How to Become a Veterinary Technician: Tips From an RVT

Updated on June 23, 2019
Layne Holmes profile image

Layne worked as a wildlife rehabilitator and medical intern for several years before becoming a registered veterinary technician (RVT).

How to become a licensed vet tech.
How to become a licensed vet tech. | Source

Do You Love Animals? Vet Tech Education Requirements

Do you love animals? Have you loved them since you were a child? If working with animals has been your lifelong dream, you may be looking into the next step for your career. If you have ruled out going to vet school to become a veterinarian either due to the length of study, the cost of study, or the job duties, you might instead be interested in becoming a veterinary technician.

With a little research, you will find various names for veterinarian technicians that have become licensed, registered, or certified. These titles are as follows:

  • Registered Veterinary Technician (RVT)
  • Licensed Veterinary Technician (LVT)
  • Certified Veterinary Technician (CVT)
  • Animal Nurse (outside of United States)

These titles all uphold the same requirements (more or less, with a few variances by state) and are overseen by the Veterinary Medical Board and international bodies.

The Veterinary Technician's Oath

"I solemnly dedicate myself to aiding animals and society by providing excellent care and services for animals, by alleviating animal suffering, and promoting public health.

I accept my obligations to practice my profession conscientiously and with sensitivity, adhering to the profession's Code of Ethics, and furthering my knowledge and competence through a commitment to lifelong learning."

Veterinary technician students learning clinical skills in a two-year program.
Veterinary technician students learning clinical skills in a two-year program. | Source

How to Become a Vet Tech: Job Opportunities

Each state in the United States has different requirements and restrictions based on the types of duties that can be performed by veterinary assistants, veterinary technicians, or licensed, certified, or registered veterinary technicians.

What Does It Take to Become an RVT, LVT, or CVT?

I was registered in the state of California, attended a two-year-accredited program, and sat for my boards. In order to become an RVT, I recommend that you attend an American Veterinary Medical Association or AVMA-accredited two-year program to obtain your A.S. in veterinary technology.

Why Attend an Accredited Two-Year Program?

Accreditation makes the licensing process much easier and your education worth your money. Accredited programs are held to a certain set of standards to make sure that your education is up-to-date with the most recent veterinary medical policies, rules, and regulations.

Most states require that you attend an accredited program or else you will have to supplement your qualifications another way which can be very time-consuming.

My course of studies included:

  • Medical Terminology and Calculations
  • Comparative Veterinary Anatomy & Physiology
  • Microbiology
  • Animal Management & Clinical Skills
  • Veterinary Office Practice
  • Large Animal Care
  • Clinical Pathology Methods
  • Laboratory Animal Technology
  • Animal Diseases
  • Diagnostic Imaging
  • Veterinary Dentistry
  • Pharmacology
  • Emergency & Critical Care
  • Exotic Animal Care
  • Anesthesiology

My program also required 480 hours of clinical internship. Look at accredited schools in your state.

What Exams Do I Have to Take to Get My License?

Upon graduating, you must sit for two exams:

  1. The Veterinary Technician National Exam or VTNE (challenging)
  2. Your state-designated exam. Mine was the California Veterinary Technician Examination CVTE (straightforward; topics covered).

California has strict requirements for licensing. Here is a map of which states require which type of license. If you test for your license in one state, you may have to sit for the board exam in the state that you have relocated to independent of whether or not you passed your VTNE.

What Every Veterinary Technician Should Carry

Some choose to carry these items in a nurse pro pack:

  • Stethoscope (I like Littmann)
  • Bandage scissors
  • Needle nose hemostats
  • Thermometer. I like the Vick's ComfortFlex because it bends and doesn't bother the animal as much for a rectal temp. Label the back of this though—your coworkers will want to borrow it. This thermometer fits well in my nurse pro pack.
  • Thermometer probe covers
  • Pen (black or blue ink) and pad
  • Nursing cap (if helping with surgery)
  • Eye lube (if helping with surgery)

Note: Medical records are legal documents and should only be written in with blue or black ink.

LISTER BANDAGE SCISSORS 5.5" MULTI COLOR RAINBOW COLOR STAINLESS STEEL (A2ZSCILAB BRAND)
LISTER BANDAGE SCISSORS 5.5" MULTI COLOR RAINBOW COLOR STAINLESS STEEL (A2ZSCILAB BRAND)

Lister makes a good bandage scissor. I like this style because it's 5.5" inches so it can stay snug in your nurse pro pack. My original pair was in black but that was hard to see against black fur. Go for a vibrant color—if you misplace them, everyone knows who they belong to.

 
Duties will include an understanding of microbiology and diagnostic procedures.
Duties will include an understanding of microbiology and diagnostic procedures. | Source

Where Can I Get Experience Working With Animals?

Work
Description
Learned Skills
Shelter Medicine
Animal care technician, medical intern
Exposure to spay and neutering, disease quarantine, basic husbandry, vaccine protocols, temperament evaluations, dentals (possible)
Wildlife Rehabilitation
Animal husbandry volunteer or intern
Wildlife husbandry, behavior, nutrition and habitat needs, disease, disease prevention, medication
General Practice
Veterinary assistant or veterinary technician
Small animal (dog and cat), exotics, pocket pets, some wildlife (?)—preventatives, exams, surgery, anesthesia, clinical pathology, radiology, emergency, (dentistry)
Speciality Medicine
Veterinary assistant or veterinary technician
Small animal (dog and cat), exotics, pocket pets, some wildlife (?)—preventatives, exams, surgery, anesthesia, clinical pathology, radiology, emergency, (dentistry), diagnostic imaging (MRI, CT), internal medicine, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, physical therapy
Zoo Med
Animal husbandry or veterinary technician
Wildlife husbandry and care, medication, behavior, conditioning, diet and nutrition, dentals, vaccinations, some surgery
Laboratory Animal
Lab technician
Animal husbandry in laboratory setting
Equine
Veterinary assistant or veterinary technician
Equine medicine, husbandry, vaccinations, exams, dentistry, diagnostic radiology
Drawing up a vaccine.
Drawing up a vaccine. | Source

What Are the Pros and Cons of Being a Veterinarian Technician?

It is extremely important to know for certain that vet tech is something you want to pursue. The program and the career path is not easy. Veterinary technicians are prone to burnout and compassion fatigue, which occurs from working long hours and from repeatedly being exposed to stressful situations and seeing animals suffer. There are, however, some amazing qualities about the profession. Working in a clinical setting poses the following challenges:

Pros and Cons of Being a Vet Tech

Pros
Cons
Working with animals
Long hours
Saving lives
Dangers (getting bit, scratched, radiation, chemical exposure)
Learning amazing medical skills
Emotionally draining
Feeling like you make a difference
Getting pooped and peed on
Working with unusual species
Underpaid
Being a voice for the animals
High stress
Can use the career for further advancement
Short-staffing and compassion fatigue
Can specialize
Workplace bullying
Typical surgery room setup.
Typical surgery room setup. | Source

Should I Become a Vet Tech?

The veterinary technology profession is not for everyone—many students enter into the program only to quit 1 year in because it wasn't what they thought it was. I highly recommend shadowing or volunteering or working PT in a veterinary clinic (general practice) to get a feel for the job.

This profession requires tons of nursing skills, long hours, and tough skin. We all enter into it because we love animals, but burnout and fatigue are real, so it's important to have a good sense of a work-life balance as you continue to pursue veterinary technology professionally.

A Note About Workplace Bullying

Workplace bullying is real. For more information on the issue of workplace bullying in veterinary nursing, read up on reliable sources.

What Can You Do With Your License?

You must keep your license active by completing a certain number of continuing education units or CEs every year (some of which can be done online and some in person from approved providers). You also have to reregister your license every 2 years. You get to waive your first 2-year license renewal period if you have just been licensed.

You can use your license to go into teaching, to work as a sales rep for major medical supply companies, to go into practice management, etc. The possibilities are really endless. I'm currently looking into conservation and film.

Veterinary Technician or Veterinary Nurse?

In some countries, "veterinary nurse" is indeed a protected title and the correct title for veterinary technician professionals. In the United States, it is not so simple. There is actually a push to standardize the titles under one 'Registered Veterinary Nurse (R.V.N)" designation. An initiative has been launched by the Veterinary Nurse Initiative (VNI) Coalition to get the title change but "the American Nurses Association (ANA) have declined to get behind the initiative and are now taking steps to protect the history and integrity of the title 'nurse,'" according to Nurse.org.

For a breakdown of legal veterinary medical duties by job title, check out the California Veterinary Medical Association website.

Where I Learned My Skills in the Field

Before I went to school to become a registered veterinary technician, I worked several jobs in the field. Here's how they benefited me:

Shelter Medicine

I worked at two high-volume AAHA-accredited no-kill facilities for over 6 years. Here are the benefits:

  • Understanding herd health management
  • Disease, virus, parasite protocols: parvo, giardia, coccidia, ringworm, FIP, distemper (yes, we saw distemper)
  • High-volume spay and neuter clinics and anesthesia
  • Vaccine protocols
  • Temperament evaluations
  • Surgery and anesthesia
  • Neonate care

Native Wildlife Rehabilitation Center

I worked at a local marine mammal center and a native wildlife rehabilitation center. I gained the following skills:

  • Husbandry
  • Tube-feeding (marine mammals, birds, predatory mammals)
  • Raptor, marine mammal, and predatory mammal handling and behavior
  • Diet and nutrition
  • Medicating and feeding

Small Organic Farm: Large Animal

  • Cow, goat, pig, and chicken husbandry and care
  • Cow and goat milking
  • Diet and nutrition

Wildlife Sanctuary Abroad

I traveled to Bolivia with veterinary student friend to work at a sanctuary that cared for once illegally captive and owned wildlife:

  • Bilingual communication
  • Large cat behavior
  • Native captive/rehabilitated wildlife husbandry
  • Diet, feeding, and behavior

Specialty Medicine

  • Surgery and advanced anesthesia
  • Diagnostic imaging (CT/MRI)
  • Surgical assisting
  • Perioperative procedures

Me, when I was working my first job, over 10 years ago, at a shelter. Caring for a pup on a rainy day.
Me, when I was working my first job, over 10 years ago, at a shelter. Caring for a pup on a rainy day. | Source

Reasons to Work at an Animal Shelter

One of the most challenging aspects of the 2-year program for vet tech is gaining experience in anesthesia while you are still a student. Anesthesia is one of the most challenging aspects of the veterinary technician profession because you literally have an animal's life in your hands and you need to keep that animal "deep" enough but "light" enough for the surgeon to do their work and for the animal not to react, feel pain, or die.

If you are serious about pursuing a career as a vet tech, I highly recommend working at an animal shelter. You benefit in so many ways:

  • You learned to read dog and cat behavior
  • You learn to draw up medication and vaccinate animals with speed and precision
  • You gain critical exposure to anesthetic cases and spay and neuter protocols which will overlap into general practice
  • You do not have a client hovering over your every move so there is more room for support and learning
  • You are helping homeless animals
  • You are doing the public a favor by caring for future animal companions without charging them an enormous fee
  • You will feel good about your work
  • You see and learn how to deal with diseases that general practice techs rarely see

You Gain Critical Exposure to Anesthetic Cases

Anesthesia is a serious aspect and skillset to develop. I had the advantage of being exposed to a number of anesthesia cases working at animal shelters. In one year we did close to 1500+ spays and neuters with a small team—some of them were mobile (in a van and free to the public). It was hard work but it certainly prepared me. You will be much more equipped for this profession if you are familiar with surgical and anesthetic protocols.

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.

Questions & Answers

    © 2018 Layne Holmes

    Please ask questions

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      • Layne Holmes profile imageAUTHOR

        Layne Holmes 

        5 weeks ago from Bend, Oregon

        Hi Adam, I'm glad you found it helpful! Feel free to ask me anything you like. Australia has some really great programs.

      • AdamMason113 profile image

        Adam Mason 

        6 weeks ago from Melbourne, Australia

        Thank you so much for this Article, I'm looking into this a career path. Your Article has helped tremendously. Thank you very much :)

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