A veterinary technician, also called an animal health technician, is trained to assist veterinarians. In some countries outside North America, vet technicians are called Veterinary Nurses, and there is ongoing controversy over the use of the term “nurse” in the veterinary sense. Nonetheless, the term “veterinary nurses” has grown unofficial acceptance among veterinary clientele because it is a description that they can relate to.
Vet techs need formal training and accreditation for the job due to the many technical demands of this profession. Technical skills needed by the veterinary technician include, among others, venipuncture, performing skin scrapings, doing radiology procedures, hematology, microbiology, urinalysis and serology.
Veterinary techs perform a variety of tasks, both clinical and technical, in veterinary clinics, research laboratories, animal shelters, and zoos. They assist veterinarians in doing physical examinations and help in determining causes of illness or injury. Tasks related to patient care include recording of temperature, pulse and respiration, dressing wounds, applying splints and other protective devices, and cleaning animals’ teeth. Administrative tasks include maintaining treatment records and conducting inventories of all pharmaceuticals, equipment and supplies.
Vet technicians also do minor procedures such as catheterizations, ear flushes, intravenous feedings and tube feedings. In surgery, they assist the veterinarian by providing anesthesia, providing the correct surgical equipment and instruments, and ensuring that the monitoring and support equipment are in good working condition.
Vet techs need to have the proper training and certification for the job. They need to complete a degree in veterinary technology, which can either be a two-year associate’s degree or a four-year bachelor’s degree. These degrees are accredited by the American Veterinary Medical Association. The AVMA also accredits schools that offer online or distance education. An important requirement for accreditation of these learning programs is the provision of on-the-job or volunteer hours at an animal clinic or similar facility.
After obtaining a degree in veterinary technology, the aspiring veterinary technicians need to pass credentialing examinations given by the state. In the United States, the credentialing examination, called the Veterinary Technical National Exam of VTNE, is administered either by a US licensing board, the state veterinary medical association, or by the state veterinary technical association. The title of the credential that a successful examinee gets will depend on the state and the type of organization granting the credential. Thus the veterinary technician may be described as licensed (LVT or Licensed Veterinary Technician), registered (RVT), or certified (CVT). Only those who have been properly certified may represent themselves as veterinary technicians and perform their required tasks in assisting the licensed veterinarian.
Aside from the initial mandatory credentialing, veterinary technicians may also enroll in advanced courses to further enhance their skills. These courses may be in the areas of emergency and critical care, anesthesiology, dentistry, small animal internal medicine, large animal internal medicine, cardiology, oncology, neurology, zoological medicine, equine veterinary nursing, surgery, behavior, and clinical practice. They become Veterinary Technician Specialists (VTS) upon completion of such courses.
Veterinary technology is a fairly young profession, having officially started only in the mid-20th century. It is still struggling to gain recognition in many parts of the world. In the United States, career opportunities continue to increase, with a projected rise by more than 36 percent up to 2012.