Veterinary technicians and technologists are like nurses for veterinarians. They handle laboratory tests and administer medication. Most work in animal clinics and hospitals, but some work in research centers.
Although it is a great occupation for people who like working with animals, the job can be difficult and even dangerous at times because of the need to deal with sick animals.
Technicians and technologists perform similar work, but more education is required for technologists than for technicians. More research positions are open to technologists while technicians usually work in animal clinics.
Factors that influence the level of wages for veterinary technicians and technologists include the nature of the job, the geographic area and education level. Research positions offer the highest salaries and these jobs often are open only to technologists with bachelor’s degrees.
The median wage for 79,200 veterinary technicians and technologists was $29,280, or $14.08 an hour, in May 2009 and half of them earned between $23,990 and $35,880, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. About 88 percent worked in animal hospitals and clinics.*
The federal executive branch, general medical and surgical hospitals and pharmaceutical manufacturers paid the highest salaries. The 650 technologists who worked in the federal executive branch received an average wage of $47,020. Those who worked in scientific research had an average wage of $38,450 while those who worked for colleges and professional schools received an average wage of $35,980. The lowest average wage was $30,000 for those who worked in animal clinics.*
Location also has an impact on salaries. Connecticut ($36,360) and New York ($36,250) were the states with the highest average salaries while the highest paying jobs also were found in the California metropolitan areas of San Diego, San Jose and Sacramento.*
*According to the BLS, http://www.bls.gov/oco/
Training and Education Requirements
Veterinary technicians need a two-year associate degree from a community college accredited by the American Veterinary Medical Association while technologists must earn a four-year degree from an accredited college. High school courses in biology, math and science are helpful in preparing for both programs.
About 160 community colleges and other institutions offered associate degrees in 2009 while about 20 colleges offered bachelor’s degree programs. Both the associate’s and bachelor’s programs are designed to help graduates pass state licensing exams.
Community college programs often are taught in clinics or laboratories and involve live animals. Vocational schools and distance learning centers also offer two-year programs.
After they are licensed or certified, veterinary technicians and technologists usually begin work as trainees where they are closely supervised by veterinarians.
Job Descriptions and Outlook
Veterinary technicians and technologists perform laboratory tests to diagnose diseases in animals. They take x rays, handle blood tests and analyze tissue samples. Most jobs are in animal clinics, where they work with cats, dogs and other small animals. They also handle laboratory equipment, administer vaccinations and may have to euthanize animals that are unwanted, injured or ill.
With a bachelor’s degree, technologists may hold research jobs where they monitor an animal’s weight, diet and other conditions. They may work with scientists on projects such as gene cloning or in livestock management and wildlife research.
Technologists and technicians generally enjoy taking care of animals. They need to be accurate in testing and administering medication and they should be able to talk with pet owners when needed. They also must comfortable working as a member of a veterinary team.
The rate of work-related injuries and illness is much higher than the national average for veterinary technicians and technologists. Part of a technician’s job is to restrain animals and clean cages, which exposes them biting or scratching. Euthanizing animals may cause emotional stress. Some veterinary hospitals and research centers may be open 24 hours a day, which requires night and weekend work.
Job opportunities are expected to be excellent for veterinary technicians and technologists over the next decade. About 3,800 graduates each year from associate programs are not enough to fill all available jobs and the occupation has relatively high turnover. More competition for jobs in zoos and aquariums is anticipated because few of these facilities are expanding.*
*According to the BLS, http://www.bls.gov/oco/
The 500 graduates annually from four-year programs have a wide variety of job opportunities in medical, wildlife and pharmaceutical research centers.
All states require veterinary technicians and technologists to pass a licensing or certification examination after their education has been completed. Those who take the exam must show they are competent to work in a veterinary hospital or clinic. The National Veterinary Technician exam is used by most states.
Technologists and technicians can become certified to work in a research center by the American Association for Laboratory Animal Science. The exam covers animal health, taking care of animals and managing a veterinary facility. Three levels of certification are Assistant Laboratory Animal Technician, Laboratory Animal Technician and Laboratory Animal Technologist.
The National Association of Veterinary Technology, founded in 1981 in Lansing, Mich., is the primary professional association for veterinary technicians and technologists. The association offers educational opportunities and seeks to promote high standards of veterinary care. Each state also has its own veterinary technician association.
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