Are you a Vet Tech?
August 22, 2013 9:45 AM   Subscribe

I have some questions around being a Vet Tech/the day to day work.

I am looking at being a Veterinarian Technician and getting the associates degree and have a couple of questions from those who have done this and are working. I have been exploring this idea as I love animals. However I want to get a better idea around this and would love your input as I think only idealism ain't gonna cut it :)

-Which schools are the best ones and would you recommend an online/distance learning program? Please name the school you did your coursework from.
-How tough is the course work? Is there a lot of lab work?
-How long did it take you to complete the degree?
-What is working as Vet Tech like? Can you describe your day to day on the job work that you actually do-is it boring, interesting or you plain love it.
-How do you feel you are treated (and this is important)-are you just a cog or a person who cleans up after the Vetenarian or do you have skills that are respected and add value to the team.
-Working in a clinic or a hospital-which one would you say is better?
-Can a Vet Tech open up their own "clinic" (i am totally new to this so please bear with me). My main goal is to open up a shelter/clinic and I do not see myself working for someone in the long run. I do not want to be a Vetenarian, so the question becomes-can I run my own gig as an independent Vet Tech?

(a bit about me-i am a successful media executive. However I want to eventually turn to caring for animals and maybe set up my own shelter/program for abused animals. This will not be a career per se i.e. I am not looking to this as an income avenue. I want to start at getting the degree in this so that I can be part of the team who works on animals. I have NO experience in this field)

Many thanks for all your answers
posted by ladoo to Pets & Animals (15 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
 
(a bit about me-i am a successful media executive. However I want to eventually turn to caring for animals and maybe set up my own shelter/program for abused animals. This will not be a career per se i.e. I am not looking to this as an income avenue. I want to start at getting the degree in this so that I can be part of the team who works on animals. I have NO experience in this field)

I would strongly recommend that, before taking any other steps, you become a volunteer at an animal shelter. That will put you in touch with tons of people who already do this work and can advise you as to possible ways forward.

My friend was a vet tech for a while- she didn't actually even have a degree in it, as far as I know, just a BA in an unrelated field. She was paid a pittance, but she learned a lot and found it fairly interesting work sometimes- a lot of grunt work too, of course. She worked in a clinic.
posted by showbiz_liz at 10:08 AM on August 22, 2013 [4 favorites]


I worked as a tech over summers during high school and college. Since I had no qualifications mostly I was an assistant, so lots and lots of cleaning all the time, of course the actual techs do this as well. I used to take vitals hourly, walk animals, hold them during procedures, check on how they were eating, etc. Later on I started learning how to do more complicated things, like drawing blood, which is pretty cool. Scrubbing in to assist with surgery is also pretty cool.
It is quite common for interested high school/college students to come shadow the vet, so don't be afraid to call up and ask. But you don't really need any qualifications per se to get started, either as assistant or volunteering at an animal shelter. For education, many of the techs had attended programs at colleges in the area, these are mostly 2 year associate degrees. You can find accredited programs through https://www.avma.org. I do not know anything about distance/online programs, but the students do complete a few hundred hours of externships - the learning is really hands on. It may be difficult to get your hours if you aren't tied into the local network.
I worked at a specialist practice, so my experience is less representative, because the patients that come in have much more complicated needs and so the techs do get a lot more responsibility and assist/perform much more interesting procedures. Several them have expressed that they find working for a regular vet boring in comparison. Mostly what I did was pretty interesting, though some days are slow. Feeling respected and valued will greatly depend on the practice you work for.
You are not going to be able to open your own clinic as a tech. While the techs I worked with were knowledgable and compassionate, qualified doctors they are not.
posted by florencetnoa at 10:54 AM on August 22, 2013


My boyfriend was a vet tech for a couple of years. He did not complete any vet tech coursework and recommends against it to people who ask. He says that the time and expense are not worth it for a very low-paying job where the certificate/degree is not a requirement. I think this would be especially true for someone who just wants animal experience and does not intend to pursue a career as a vet tech.

The day to day work he did varied, depending on the clinic he worked at. At one, he pretty much just cleaned kennels and took dogs out. At another, he did much more advanced things like inserting catheters and drawing blood. I think what tasks you get will vary pretty widely based on the clinic/hospital and your experience. He worked at three clinics total and they ran the gamut with respect to how he was treated and what he did.

I agree with showbiz_liz that if your ultimate goal is to open your own shelter or program for abused animals then you should volunteer at a shelter. Why waste time and money on a vet tech degree if that's ultimately not what you're interested in?
posted by marshmallow peep at 11:35 AM on August 22, 2013


I have a number of friends who've worked on and off as vet techs.

All of them have four year degrees, but none of those degrees have anything to do with veterinary stuff or even science at all. (They're all former liberal arts people.) None of them went through any sort of education program to become a vet tech. Most of them got into it with no prior professional experience with animals except for liking them, owning pets, etc. I was not under the impression that it was a thing you need a special degree or any sort of formal qualification to do.

That said, all of them have done vet tech work as a "day job" sort of arrangement. None of them have had the goal of opening a rescue or working closely with animals in a more ambitious capacity than vet teching, pet sitting, dog walking, and the like. You may want to start from what you WANT to do and see what the right qualifications and programs are for that rather than for vet tech positions.

What is working as a vet tech like?

In my understanding it's like any menial entry level job, except you get pooped on more, and being bitten, scratched, or otherwise injured by an animal is a routine occupational hazard. From what I understand it is mostly boring and shitty in a mundane grinds-you-down sort of way. Also, you have to be privy to a lot of not-so-nice things like euthanizing animals. There is also a high degree of customer service involved -- you will be dealing a lot with the general pet owning public, and people skills are as much a part of the job description as animal skills.

How do you feel you are treated?

This will vary from practice to practice, and like any other job specific work environment is key. That said, all of my friends have done a lot more complaining about basic work environment/respect/politics stuff than talking about how great it is. I certainly wouldn't go into a vet tech job assuming it's anything more than menial piss mopping sort of stuff. It's not the kind of work where people tend to respect your unique contribution to the office.

Can a Vet Tech open up their own "clinic"?

This makes me wonder whether we are talking about the same thing in terms of what a "vet tech" is. That said, some friends who are very experienced vet techs have started side businesses for pet sitting, dog walking, and other animal care tasks done outside the context of a veterinary clinic. Certainly if you find you're good dealing with animals with chronic health problems, your services will be in high demand in terms of general pet care.

You could probably not open your own veterinary clinic, because you would not be a veterinarian.
posted by Sara C. at 1:22 PM on August 22, 2013


Can a Vet Tech open up their own "clinic"?

Do you mean providing home health care such as giving fluids and shots for squeamish and wealthy pet owners? That's a thing - although I believe its a small market.

The only advice I have from vet techs is, it's all about math. Dosages.

No idea if the techs I know have formal training. Now I'm going to ask.
posted by Lesser Shrew at 3:06 PM on August 22, 2013


Hi, I am a licensed veterinary technician working in New York. I have a Bachelors of Science in Veterinary Technology. I work as a surgical technician and an ICU technician at a large specialty hospital. I love my job.

Veterinary medicine is 100% teamwork. I can’t imagine “running my own gig” as a technician. I don’t even understand how that would work.

As a surgical techinician I am both a circulating nurse and an anesthetist. I am responsible from taking our patient's from a conscious state to an anesthetized state. I place catheters, administer anesthetic inductions drugs, intubate and prep patients for surgery. I monitor them during surgery and provide intra-operative anesthesia and analgesia. During surgery I pass the surgeons instruments and assist them as needed. In general I don’t scrub in for surgery. I work closely with my fellow surgical technicians, my assistants, and the surgeons pre, intra, and post-operatively. I’m responsible for recovering animals post-op and transferring them to ICU. An animal is considered recovered once it have been extubated, is up to temperature, fully conscious, and on the appropriate pain medication.

As an ICU technician I care for our hospital’s in-patients by providing the medical treatments our veterinarians order for them. I administer drugs, perform serial exams, place catheters, monitors ECGs, oxygen therapy, ec. I do physical therapy on patients that are down or who can’t otherwise ambulate on their own. I can have between 4 – 20 inpatients and generally work very closely with 1 – 2 other technicians and 2 – 4 assistants, and 3 – 5 doctors.

As far as school, it took me four years to finish my degree. The main veterinary technology lectures included: Anatomy ( +lab), Physiology, Microbiology (+lab), Clinical Pathology (+lab), Small Animal Disease (+lab), , Small Animal Nursing (+lab), Large Animal Disease (+lab), Large Animal Nursing (+lab), Lab Animal Medicine, Pharmacology, Toxicology, and Medical Calculations. The course work is challenging. Personally I loved the challenge, but about 35% of my classmates either failed out of the program or dropped out.

After 3.5 years of clinical and coursework I was eligible to take the VTNE, which is required to earn your license.

Unless you are an unlicensed technician who has received extensive on the job (OTJ) training, I would highly recommend you not do distance learning. Distance learning works well for OTJ techs that work full-time as technicians.

>> “In my understanding it's like any menial entry level job, except you get pooped on more, and being bitten, scratched, or otherwise injured by an animal is a routine occupational hazard. From what I understand it is mostly boring and shitty in a mundane grinds-you-down sort of way."
...WOW, this could not be further than the truth, and I am very offended by this description. You have been DEEPLY misinformed about this job by folks who sound completely unqualified to call themselves veterinary technicians.

For more information see:

- The National Association of Veterinary Technicians in America (NAVTA)
- Veterinary Technician National Exam (VTNE)
- AVMA Committee on Veterinary Technician Education and Activities (CVTEA)
posted by OsoMeaty at 3:31 PM on August 22, 2013 [6 favorites]


...WOW, this could not be further than the truth, and I am very offended by this description.

FWIW my vet tech friends are technicians in a clinic environment and are not doing most of what you describe yourself doing in a large specialty animal hospital. They are mostly doing clerical work, cleaning, and customer service, as well as assisting with minor procedures that the clinic does onsite (giving immunizations, changing bandages, processing blood work, and the like).

I have one friend who has been there for 5+ years and does some of the things you mention, but since it's a small clinic and not a hospital, nobody there exclusively assists with surgery and doesn't do the regular vet tech stuff.

Seriously, being a vet tech is a lot of hard work and mostly not a lot of practicing medicine and assisting in surgeries, unless you end up in a highly specialized environment.
posted by Sara C. at 4:54 PM on August 22, 2013


wow! some great and differing answers here but thanks for that as it gives quite a rounded view of how things are.

As some you asked about the "clinic" idea. To clarify-

-The goal here is to be an emergency/medical source to help abused animals who need medical help. Their first stop before they get real vet help. It could be a "clinic" on wheels or a facility. It would be non profit of course. I do not think you need a Vetenarian for that (?) -these animals would be mostly, unfortunately, stray/abandoned and belong to no one, who would otherwise die untreated. I would not be working with pets who belong to households or act as a Vetenarian substitute

-I am looking for not just the US but also countries where there is even less help for animals.

-I would like to be hands on, so I need the skills to jump in and attend to the animal. Hence the need to do the degree/certificate

OsoMeaty -you answer was right on regarding the core information I was looking for. Thank you. Question for you though
-Do you think someone could get an associate vet degree with specialization in surgical proceedures and do the same tasks as you do? I do not want to spend 4 yrs in school after two masters degrees :)
-Is your experience unique as compared to perhaps your friends who graduated with you or your peers at work?

Thanks for all the help.
posted by ladoo at 5:57 PM on August 22, 2013


Ok, you are describing the job of an emergency vet. That you want to run a nonprofit clinic for abandoned and abused animals is really quite separate from the training you need to actually do so.
posted by florencetnoa at 7:00 PM on August 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


osomeaty: the menial jobs other people, including my friend, have done, are called 'vet tech' jobs, but it's really a different job altogether than what you describe. There should be different names for the jobs, honestly. Like, say, the difference between a nursing home assistant with no degree, and a licensed nurse. Don't take offense! But, those jobs do exist, and they ARE totally menial and don't require training.
posted by showbiz_liz at 8:22 PM on August 22, 2013


I think those jobs sound more like Vet Assistant jobs which can be done in a nine month certificate program. My understanding was that a Vet Tech does the kind of jobs Osomeaty has described--right/wrong??
posted by ladoo at 9:25 PM on August 22, 2013


FWIW my friends who have worked in a clinic environment mostly as support staff with the occasional opportunity to assist with a surgery or the like all refer to themselves as Vet Techs, by that name. I don't know if that's typical or not.

Depending on where you live, I don't know that the type of vet tech that exclusively practices emergency veterinary medicine and does no support work (cleaning, patient intake, clerical stuff, etc) is going to be easy in terms of finding a job. How many veterinary hospitals exist in your area? How much need is there for emergency vet services vs. basic clinic staff?
posted by Sara C. at 10:36 PM on August 22, 2013


Veterinary medicine can be broken down into three distinct fields. General practice (GP), specialty practice, and shelter medicine. GP veterinarians and technicians generally work together, doing routine exams, preventive medicine, vaccines, minor soft tissue surgery, some minor orthopedic surgery, and some minor oral surgery. Specialty practice includes emergency and critical care, internal medicine, surgery, dermatology, oncology, ophthalmology, dentistry, neurology, and behavior. GPs usually refer patients to specialties hospitals and when a more advanced level of care is needed. I choose to work in specialty practice because I think it’s a dynamic and challenging field where you are always learning something new. The pay is better and there is more room for career advancement. I work with talented and dedicated veterinarians, technicians and assistants to improve and save out patient lives. Vaccines and fecals and yearly blood work is super important for our patient’s health, but it just bores me to death!

Veterinary medicine is a highly specialized field. An LVT, Registered Veterinary Technician (RVT), or Certified Veterinary Technician (CVT) can all become Veterinary Technician Specialists, which is a technician who has undergone an additional 2 – 3 years of training in their specialty and have sat and passed their specialty exam. Some of the specialty academies that accredit VTS exist in internal medicine, dentistry, emergency and critical care, surgery.

-Do you think someone could get an associate vet degree with specialization in surgical procedures and do the same tasks as you do? Absolutely. Many of the LVTS I work with have their associates. Associate degrees are more common the bachelors degrees in veterinary technology. Out of the 120 or so AVMA accredited vet tech programs only 22 or so offer bachelors degrees. I choose bachelors because it would be my first college level degree, the pay is better, and I received more specialized training prior (more externships hours) to graduation and licensure. I know many excellent LVTs who have their associates and work in specialty hospitals.

-Is your experience unique as compared to perhaps your friends who graduated with you or your peers at work? Of the 30 students I graduated with, I would guess that about 50% went into specialty practice, 30% into GP, and 20% into lab animal medicine, and once girl is working at an open-admissions animal shelter in a large city.
Keep in mind I live and work in metropolitan New York. There are lot of people and a lot of pets here, and pet culture here is HUGE.

-The goal here is to be an emergency/medical source to help abused animals who need medical help. Their first stop before they get real vet help. It could be a "clinic" on wheels or a facility. It would be non profit of course. I do not think you need a Vetenarian for that (?) -these animals would be mostly, unfortunately, stray/abandoned and belong to no one, who would otherwise die untreated.
You are mostly describing the job of a shelter veterinary technician, which is a mixture of GP and emergency medicine (mainly triage and emergency stabilization). You’d being seeing a lot of: emaciation, reproductive emergency, wounds, hit by cars, bites, neglect cases, feral cats, stray dogs.

You absolutely need to work with a veterinarian as a veterinary technician if you are going to providing any kind of medical care to an animal. FULL STOP. My doctors diagnose and prescribe a treatment plan that I then implement. Vet tech is to veterinarian as nurse is to doctor.

I love my job, but it is a ton of hard work. I work a 10-hour shift four days a week. My ten-hour shift often turns into an 11,12, or 13-hour shift. I got pooped on, peed on, bleed on and puked on all the time. You get used to the blood and guts really quick if you’re the right kind of person for this job. There is a lot of dark humor. It’s not for the faint of heart or the weak stomach. But it’s also a lot of fun. There is not a lot of glory in it because people don’t really understand what veterinary technicians/nurses do for animals. Like I said, veterinary medicine = team work. You can’t do this alone you need the team. Also, you better like to clean because you spend A LOT of time cleaning. Cleaning your patients, cleaning yourself.

Where I work veterinary assistants are a really important part of the team. They are generally responsible for feeding, walking, and cleaning up after our patients. A HUGE part of their job is holding animals for procedures like catheter placement and x-rays. Most assistants I know get 100% OTJ. I’ve only met one assistant who had a certificate. Assistants make the world go round. A really talented assistant can run lab work, obtain radiographs, and can participate in physical therapy, and advocate for the animals in their care. Good assistants are always updating me about our patients; Fluffy had a hard time making it to the grass, Fluffy likes IAM more than pedigree. That kind of thing.
posted by OsoMeaty at 2:11 PM on August 23, 2013




Thanks very much this is very helpful. Now to make the plan fall into place.
posted by ladoo at 5:03 PM on August 23, 2013


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