What Is A Registered Veterinary Technician In The US And Should You Be One?

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Working in the veterinary field is one that a lot of people are interested in before going to college.

By Allison Salonko.

Allison is a Veterinary Technician in the state of Indiana. She graduated from International Business College and Vet Tech Institute of Indianapolis with a degree in Animal Science and Technology in 2011.

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Lots of kids like the idea of being a veterinarian but realize that it can be years and years of school; something many people aren’t interested in.

That’s where being a veterinary technician comes in!

Basically the nurse to the veterinarian, the vet tech does a lot of the work for the doctor.

Technicians will take the patient history, collect samples, run tests and of course, take care of the animals.

The vet does plenty of work too, but at the end of the day, they are busy communicating with owners and ordering up diagnostics most of the time, leaving us to do the rest.

How Do You Become A Veterinary Technician?

In order to become a veterinary technician, you will need to go to tech school to obtain an Animal Science and Technology degree.

You can find these programs through local colleges and institutes for about 18 months, earning an Associate’s degree.

Or you can attend a major veterinary program for a minimum of 3 years, earning a Bachelor’s degree.

Upon graduation, you will sign up to take the Veterinary Technician National Exam (VTNE).

If you pass, you will then have to take and pass one more much easier and shorter test that involves your state’s individual laws.

This one is pretty simple, usually they just ask you about whether or not you can perform surgery, diagnose, prognose or prescribe things, which you can’t. Only vets can.

What Are The Regulations For Veterinary Technicians?

A registered veterinary technician (RVT) can also be called a CVT (certified veterinary technician) or LVT (licensed veterinary technician).

They are all the same thing, just called something different depending on what state they practice in.

There are actually very minor differences in the R vs L vs C but they are all essentially the same idea.

Unlike a Registered Nurse (RN), which is the same thing no matter what state you live and practice in, a technician is different thanks to the US government lacking in federal standardization.

Many professional career fields, especially those that work in medical (human or animal) are federally governed, meaning that there is a general set of rules that apply to the entire field, no matter what state they practice in.

An example is human medicine and how there are specific rules and regulations for all doctors, nurses, medical assistants, etc.

In veterinary medicine, things are a little different.

Veterinarians are governed federally and have several others like the DEA, USDA etc that they must follow the rules and regulations of as well.

All veterinarians in the US are called DVMs (Doctor of Veterinary Medicine) and as pointed out earlier, there are three different ways to be a credentialed veterinary technician in America.

This tells you that there is no solid federalized certification, licensing or registration for vet techs. Actually a bummer.

The fact that there is no US wide federalization of the vet tech position makes it nearly impossible for there to be a standardized salary for this particular career.

It also DEVALUES the veterinary technician role.

There are only 14 states in the US that actually recognize veterinary technicians as a RVT/LVT/CVT.

This is a huge problem. It doesn’t hold veterinarians and practice owners to a standard of employing registered techs, meaning that they can bring anyone off the streets and teach them how to be a ‘technician’ (really they’re an assistant but still call them techs).

Even if you work in a state that does recognize the RVT’s, clinic owners can still just choose to hire on-the-job trained individuals instead of those that are professionally taught.

If the government made it to where a veterinary clinic had to have registered, certified or licensed technicians working under them then it would mean a higher and more consistent salary for the underpaid and undervalued techs.

What Is The Difference Between A Veterinary Assistant And A Veterinary Technician?

Formal schooling is what separates the assistants from the technicians.

An assistant is someone who learns through on-the-job training and a veterinary technician actually attended school and is certified, registered or licensed.

Veterinarians and veterinary technicians are governed by their state’s practice act.

There is no government regulation or credentials for veterinary assistants however and what they are allowed to do depends entirely on the state that they practice in.

Some hospitals follow their own policies and will only allow assistants to perform specific duties.

Assistants are often asked to restrain animals, perform cleaning duties and assist the vet or technician.

Some practices and veterinarians will only employ assistants (while calling them techs) because they can pay them less money than someone who has been formally taught.

While there are plenty of amazing assistants out there, their on-the-job training is not a replacement for RVTs. No matter how experienced or good they are.

So, what exactly does a vet tech do?

The list can be a little long so I’ll try and sum it up a little.

  • Draw blood
  • Take x-rays
  • Take patient histories
  • Collect samples
  • Clean teeth
  • Communicate with owners
  • Assist in surgery
  • Prep for surgery
  • Place IV catheters
  • Monitor anesthesia
  • Read samples under microscope
  • Hold Dr’s hands
  • Restrain animals
  • Basic animal husbandry
  • Lots of cleaning

There are many more duties for veterinary technicians, but these are by far the more important ones.

Should You Be A Vet Tech?

Here Are My Favorite Reasons Why I Love My Job

My favorite thing about being a veterinary technician for 10 years is that it never gets boring.

There is always something going on, even during the “slow time” of the year.

I love phlebotomy the most and talking with the clients.

Educating them on what is best for the pet is my true passion.

I enjoy it when my clients leave feeling informed, confident and pleased, as being a pet owner is really all about the reward of making the animals happy and healthy.

happy dog after vet clinic visit who can play outside again

Photos by Mirko; Honest Paws.