despite some differences in formal education and training. As a result, most workers in this occupation are called technicians.
Veterinary technologists and technicians typically conduct clinical work in a private practice under the supervision of a licensed veterinarian. They often perform various medical tests and treat and diagnose medical conditions and diseases in animals. For example, they may perform laboratory tests, such as urinalysis and blood counts, assist with dental prophylaxis, prepare tissue samples, take blood samples, or assist veterinarians in a variety of tests and analyses in which they often use various types of medical equipment, such as test tubes and diagnostic equipment. While most of these duties are performed in a laboratory setting, many are not. For example, some veterinary technicians obtain and record patients' case histories, expose and develop x-rays and radiographs, and provide specialized nursing care. In addition, experienced veterinary technicians may discuss a pet's condition with its owners and train new clinic personnel. Veterinary technologists and technicians assisting small-animal practitioners usually care for companion animals, such as cats and dogs, but can perform a variety of duties with mice, rats, sheep, pigs, cattle, monkeys, birds, fish, and frogs. Very few veterinary technologists work in mixed-animal practices where they care for both small companion animals and larger, non-domestic animals.
Besides working in private clinics and animal hospitals, veterinary technologists and technicians may work in research facilities, where they administer medications orally or topically, prepare samples for laboratory examinations, and record information on an animal's genealogy, diet, weight, medications, food intake, and clinical signs of pain and distress. Some may sterilize laboratory and surgical equipment and provide routine postoperative care. At research facilities, veterinary technologists typically work under the guidance of veterinarians or physicians. Some veterinary technologists vaccinate newly admitted animals and occasionally may have to euthanize seriously ill, severely injured, or unwanted animals.
While the goal of most veterinary technologists and technicians is to promote animal health, some contribute to human health as well. Veterinary technologists occasionally assist veterinarians in implementing research projects as they work with other scientists in medical-related fields, such as gene therapy and cloning. Some find opportunities in biomedical research, wildlife medicine, the military, livestock management, or pharmaceutical sales.
People who love animals get satisfaction from working with and helping them. However, some of the work may be unpleasant, physically and emotionally demanding, and sometimes dangerous. At times, veterinary technicians must clean cages and lift, hold, or restrain animals, risking exposure to bites or scratches. These workers must take precautions when treating animals with germicides or insecticides. The work setting can be noisy.
Veterinary technologists and technicians who witness abused animals or who euthanize unwanted, aged, or hopelessly injured animals might experience emotional stress. Those working for humane societies and animal shelters often deal with the public, some of whom might react with hostility to any implication that the owners are neglecting or abusing their pets. Such workers must maintain a calm and professional demeanor while they enforce the laws regarding animal care.
In some animal hospitals, research facilities, and animal shelters, a veterinary technician is on duty 24 hours a day, which means that some might work night shifts. Most full-time veterinary technologists and technicians work about 40 hours a week, although some work 50 or more hours a week.
On the Job
- Administer anesthesia to animals, under the direction of a veterinarian, and monitor animals' responses to anesthetics so that dosages can be adjusted.
- Care for and monitor the condition of animals recovering from surgery.
- Prepare and administer medications, vaccines, serums, and treatments, as prescribed by veterinarians.
- Perform laboratory tests on blood, urine, and feces, such as urinalyses and blood counts, to assist in the diagnosis and treatment of animal health problems.
- Administer emergency first aid, such as performing emergency resuscitation or other life saving procedures.
- Collect, prepare, and label samples for laboratory testing, culture, or microscopic examination.
- Clean and sterilize instruments, equipment, and materials.
- Provide veterinarians with the correct equipment and instruments, as needed.
- Fill prescriptions, measuring medications and labeling containers.
- Prepare animals for surgery, performing such tasks as shaving surgical areas.
- Take animals into treatment areas, and assist with physical examinations by performing such duties as obtaining temperature, pulse, and respiration data.
- Observe the behavior and condition of animals, and monitor their clinical symptoms.
- Take and develop diagnostic radiographs, using x-ray equipment.
- Maintain laboratory, research, and treatment records, as well as inventories of pharmaceuticals, equipment, and supplies.
- Give enemas and perform catheterizations, ear flushes, intravenous feedings, and gavages.
- Prepare treatment rooms for surgery.
- Maintain instruments, equipment, and machinery to ensure proper working condition.
- Perform dental work such as cleaning, polishing, and extracting teeth.
- Clean kennels, animal holding areas, surgery suites, examination rooms, and animal loading/unloading facilities to control the spread of disease.
- Provide information and counseling regarding issues such as animal health care, behavior problems, and nutrition.
- Provide assistance with animal euthanasia and the disposal of remains.
- Dress and suture wounds, and apply splints and other protective devices.
- Perform a variety of office, clerical, and accounting duties, such as reception, billing, bookkeeping, or selling products.
- Bathe animals, clip nails or claws, and brush and cut animals' hair.
- Conduct specialized procedures such as animal branding or tattooing, and hoof trimming.
Companies That Hire Veterinary Technologist & Technicians
Explore what you might do on the job with one of these projects...
Do you have a specific question about a career as a Veterinary Technologist & Technician that isn't answered on this page? Post your question on the Science Buddies Ask an Expert Forum.
- American Association for Laboratory Animal Science: https://www.aalas.org/
- American Veterinary Medical Association: https://www.avma.org
- BLS. (2016). Occupational Outlook Handbook (OOH), 2016 Edition, Bureau of Labor Statistics. Retrieved July 1, 2017.
- NIH Office of Science Education. (n.d.). LifeWorks. Retrieved March 20, 2014.
- O*Net Online. (2016). National Center for O*Net Development. Retrieved July 1, 2017.
- National Institutes of Health Office of Science Education. (2004, March 25). Meet a Real Technician/Technologist, Veterinary, Katherine L. Retrieved May 30, 2017.
- American Veterinary Medical Association. (2008, January 8). Career Profiles: Small Animal Veterinary Technician. Retrieved December 9, 2009.
- Moraine Park Technical College. (2007, December 17). Veterinary Technician. Retrieved December 9, 2009.
We'd like to acknowledge the additional support of:
Explore Our Science Videos
Two-Stage Balloon Rocket Introduction
Vibration & Sound: Make Sprinkles Dance
Paper Roller Coasters - Fun STEM Activity!