This year, National Veterinary Technician Week is October 14-20, and in honor of that, we thought we’d explain a little about the ways to become a veterinary technician, the different terminology used by those in the field, and what the job entails.
Many people mistakenly refer to veterinary technicians as the “doctor’s assistant.” While at times this can be technically true, it is not fully accurate. For instance, “veterinary assistant” is a separate job title with separate job responsibilities. Additionally, while often a stepping stone to becoming a veterinary technician, it need not be.
There are a couple basic routes that individuals take to become a veterinary technician. For some, on-the-job training is the way to go. Often people who go this route begin working at a veterinary practice in the kennel or at the front desk, move up to become a veterinary assistant, and, eventually, hone their knowledge and skills and transition to the role of veterinary technician. Other individuals choose to take a more formal route. Many colleges offer veterinary technician programs (usually an associate’s degree, though some 4-year schools offer a bachelor’s degree, providing the student the title “veterinary technologist” instead); typically these programs offer standard lecture classes in combination with more practical laboratories and off-site externships, affording students the chance to practice the hands-on skills that are crucial to any veterinary professional: proper handling and restraint techniques, vital sign reading, intravenous catheter placement, and the like.
However, many of the responsibilities of a veterinary technician are those intangibles that are so important to any health care professional: paying attention to the patient, looking for changes that can indicate something going wrong—or right, noticing trends, and synthesizing information from various sources, including owners, veterinarians, the technicians on the previous shift, teachers, and textbooks.
Veterinary technicians may be certified, licensed, or registered (CVT, LVT, and RVT respectively); all mean about the same thing—it just depends on what state a technician lives in. In Pennsylvania, we are certified veterinary technicians, for instance. Up until a couple of years ago, anyone could take the national licensing exam and add that often coveted word in front of their title. Now, however, sitting for the national exam requires a technician to be a graduate of an accredited veterinary technician school.
Adding more terminology to the mix is the fact that some veterinary technicians prefer to call themselves “nurses.”
Veterinary technicians can work in a variety of settings. They might choose to work in a large emergency and referral hospital like Hope Veterinary Specialists. This environment is often faster paced and higher stress; the hours are also less “standard,” as shifts around the clock must be covered. Or, technicians might choose to work at a small, private practice where they grow along with their patients and clients, ensuring pets are up to date on required shots, have preventative testing, and are generally happy and healthy. Other veterinary technicians might choose to work with large animals at facilities such as equine centers or dairy farms. Still others love the challenge of the laboratory environment, working with animals of all sizes. Opportunities may also exist with pharmaceutical and pet food companies.
No matter where they choose to work, veterinary technicians give their jobs their all. While certainly a positive trait, it can lead even the safest technician to not only bites, scratches, and back injuries but also to compassion fatigue. It’s important to keep in mind that the job is not all puppies and kittens. While there are some, days can be filled with aged (or even young) animals with a variety of health problems or with curious and energetic animals who have found their way into the path of oncoming vehicles—or other animals. Some technicians even see evidence of abuse. Also, euthanasia is a frequent, if not daily, occurrence.
But every technician entered the field as a result of their love for animals. Their primary goal is to keep each furry or scaled best friend at his or her best. So, if you see your favorite CVT, LVT, RVT, or technician this week, be sure to wish him or her a happy veterinary technician week! Your appreciation is the icing on the cake.