Veterinary technicians play an essential role in a veterinary hospital. These valuable employees are trained to care for animals, perform laboratory duties, educate clients, and much more, and they are critical in the day-to-day functioning of the hospital. It is no wonder that we celebrate them for an entire week in October. Becoming a successful vet tech requires not only an education, but also qualities and skill sets unique to the profession.
Vet techs must undergo post-high school training and generally need a two- or four-year degree to be licensed. Some will attend an institution accredited by the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), where they will take science- and math-centered classes, as well as writing, speaking, and hands-on laboratories. A typical semester could look like this:
- Introduction to chemistry
- Writing 101
- Clinical laboratory procedures
- Medical terminology
- Animal restraint and handling
In addition to the successful completion of a degree, prospective vet techs must pass rigorous board and licensing exams, according to each state’s requirements. Once a vet tech is officially licensed, she must attend continuing education seminars to keep learning, stay up-to-date on the latest research, and maintain licensing requirements.
As their title precludes, vet techs require a specific set of technical skills, including placing intravenous catheters, drawing blood, obtaining sterile urine samples, placing monitoring equipment, performing dental cleanings, and monitoring anesthesia, to name a few.
Essentially, vet techs are animal nurses, phlebotomists, surgical assistants, dental hygienists, and radiology and laboratory technicians, rolled into one.
One unique skill every veterinary professional must learn is proper animal restraint and handling. Unlike people, animals usually will not readily offer their leg for a blood draw or sit still for an examination, and some pets may become fearful and aggressive when gently manipulated, so safe, effective restraint is necessary. Without the help of their vet techs, veterinarians would find their jobs much more difficult.
Additionally, different species require different handling techniques. Drawing blood from a horse is vastly different than obtaining samples from a cat. Rabbits need to be held in a specific way to avoid back injury. Lizards and other reptiles also require specialized handling. Vet techs learn it all.
Plus, their skills go far beyond the technical. While many vet techs pursue this career because they love animals, it is a people-oriented job, and they must be able to communicate with team members and pet owners. Veterinary technicians often need to teach owners potentially complicated skills, such as how to administer insulin or to clean their dog’s ears, and to clearly explain postoperative monitoring instructions.
Vet techs must be diligent, compassionate, and willing to work hard. They must be knowledgeable, gentle yet firm, and quick on their feet, and pay attention to detail. Since animals have shorter lifespans than people, veterinary professionals deal with grief and death, which many find difficult to handle. So, before pursuing a veterinary career, people should consider their ability and willingness to frequently deal with death. That said, vet techs enjoy a rewarding career, but one that is not for everyone.
If you are interested in becoming a veterinary technician, the AVMA has great resources and information about accredited programs. And, when you visit our veterinary hospital with your pet, remember to thank the veterinary technicians.