Just as doctors and nurses work together to take care of human patients, veterinarians and veterinary technicians work together to take care of animals. The veterinary technician performs functions that are similar to those of a nurse, such as assisting in surgery. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that veterinary technicians and technologists earned an average annual salary of $31,570 in 2011.
Education and Scope of Practice
Although on-the-job-training is available from some veterinarians, most vet techs have an associate degree in veterinary technology, according to the BLS. They learn how to handle and care for animals, about normal and abnormal conditions and life processes, and how to perform routine clinical and laboratory procedures. A vet tech must work under the supervision of a licensed veterinarian and cannot diagnose, prescribe medication or perform surgery. Each state regulates vet techs and the scope of practice may vary from one state to another.
Work Settings and Skills
In addition to veterinarians’ offices and clinics, vet techs might work in animal research laboratories, in various industries, as educators, in research or for zoos, wildlife parks and in the military. In addition to nursing care, a vet tech might act as a laboratory technician, take and develop X-rays, give anesthesia or assist in surgery. Vet techs must have compassion for both the animals in their care and the animals’ owners. They should be detail oriented, as precision in administering medications or doing diagnostic tests is very important. Manual dexterity is another important quality for a vet tech for tasks such as dental work or giving anesthesia.
Vet techs collect specimens, obtain and record medical case histories and supervise the care and handling of research animals. Dental prophylaxis is another responsibility of many vet techs. Some vet techs have supervisory responsibility for practice personnel, such as veterinary assistants. In research facilities, vet techs might assist in the research. In practices where animal surgery is offered, the vet tech might prepare the animal, instruments and equipment for surgery, give anesthesia, supervise the animal’s anesthesia recovery and educate the owner about postoperative care.
In addition to the basic duties of veterinary technology, some vet techs choose to specialize. The National Association of Veterinary Technicians in America developed a committee to identify vet tech specialties in 1994. As of 2010, there were 10 NAVTA-approved specialties. These include anesthesia, animal dentistry, internal medical, emergency and critical care. Equine nursing and nutrition are other specialties. Each specialty organization has specific requirements for educational preparation, training and experience; an applicant must pass an exam to obtain certification.