As Americans spend more on healthcare, medications and alternative treatments for their pets, the profession of veterinary nurse-typically called veterinary technician or technologist-is growing quickly. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the employment of all vet technicians and technologists is expected to increase by 36% through 2018. The number of vet techs graduating from two-year programs each year will not keep pace with the need for them, says the labor bureau, making this a viable field to pursue.
The terms vet technician and vet technologist sometimes are used interchangeably. A vet tech often serves as assistant to a veterinarian in private practice, performing duties that include assisting with animal surgery, analyzing laboratory samples, taking X-rays and examining teeth. Vet techs also work in animal research labs, caring for research animals, collecting and processing lab specimens, and performing procedures under the oversight of a research manager.
As of 2010, the average hourly wage for a vet tech is $10.47 to $14.11 depending on area of the country.* Vet techs in animal research typically garner lower starting salaries but can advance more quickly to higher salaries than vet techs working in private practices.**
After graduating from a vet tech program, students must pass the Veterinary Technician National Exam to become licensed or registered in their state. To renew their licenses and ensure future salary increases, vet techs must complete 16 hours of continuing education every two years.*** Experience and expanded on-the-job knowledge lead to advancement and higher earnings potential.
Benefits and Perks
Whether working in a private practice or research lab, vet techs can expect at least some benefits, including holiday and vacation pay, sick time, a health insurance plan and a 401(k) retirement plan.** Larger corporations may be able to provide better benefits than smaller, private animal clinics. Some clinics provide stipends for continuing education and discounts for animal care for employees.
Landing a Vet Tech Job
Vet techs entering the job market must have completed a two-year associate degree program with courses in animal behavior and physiology, chemistry and laboratory techniques. With this coursework and a license in hand, vet techs can begin applying for jobs. Training programs require internships, so vet techs go into the marketplace with some experience. Going to interviews with an idea of salary ranges for the area and letters of recommendation from internship managers can help land that first job.
**All Allied Health Schools: Vet Tech Salary & Benefits
***All Allied Health Schools: An Interview with a Veterinary Technician
Education Portal: Best Veterinary Schools in the United States
Globe University and Minnesota School of Business: Vet Techs in Animal Research
U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: Veterinary Technologists and Technicians