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How to Become a Veterinary Technician

Four Parts:Having What it TakesGetting CertifiedGoing on the JobSample Resumé and Cover Letter

The job opportunities for veterinary technicians are projected to grow 30% from 2012 to 2022 and they make an average of $30,290 per year.[1] But what do they do?Veterinary technicians play a key role in the operation of any veterinary hospital; they greet clients, help assess a patient's condition through diagnostic tools such as taking temperatures and conducting blood tests, and assist the veterinarian with everything from setting broken bones to taking X-rays. As with other healthcare careers, becoming a vet tech requires intensive training and hands-on experience. But if you're willing to put in the hard work and hours and love animals, then all of your effort will be worth it. If you think you've got what it takes, follow Step 1 to get started.

Part 1
Having What it Takes

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    Possess the necessary qualities for becoming a veterinary technician. Though there is always room for improvement and you can go on to develop the qualities necessary for being a veterinary technician, if you already possess the qualities you need to excel at the job, then you have an advantage. Here are some qualities that you should posses:[2]
    • Communication skills. On the job, you will spend a lot of time communicating with your supervisor, with animal owners (who can sometimes be quite upset), as well as other staff. You may also counsel pet owners on how to train and take care of their pets, so you'll need to be able to communicate clearly while putting people at ease.
    • Compassion. You may be dealing with some sick pets and their worried owners, and you'll need to have empathy and to understand where they are coming from.
    • Attention to detail. You have to be extremely precise when you record information, administer medication to pets, and perform diagnostic tests.
    • Dexterity. You'll have to handle animals of various sizes, medical instruments, and laboratory equipment with great care. You'll also perform a variety of tasks that require you to be extremely dexterous, such as giving anesthesia to animals, taking x-rays, and doing dental work.
    • Problem-solving skills. You'll need to have enough knowledge and the ability to think outside the box to identify injuries and illnesses and to know how to properly treat your patients.
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    Possess the ability to stay emotionally strong when working with animals. Though it's great if you love cuddling cute kittens, that's not what this job will look like. To be a veterinary technician, you'll have to be able to handle the unpleasant side of the job, which can include getting bitten, scratched, or otherwise injured by pets.[3] Remember that many of these cuddly creatures want to see you just as badly as you wanted to see the dentist when you were a little kid.[4]
    • You should love animals, but not so much that you would not be able to act calm and professional when you have to euthanize seriously ill animals.
    • You should also be strong enough to not get too upset when you see animals who have been abused, which will happen.
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    Meet the qualifications to enroll in a veterinary technician training program. Some programs may require you to have some college-level course experience in certain relevant classes, such as chemistry, biology, microbiology, or even the humanities, before you can apply. If this is true of the program where you want to enroll, then you should look in to taking these courses at a local community college.[5]
    • Courses involving math or science can be crucial for your training because veterinary technicians frequently determine dosages, measure out medication and alert pet owners to any side effects or drug interactions. If you haven't taken college-level courses in those subjects, the school may require you to complete those first.
    • You can also take courses in math, biology, and other sciences in high school to get ahead of the game.
    • Another option to enrolling in a veterinary technician program is to enter a U.S. university that offers a four-year bachelor's degree in veterinary technology. There are fifteen of these programs in the country. This is a great option for those who want to work in research laboratories.
    • You can also volunteer in a setting that involves animals, such as an animal shelter, if you want to decide whether this profession is right for you.

Part 2
Getting Certified

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    Enroll in a veterinary technician training program. Veterinary technician education ranges from short-term certification programs to two-year associates degrees to four-year degrees in veterinary technology. Whatever program you enroll in, make sure that it is accredited by the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA). As of 2013, there are 217 of these programs.[6]
    • There are eight schools that offer distance learning programs accredited by the AVMA. These programs meet the same accreditation standards as traditional programs. If you enroll in a distance learning program, you'll also need to complete hands-on training at a local veterinary facility.
    • You can also decide to be a veterinary technologist, which is a more advanced degree. You'll typically have to get four years of training and then will primarily work in a lab setting.
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    Get hands-on training in a veterinary clinic. Similar to an internship, hands-on training in a veterinary hospital is a requirement in veterinary technician training programs. It's called the clinical component or preceptorship, and during this time the student acts as an apprentice to the veterinarian, assisting in everything from taking temperatures to drawing blood to participating in procedures such as dental cleanings.[7]
    • This is a crucial component of the program, and it can help you really see what it would be like to work with animals full-time.
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    Take the certification exam. After you've completed your academic studies and the clinical component, you'll need to take a credentialing exam. Every state requires a certification exam that includes written, oral and hands-on components, and many states use the National Veterinary Technical Exam. Look into your state's requirements to see what is necessary for becoming a veterinary technologist in the place where you want to work.[8] Here are some other things to keep in mind as you get certified:
    • If you are a technologist who wants to work in a research facility, then the American Association for Laboratory Animal Science (AALAS) provides three different levels of certification. You can be certified to be an Assistant Laboratory Animal Technician (ALAT), a Laboratory Animal Technician (LAT), or a Laboratory Animal Technologist (LATG).
      • Though you don't have to be certified in additional fields, if this is the path you want to take, you can also develop a level of expertise in skills like health and welfare, husbandry, and facility administration and management after working in a laboratory animal facility and pass the additional AALAS exams.

Part 3
Going on the Job

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    Find a job at a veterinary facility. After you graduate, seek part-time or full-time employment at a veterinary clinic. You can search your local wanted ads, contact veterinary facilities directly or use your college's career placement office. The school may already know of veterinary hospitals who hire recent graduates. Whether you completed a certification or degree program, the school may be willing to recommend you for a position, and can advise you on how to become a veterinary technician at the type of facility you'd like to work.[9]
    • Most veterinary technicians work in private clinical practices, while aiding a licensed veterinarian.
    • Most veterinary technologists work in research-heavy positions, typically in a lab.
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    Develop your skills on the job. As you begin the daily grind, you will have to encounter a variety of situations that involve caring for and treating animals. As you become more comfortable in your field, you will become even more skilled at the work you do. Here are some things you will have to do on the job:[10][11]
    • Observe the condition and behavior of the animals
    • Performing the first physical exam
    • Assisting in surgery
    • Gather and record the animals' case histories
    • Prepare the animals and medical instruments for surgery
    • Take and develop x-rays
    • Perform tests in the lab, such as blood counts and urinalyses
    • Give anesthesia to animals and monitor their responses
    • Provide emergency first aid and nursing care to recovering or hurt animals
    • Euthanize seriously ill animals
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    Get used to the long hours. Veterinary technicians often have to work long hours, nights, and an erratic or overwhelming schedule. Some animal clinics operate 24 hours a day, and they need people to be staffed during all hours of the night. Though you may be able to have a more flexible schedule as you gain experience and authority, be prepared to work a lot.
    • You should also maintain the strength you'll need to lift and restrain heavy animals, as well as the endurance necessary for standing on your feet for long stretches of time.
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    Consider specializing. If you think you've found your passion within your field, then you can take your knowledge to the next level by specializing in a clinical area of interest such as clinical pathology, surgery, dentistry, anesthetics, emergency and critical care, behavior, zoo keeping, avian medicine, or nutrition. This does take extra effort and training, but it will be worth it.[12][13]
    • To specialize in critical care and emergency veterinary medicine, for example, you'll need to get certified through the Academy of Veterinary Emergency and Critical Care Technicians. For this certification, you'll need a general veterinary technician certification, 3 years experience working in emergency and critical care medicine and 25 hours continuing education in veterinary emergency and critical care.
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    Consider advancing in your career in other ways. You don't have to stop at specialization. If you've been excelling as a veterinary technician or technologist for a while, then you can get a promotion and become a supervisor to junior technicians. If you really love your job, you can even become a veterinarian. Vet school is extremely competitive, and having the background and work experience of a veterinary technician will give you a huge edge in the application process.

Sample Resumé and Cover Letter

Sample Veterinarian Resume

Sample Veterinarian Cover Letter

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