Do you love animals just as much as, or sometimes even more than, people? Becoming a veterinary technician or technologist can take this love and turn it into a rewarding career. The path to becoming a vet tech may seem straightforward, but there’s plenty to navigate along the way, including getting the right education and training. How much will it cost? How long will it take? Can I take any of my vet tech classes online? The good news is, there are plenty of affordable and properly accredited schools and programs out there to get your career moving forward. And some of them even have online and hybrid options for those who need flexibility. Use this step-by-step guide to plan your vet tech education, learn about salaries, ready your resume, and turn your first interview into a first day on the job.
Should You Become a Vet Tech?
Not everyone is emotionally cut out to handle the challenges of a vet tech career. Before you commit to a two-year training program, address the following questions:
- Can you remain calm under pressure? Vet techs often face life-or-death crises with animals. They need to be quick thinkers and efficiently. They also face pressure from pet owners, veterinarians, and fellow staff members.
- Do you excel in customer care? Pet owners can be emotional. Most care deeply for their pets and can sometimes become angry and demanding. Others don’t care as much as we would like, and you need to be prepared for all the emotions that come with the job.
- Can you be compassionate, but professional during the animal euthanasia process? Pets are lovable companions, but in some cases, euthanasia may be the only solution to end their ceaseless pain. Are you able to assist in the procedure and communicate calmly with owners?
- Are you dexterous? You may be called upon to handle squirming animals, perform injections, draw blood, and operate lab equipment such as X-rays and lab testing equipment.
- Are you willing to undertake ongoing training? Depending on your employer, you may be asked to learn specialties needed for the practice. Many licenses and certifications require a specific number of continuing education credits to maintain your eligibility.
- Do you respond well to criticism? You will be evaluated. What will you do with the feedback? Or, if another employee makes poor decisions or goes against vet treatment standards, you may have to tactfully discuss your observations.
If these questions didn’t throw you, you may be a great candidate for becoming a vet tech. Next, explore the program options and training length that best fits your career objectives.
The Difference Between Vet Technicians and Technologists
Veterinary technicians earn a two-year associate degree and then take jobs at pet clinics and hospitals under the supervision of licensed veterinarians. Both campus and online vet tech programs train students to take the national licensing examination for veterinary technicians. Technicians are prepared to conduct laboratory diagnostic tests and assist veterinarians with clinical procedures. They must also know how to tactfully communicate with emotionally-charged pet owners while educating them about ongoing pet care.
Veterinary technologists may also attend an associate degree program, but most employers will require them to hold a bachelor’s degree. Associate’s degree grads can land entry-level, supervised clinical jobs, but a bachelor’s program prepares students for research jobs with colleges, hospitals, laboratories, and related institutions. A bachelor’s degree is required for tech roles in federal agencies. The following table differentiates between two-year and four-year programs, including education, professional roles, and wages:
|4-year bachelor’s degree in veterinary technology
|Work in private clinical practices or advanced animal research institutions
|$36,850 as of May 2021
|20 percent from 2021 to 2031
|2-year associate’s degree in a veterinary technology
|Work under supervision in clinical practice including administering lab tests and inoculations.
|$36,850 as of May 2021
|20 percent from 2021 to 2031
Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics
Research Vet Tech Programs
The various degrees and college programs available to vet tech students offer numerous training options. Your choice of educational path should be based on your prior education, career objectives, and any supervised volunteer work you’ve completed with a veterinarian. It’s essential to pick a learning mode that suits your schedule. For those with job or family commitments, a flexible online associate degree program can save time on commuting, which can give you more time to work and maintain your other responsibilities. Online vet tech courses employ streaming class sessions, email, forums, and multimedia programs so students can learn just as effectively as if they were in an on-campus program.
Now, let’s examine the most important factors in choosing the right degree.
Choose Your Degree
There are two main types of degrees, and the one you choose will depend on what career goals you hope to achieve. Is a two-year associate degree suitable for your objectives? Or are you willing to complete an additional two-years of training to become a vet technologist?
Many schools simultaneously offer vet tech degrees online or on campus with the same curriculum and completion requirements. As long as the program is accredited, it doesn’t matter to employers if your education was online or on campus. Some students may prefer a face-to-face education, but in-person programs don’t offer the same kind of flexibility to full-time workers and parents. Except for required on-site clinicals or internships, you can complete your entire degree from any location.
Can You Become a Vet Tech Online?
Online vet tech programs are offered by community colleges, private career schools, and four-year universities. Exams and classes are conducted entirely online through a course management system, but students must undertake on-site laboratory clinicals. The curriculum mirrors the school’s on-campus programs. It’s crucial that you choose an accredited online program to qualify for national exams. At present, there are 11 online programs accredited by the American Veterinary Medical Association. They can be an ideal option for students who cannot attend campus programs.
Make Your Decision
Now you know the type of program and learning model that works with your schedule. The next step is to review “must-have” requirements to narrow down your list of potential schools. Here’s a quick checklist:
Apply to Schools
By now you’ve narrowed down your list of prospective schools. It’s time to learn the ropes for gaining admission to the vet tech program. Before you take the step, look into each school’s unique application process and prerequisites for admission to the vet tech program. You’ll also need to know whether the institution offers financial aid. Here are some things to keep in mind as you prepare your applications:
Pass Your Classes & Complete Clinicals
Many vet tech programs combine online learning with clinical, hands-on classes. Students typically study anatomy, physiology, critical care, pharmacology, diagnostic imaging, veterinary dentistry, and laboratory animal medicine. Online programs still require onsite clinical labs and vet tech internships. Seek help from the school if you find trouble passing your classes. One way to thrive is to stay current, or even ahead, in the coursework. Clinical externships and courses require commuting, so plan wisely. Four-year degree programs amp up the general education requirements. Be prepared for a course load in subjects that may not interest you. If you’re learning online, be sure to balance your studies with breaks for fun and family.
Pass the VTNE & Get Licensed
Passing the Veterinary Technical National Exam (VTNE) is an important requirement for working in most states. It allows you to become professionally licensed with the designation of Certified Veterinary Technician. Even if you are planning to practice in a state that does not require it, the certification goes a long way to display your competence to employers. Each state establishes the minimum passing score for licensing. After passing the VTNE, you must register with the state’s Veterinary Licensing Board. Regulatory board requirements vary by state. Your vet tech program should prepare you to pass the VTNE, covering the subject matter and providing online practice tests. The computer-based exam is offered three times a year. The AAVSB handbook will walk you through the application process and assist you in applying to take the exam. Before applying, check to see if you’re eligible to take the exam. The application fee is $345.
Gain Additional Certifications
Going for a specialty certification depends on where you want to your career to go. They are also a great way to set yourself apart from other job candidates. For students wanting to work in a research field, there are three fully recognized technician certifications offered by the American Association for Laboratory Animal Science (AALAS): Assistant Laboratory Animal Technician (ALAT), Laboratory Animal Technician (LAT), and Laboratory Animal Technologist (LATG). Also, according to the National Association of Veterinary Technicians in America (NAVTA), there are 16 specializations with provisional recognition, each with its own organizations, websites, and processes for completion.
Certifications offered by the American Association of Laboratory Animal Science (AALAS) include the Assistant Laboratory Animal Technician (ALAT) for work as a supervised assistant in a clinical laboratory, Laboratory Animal Technician (LAT) for work directly with animals, animal hospitals or research laboratory facilities. Laboratory Animal Technologist (LATG) for work in biomedical research facilities.
The Academy of Veterinary Technicians in Clinical Practice recognizes these VTS specialties:
- Clinical Practice (Exotic Companion Animal)
- Clinical Practice (Production Medicine)
- Clinical Practice (Small Animal- Canine/Feline)
- Clinical Practice (Small Animal- Feline)
There are numerous specialty certifications a vet tech can pursue after gaining on-the-job experience in fields including:
- Animal Nutrition
- Animal behavior
- Clinical pathology
- Equine nursing
- Emergency/critical care
- Internal or Zoological medicine
Create a Winning Resume
Crafting a standout resume and cover letter is essential to effectively showcase your skills, professional experience, and vet tech training. Highlight your achievements and demonstrate how your expertise aligns with the job description. To make the best impression, tailor each resume and cover letter to suit the clinic or hospital you’re applying to. By emphasizing your experience, education, and skills from the outset, you can distinguish yourself from other candidates and increase your chances of landing an interview. Check out these specially designed resume and cover letter templates for vet techs:
Cover letter examples:
Ace the Interview
Being invited for an interview means the organization already sees potential in you. It’s your chance to secure the job by being well-prepared and demonstrating a positive attitude. During a working interview, you’ll gain insights about the employer while they observe your skills in action. They might also provide feedback to assess your receptiveness to constructive criticism. Explore these proven strategies to excel in your interview and make a lasting impression.