How to Become a Clinical Veterinary Technician

Overview

A clinical veterinary technician, also known as a veterinary technician in clinical practice (VTCP), is a veterinary technician (vet tech) who specializes in working in animal hospitals or clinics. VTCPs can be considered the veterinary equivalent to a nurse at a human hospital.

VTCPs perform a wide variety of tasks, from greeting clients to treating animals to assisting a veterinarian in performing major surgery. VTCP and other vet techs help keep the cost of veterinary medicine down, because they perform tasks that otherwise would be left to veterinarians, who make a larger salary than vet techs.

Animal hospitals normally treat dogs, cats, exotic pets and farm animals, so VTCPs need to specialize in treating and caring for these animals. VTPCs also need to be able to deal with the owners of these animals, explaining the status of the animals to them.

VTCPs perform the front-line care that animal patients need, preparing them for treatment. VTCPs also perform some minor medical procedures themselves and often assist a veterinarian with major procedures.

Related: How to Become a Veterinary Hospital Manager

VTCPs and other vet technicians should not be confused with veterinary technologists, whose primary job is performing research on animals in a laboratory. VTCPs should also not be confused with veterinary assistants, as the latter don’t have as much training as VTCPs and aren’t qualified to perform veterinary medical treatments.

Work Environment

While working with animals can be rewarding, working in an animal hospital can have its downside. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics website states that vet technicians suffer from a much higher rate of accidents and injuries than the average occupation. Animals under stress can kick, bite or claw, so vet techs need to act mindfully at all times when handling them.

Having to be around animals who are sick or injured can be emotionally draining for a vet tech, as can having to euthanize an animal. Vet techs also must comfort animal owners who are grieving and/or under stress.

VTCPs can work long hours, sometimes at night or on holidays. Sometimes the noise level is high from agitated animals. The work can be physically demanding, requiring the lifting or pushing of heavy animals. Sometimes, medical treatments can require bending over for an extended time.

Job Duties

Job duties might include any of the following tasks:

  • Assisting veterinarian with medical treatment, anticipating his or her needs
  • Providing professional and efficient service to clients
  • Educating clients in diagnoses, preventive pet care, pet health needs and hospital services
  • Obtaining relevant history and information from clients and maintaining complete medical records
  • Mentoring other paraprofessionals in the hospital
  • Ensuring the safety and comfort of pets, clients and associates by properly restraining animals and following safety protocols
  • Maintaining a clean and sanitary environment for pets and clients
  • Preparing instruments and animals for surgery
  • Taking and developing x-rays
  • Performing lab tests for blood counts and urinalyses
  • Performing physical exams
  • Euthanizing animals
  • Rendering emergency first aid on animal patients

Requirements

Education

The foundation for educational training needs to spring from getting good grades in high school in classes like biology, biology lab, chemistry and anatomy.

In many cases, VTCPs are only required to get a two-year associate degree in veterinary technology, but getting a four-year bachelor’s degree is usually preferred and in some cases is required. Make sure the school you attend is accredited by the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA).

Related: Veterinary Assistant Career: Salary, Duties & Education Info

The primary goal of a veterinary technology program is to invest students with the reasoning skills and veterinary knowledge necessary to become an immediate contributor to a veterinarian team. Some of the undergraduate subjects you might expect to take include:

  • Veterinary Dentistry
  • Critical and Emergency Care
  • Diagnostic Imaging
  • Pathology
  • Canine Physical Therapy
  • Orthopedic Surgery
  • Veterinary Cell Biology
  • Radiation
  • Cardiology
  • Elements of Comparative Anatomy
  • Dermatology
  • Studies of Exotic Animals
  • Veterinary Surgery
  • Small Animal Practicum
  • Clinical Animal Nursing Techniques
  • Large Animal Care Practicum
  • Veterinary Anesthesia and Surgical Assisting
  • Animal Nutrition & Breeding

Though there are graduate degrees in veterinary technology, these are considered overkill for veterinary technicians. It’s better to spend the extra 2-5 years of education in getting work experience and gaining paychecks. And then, if you decide you want to advance in the field, you can start taking night classes to become a veterinarian or a manager of a veterinarian hospital.

Training

In some places, VTCPs need to work for five years or for 10,000 hours as a vet tech intern before being able to gain certification. Much of this training is in the handling and treating of animals.

Some employers prefer VTCPs who have experience in customer service.

Licensing Requirements

VTCPs can be required to complete about fifty case logs and pass the Veterinary Technician National Examination to get a license, as well as having to complete forty hours of continuing education. Two letters of recommendation from veterinarians are often also required.

Necessary Personal Skills

  • Client service skills: Must be able to consistently provide clients with courteous and informative service.
  • Intellectual ability: Able to follow oral, written or drawn instructions.
  • Computer skills: Able to use Excel, Word, Outlook and specialized medical software.
  • Mathematical ability: Able to add, subtract, multiply and divide. Able to compute rate, ratio and percent. Able to convert standard units of measurement.
  • Communication skills: Able to read, write and speak fluent English with good grammar.
  • Multi-task ability: Can manage multiple tasks at a time, switching back and forth accurately and smoothly.
  • Organizational ability: Systematically carry out assignments in an orderly fashion.
  • Problem-solving ability: Able to identify, analyze and solve problems by providing practical solutions.
  • Cooperative ability: Able to work with others, compromising where necessary.
  • Independence: Able to work alone, without supervision, when necessary.
  • Physical stamina: Able to lift heavy objects periodically throughout day and to stay on feet for long stretches.

Salary and Job Outlook

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median yearly salary for veterinary technicians and technologists in 2012 was $30,290, and the median hourly wage, $14.56 per hour. It should be noted that technologists make noticeably more money than technicians.

The number of jobs in this field is expected to rise by 30% from 2012-2022, much faster than the national average for jobs.

Further Reading

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