Veterinary technician with Labrador puppy

In honor of National Veterinary Technicians Week, Vetstreet is doing a series of articles that highlight the work of these veterinary professionals who play such a vital role in the well being of our pets. Our first piece, by Dr. Marty Becker, Time To Sing Out for Vet Techs, the Unsung Heroes of Animal Care, talks about some of the ways that vet techs take care of both human clients and animal ones. In this article, we cover more of the nuts and bolts of the important role.   

The Basic Job Description

“The job of the veterinary technician is to take care of technical tasks, so the veterinarian can focus on his or her job,” says Marianne Tear, MS, LVT, the director of the veterinary technology program at Baker College in Clinton Township, Mich. Tear is also the Chief Technician Editor of Vetstreet’s sister publication, Veterinary Technician.

The tasks vet techs often take on include drawing blood, placing catheters, assisting in surgery, managing anesthesia, and giving medications. In actuality, their duties encompass much much more. In fact, it’s easier to list what they can’t do: make diagnoses, perform surgery or prescribe medication.

Veterinary technicians typically work wherever you find veterinarians — private practices, hospitals, research labs, and zoos. While they are clearly an important part of the professional veterinary team today, this hasn’t always been the case. The first “animal technician” program was created in the 1960s, before then, veterinarians hired students or office workers to feed the animals, clean the cages, answer the phone, and do other routine tasks. As the field of animal health became more complex, a need arose for a well-educated staff that could take on greater responsibilities.

Getting the Education and Experience

A desire to work with animals is a big part of what makes a great vet tech, but Tear believes a solid education is just as important. “There’s no quick way to get the education you need,” she says. “A lot of people say they want to become a tech because they love animals, but you have to be willing to put in the time and effort.”

A licensed veterinary technician, or LVT, has earned an associate’s degree or higher in veterinary technology from an accredited school, and has passed a national exam demonstrating specific knowledge and competencies. Training consists of laboratory and clinical work with live animals.

Coping With Challenges

The scientific aspects of the job aren’t the only things that vet techs need to prepare for, however. Tear says the hardest part of working as a technician is dealing with the relatively short lifespan of animals. “Our patients live anywhere from five to 15 years,” she says, “so there’s quite a bit of grief.” Another challenge is getting by on the salary, which, on average, skews quite a bit lower than comparable jobs in human medicine. “This isn’t a career you go into for the money,” Tear adds.

What the position lacks in monetary gains, it makes up for in stability. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the job outlook for veterinary technicians is “excellent,” meaning the occupation is projected to grow 20 percent or more through 2018.

What the Future Holds

Tear also predicts major growth in the veterinary technician field. “I just heard about a technician, who used to be an EMT, starting an ambulance service for animals,” she says. Veterinary technicians are also expanding into the areas of hospice and home care.

“The future is pretty much limitless,” Tear says. “We’re just bound by our own imagination.”