Becoming an Animal Health Technician: Salary Info & Job Description

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What are the pros and cons of a career as an animal health technician? Get real job descriptions and salary info to see if becoming an animal health technician is right for you.
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Pros and Cons of a Career as an Animal Health Technician

These technicians may also be referred to as veterinarian technicians: they help maintain the diet and health of animals in the care of establishments such as veterinarians, stores, and zoos. Keep reading to weigh more of the pros and cons of this career:

Pros of a Career as an Animal Health Technician
Excellent employment outlook (the national employment of veterinary technologists is projected to grow by 19% from 2014-2024)*
Relatively low barrier to entry (vet technicians only need an associate's degree and a license to gain employment, compared to a bachelor's degree for vet technologists)*
Career advancement (since they share many of the same tasks, a career as a vet technician may be a stepping stone to a career as a veterinarian)*
Good benefits (perks such as paid vacation, health insurance, retirement packages, paid leave and paid holidays are typical)**

Cons of a Career as an Animal Health Technician
Relatively low pay (veterinary technicians and technologists made about $13,000 less on average than their counterparts in human healthcare)*
Work hazards (technicians run bite and trauma risk from animals)*
Long hours (technicians may need to be available at all hours, even on holidays, nights and weekends)*
Low accessibility of training programs (in some states, there may be as few as one accredited program in veterinary technology)**

Sources: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS),* American Veterinary Medical Association**

Career Information

Job Description and Duties

Veterinarian technicians are responsible for a diverse range of tasks completed under the watchful eye of a licensed veterinarian. Their duties include administering first aid and medication to a host of injured, diseased and convalescing animals, conducting diagnostic exams and taking animal blood count. Treated animals may range from dogs and cats to horses. Technicians who work in medical labs may have additional duties, such as assisting with research projects and observing animal behavior. Some specific procedures include catheterizations, enemas, teeth extractions, earflushes and immunizations.

Job Prospects and Salary Info

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the national employment of veterinary technicians and technologists is projected to grow by 19% from 2014-2024, which is much faster than the 7% average for all other occupations in the country during the same period. This spike in employment should be particularly beneficial to technicians who are specialized and highly trained in what they do. Furthermore, demand for technicians in rural areas will be particularly acute. In 2014, according to the BLS, the mean annual wage of veterinary technologists and technicians was about $32,350.

Career Paths and Specializations

Veterinary technicians may work in a range of professional settings, such as hospitals, shelters, kennels, zoos, private veterinarian offices, rescue leagues and/or labs. They may also specialize in a wide variety of areas. The National Association of Veterinary Technicians in America (NAVTA) offers designations to technicians in areas such as animal behavior, emergency and critical care, surgery, nutrition and clinical pathology.

Career Skills and Requirements

Veterinary technicians are typically required to gain some form of postsecondary training in an accredited veterinary technology program. In 2011, there were less than 200 of these programs nationwide that were accredited by the American Veterinary Medical Association (AMVA). Courses may cover areas such as veterinary medical terminology, animal pharmacology, animal physiology and animal pathology. Once they've completed an accredited program, technicians are usually required to obtain a state license, which entails passing the Veterinary Technicians National Examination.

Useful Skills

You'll need to rely on a number of hard and soft skills to successfully complete your professional tasks. These may include:

  • The ability to empathize and be compassionate toward the animals being treated
  • The ability to communicate effectively with peers, supervising staff and clients
  • The ability to deftly and steadily handle tools and diagnostic equipment
  • The ability to make detailed observations up-close
  • The ability to apply both inductive and deductive reasoning to the treatment of animals

Job Postings from Real Employers

A November 2012 search on job sites returned a variety of postings, many of which required applicants to have prior experience in the field. They also required applicants to have a foundation in areas such as animal dentistry, radiography/radiology, surgery and catheterization. Here are several actual postings from that search:

  • A veterinary clinic in Germantown, MD, looked for a veterinary technician willing to work evenings and weekends. The employer offered a range of benefits, including paid sick leave, paid vacation, individual retirement accounts (IRA) and uniform discounts.
  • A Fort Mill, SC, veterinary clinic sought a licensed veterinary technician with experience in dental prophys and anesthesia, among other areas. The successful candidate would be eligible for licensure in the state.
  • A clinic in Alice, TX, advertised for a veterinary technician with at least an associate's degree in life sciences or a related field, official certification and an ability to handle lab animals.

How to Stand Out

An effective way to make your resume stand out among the competition is by obtaining the voluntary NAVTA certification. NAVTA offers technicians the opportunity to specialize in a host of areas, many of which were already mentioned. In order to gain entry into a NAVTA academy, you'll be required to complete a formal education degree and have already earned veterinary technician credentials, such as a state license.

In addition to obtaining certification, membership in NAVTA offers benefits of its own. The organization distributes a journal and e-newsletter. It also offers discounts on life insurance, health insurance, car rentals and even hotel stays. Moreover, membership may give you the opportunity to hold a leadership position in an organization of national repute.

Other Careers to Consider

Health Technician

If a career as a veterinary technician doesn't quite pay as much as you'd like, but you'd still prefer a career with similar educational requirements and job duties, you may consider becoming a health technician. Health technicians may specialize in a wide variety of areas, such as magnetic resonance imaging, medical labs, pharmaceuticals, respiratory therapy and nuclear medicine. According to the BLS, the mean annual wage for health technicians (technologists included) nationwide in 2011 was about $42,000.

Veterinary Assistant/Lab Animal Caretaker

If you want to work with animals, but are unable or unwilling to obtain postsecondary training, you may consider becoming a veterinary assistant and/or lab animal caretaker. These professionals typically only need a high school diploma and receive most of their training on the job.

Vet assistants are responsible for looking after the animals that come into animal shelters, research labs, private clinics, animal hospitals and similar facilities. They're usually supervised by veterinary technicians, technologists and/or licensed veterinarians. Duties may include sterilizing surgical tools, cleaning cages and bathing animals. In 2011, these professionals earned a mean annual wage of about $24,000.

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Regent University

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