Animal lovers get satisfaction in this occupation, but aspects
of the work can be unpleasant, physically and emotionally demanding,
and sometimes dangerous.
Entrants generally complete a 2-year or 4-year veterinary
technology program and must pass a State examination.
Employment is expected to grow much faster than average.
Keen competition is expected for jobs in zoos.
Nature of the Work
Owners of pets and other animals today expect state-of-the-art
veterinary care. To provide this service, veterinarians use the
skills of veterinary technologists and technicians, who perform
many of the same duties for a veterinarian that a nurse would
for a physician, including routine laboratory and clinical procedures.
Although specific job duties vary by employer, there often is
little difference between the tasks carried out by technicians
and by technologists, despite some differences in formal education
and training. As a result, most workers in this occupation are
Veterinary technologists and technicians typically conduct clinical
work in a private practice under the supervision of a veterinarian—often
performing various medical tests along with treating and diagnosing
medical conditions and diseases in animals. For example, they
may perform laboratory tests such as urinalysis and blood counts,
assist with dental prophylaxis, prepare tissue samples, take blood
samples, or assist veterinarians in a variety of tests and analyses
in which they often utilize various items of medical equipment,
such as test tubes and diagnostic equipment. While most of these
duties are performed in a laboratory setting, many are not. For
example, some veterinary technicians obtain and record patients’
case histories, expose and develop x rays, and provide specialized
nursing care. In addition, experienced veterinary technicians
may discuss a pet’s condition with its owners and train new clinic
personnel. Veterinary technologists and technicians assisting
small-animal practitioners usually care for companion animals,
such as cats and dogs, but can perform a variety of duties with
mice, rats, sheep, pigs, cattle, monkeys, birds, fish, and frogs.
Very few veterinary technologists work in mixed animal practices
where they care for both small companion animals and larger, nondomestic
Besides working in private clinics and animal hospitals, veterinary
technologists and technicians may work in research facilities,
where they may administer medications orally or topically, prepare
samples for laboratory examinations, and record information on
an animal’s genealogy, diet, weight, medications, food intake,
and clinical signs of pain and distress. Some may be required
to sterilize laboratory and surgical equipment and provide routine
postoperative care. At research facilities, veterinary technologists
typically work under the guidance of veterinarians, physicians,
and other laboratory technicians. Some veterinary technologists
vaccinate newly admitted animals and occasionally are required
to euthanize seriously ill, severely injured, or unwanted animals.
While the goal of most veterinary technologists and technicians
is to promote animal health, some contribute to human health as
well. Veterinary technologists occasionally assist veterinarians
as they work with other scientists in medical-related fields such
as gene therapy and cloning. Some find opportunities in biomedical
research, wildlife medicine, the military, livestock management,
or pharmaceutical sales.
People who love animals get satisfaction from working with and
helping them. However, some of the work may be unpleasant, physically
and emotionally demanding, and sometimes dangerous. At times,
veterinary technicians must clean cages and lift, hold, or restrain
animals, risking exposure to bites or scratches. These workers
must take precautions when treating animals with germicides or
insecticides. The work setting can be noisy.
Veterinary technologists and technicians who witness abused animals
or who euthanize unwanted, aged, or hopelessly injured animals
may experience emotional stress. Those working for humane societies
and animal shelters often deal with the public, some of whom might
react with hostility to any implication that the owners are neglecting
or abusing their pets. Such workers must maintain a calm and professional
demeanor while they enforce the laws regarding animal care. In
some animal hospitals, research facilities, and animal shelters,
a veterinary technician is on duty 24 hours a day, which means
that some may work night shifts. Most full-time veterinary technologists
and technicians work about 40 hours a week, although some work
50 or more hours a week.
Training, Other Qualifications, and Advancement
There are primarily two levels of education and training for
entry to this occupation: a 2-year program for veterinary technicians
and a 4-year program for veterinary technologists. Most entry-level
veterinary technicians have a 2-year degree, usually an associate’s
degree, from an accredited community college program in veterinary
technology in which courses are taught in clinical and laboratory
settings using live animals. About 15 colleges offer veterinary
technology programs that are longer and that culminate in a 4-year
bachelor’s degree in veterinary technology. These 4-year colleges,
in addition to some vocational schools, also offer 2-year programs
in laboratory animal science. Approximately 5 schools offer distance
In 2004, 116 veterinary technology programs in 43 States were
accredited by the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA).
Graduation from an AVMA-accredited veterinary technology program
allows students to take the credentialing exam in any State in
the country. Each State regulates veterinary technicians and technologists
differently; however, all States require them to pass a credentialing
exam following coursework. Passing the State exam assures the
public that the technician or technologist has sufficient knowledge
to work in a veterinary clinic or hospital. Candidates are tested
for competency through an examination that includes oral, written,
and practical portions and that is regulated by the State Board
of Veterinary Examiners or the appropriate State agency. Depending
on the State, candidates may become registered, licensed, or certified.
Most States, however, use the National Veterinary Technician (NVT)
exam. Prospects usually can have their passing scores transferred
from one State to another, so long as both States utilize the
Employers recommend American Association for Laboratory Animal
Science (AALAS) certification for those seeking employment in
a research facility. AALAS offers certification for three levels
of technician competence, with a focus on three principal areas—animal
husbandry, facility management, and animal health and welfare.
Those who wish to become certified must satisfy a combination
of education and experience requirements prior to taking an exam.
Work experience must be directly related to the maintenance, health,
and well-being of laboratory animals and must be gained in a laboratory
animal facility as defined by AALAS. Candidates who meet the necessary
criteria can begin pursuing the desired certification on the basis
of their qualifications. The lowest level of certification is
Assistant Laboratory Animal Technician (ALAT), the second level
is Laboratory Animal Technician (LAT), and the highest level of
certification is Laboratory Animal Technologist (LATG). The examination
consists of multiple-choice questions and is longer and more difficult
for higher levels of certification, ranging from 2 hours for the
ALAT to 3 hours for the LATG.
Persons interested in careers as veterinary technologists and
technicians should take as many high school science, biology,
and math courses as possible. Science courses taken beyond high
school, in an associate’s or bachelor’s degree program, should
emphasize practical skills in a clinical or laboratory setting.
Because veterinary technologists and technicians often deal with
pet owners, communication skills are very important. In addition,
technologists and technicians should be able to work well with
others, because teamwork with veterinarians is common. Organizational
ability and the ability to pay attention to detail also are important.
Technologists and technicians usually begin work as trainees
in routine positions under the direct supervision of a veterinarian.
Entry-level workers whose training or educational background encompasses
extensive hands-on experience with a variety of laboratory equipment,
including diagnostic and medical equipment, usually require a
shorter period of on-the-job training. As they gain experience,
technologists and technicians take on more responsibility and
carry out more assignments under only general veterinary supervision.
Some eventually may become supervisors.
Veterinary technologists and technicians held about 60,000 jobs
in 2004. Most worked in veterinary services. The remainder worked
in boarding kennels, animal shelters, stables, grooming salons,
zoos, and local, State, and Federal agencies.
Employment of veterinary technologists and technicians is expected
to grow much faster than average for all occupations through the
year 2014. Job openings also will stem from the need to replace
veterinary technologists and technicians who leave the occupation
over the 2004–14 period. Keen competition is expected for veterinary
technologist and technician jobs in zoos, due to expected slow
growth in zoo capacity, low turnover among workers, the limited
number of positions, and the fact that the occupation attracts
Pet owners are becoming more affluent and more willing to pay
for advanced care because many of them consider their pet to be
part of the family. This growing affluence and view of pets will
spur employment growth for veterinary technologists and technicians.
The number of dogs used as companion pets, which also drives employment
growth, is expected to increase more slowly during the projection
period than in the previous decade. However, the rapidly growing
number of cats utilized as companion pets is expected to boost
the demand for feline medicine and services, offsetting any reduced
demand for veterinary care for dogs. The availability of advanced
veterinary services, such as preventive dental care and surgical
procedures, may provide opportunities for workers specializing
in those areas. Biomedical facilities, diagnostic laboratories,
wildlife facilities, humane societies, animal control facilities,
drug or food manufacturing companies, and food safety inspection
facilities will provide additional jobs for veterinary technologists
and technicians. Furthermore, demand for these workers will stem
from the desire to replace veterinary assistants with more highly
skilled technicians and technologists in animal clinics and hospitals,
shelters, kennels, and humane societies.
Employment of veterinary technicians and technologists is relatively
stable during periods of economic recession. Layoffs are less
likely to occur among veterinary technologists and technicians
than in some other occupations because animals will continue to
require medical care.
Median hourly earnings of veterinary technologists and technicians
were $11.99 in May 2004. The middle 50 percent earned between
$9.88 and $14.56. The bottom 10 percent earned less than $8.51,
and the top 10 percent earned more than $17.12.
Others who work extensively with animals include animal care
and service workers, veterinary assistants, and laboratory animal
caretakers. Like veterinary technologists and technicians, they
must have patience and feel comfortable with animals. However,
the level of training required for these occupations is less than
that needed by veterinary technologists and technicians. Veterinarians,
who need much more formal education, also work extensively with
animals, preventing, diagnosing, and treating their diseases,
disorders, and injuries.
Sources of Additional Information
For information on certification as a laboratory animal technician
or technologist, contact:
American Association for Laboratory Animal Science, 9190 Crestwyn
Hills Dr., Memphis, TN 38125. Internet: http://www.aalas.org/
For information on careers in veterinary medicine and a listing
of AVMA-accredited veterinary technology programs, contact:
American Veterinary Medical Assocation, 1931 N. Meacham Rd.,
Suite 100, Schaumburg, IL 60173-4360. Internet: http://www.avma.org/
Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational
Outlook Handbook, 2006-07 Edition