What is a Vet Tech?: A Beginner's Guide

Female Vet Tech

Today I'm going to show you what a veterinary technician is and how hard being one can be.

I remember when I first started in veterinary medicine. I'd observe all things medical, wide-eyed and in awe, while asking questions along the procedure. It was so amazing to me, all the things that went on in a veterinary hospital.

I grew up around animals like many of those in the field have- dogs, cats, hamsters, chickens, horses, even sugar gliders. I loved caring for them and the unconditional love I received back. I knew that my future would include working with animals early on.

And in this no-nonsense guide, I'll explain what a veterinary technician is and show you the good and the bad, no BS.

What is a Veterinary Technician. exactly?

A veterinary technician is an animal nurse and they have a lot of responsibility. As defined by AAHA, "In addition to their nursing duties, they act as patient advocates, phlebotomists, radiology technicians, laboratory technicians, anesthesia technicians, and surgery technicians. Except tasks legally restricted to veterinarians, such as diagnosing disease conditions, performing surgery, prescribing medications, and prognosing medical outcomes, veterinary technicians are trained to do everything a veterinary hospital requires to run smoothly."

If you're more of a visual person, here is a graphic made by MOVTA listing some of the duties vet techs have:

Vet Tech Appreciation Week from MOVTA
This graphic from movta.org shows examples of just some of the things veterinary technicians do.​​

How do you become a Vet Tech?

Now that you understand what a vet tech is, it's time to understand how to become one.

Typically to become a veterinary technician, first you need to be a graduate of a veterinary technology program accredited by the AVSB or CVSB. Find one using this database from Vet Tech Colleges.

In 2022, it is easier than ever to do so. I'm not saying the program is easy by ANY means, but now there are more options than going to your local brook-and-mortar college. I tried my [at the time] local community college and it wasn't for me (you can read more about why here).

Thankfully, there are online programs now. I transferred to Penn Foster and it was perfect for me. If you're interested in enrolling in Penn Foster's Vet Tech program, you can do that here to save some $$$!

I was able to go to school on my time, so I could do so around work. Working full-time at a vet clinic while in school helped me a lot. If I had questions regarding something I was learning, it was nice to be able to ask my coworkers and even apply some of it in person.

After graduating, you must sit for the licensing exam, the VTNE (Veterinary Technician National Exam). Once you pass you and apply for your states licensure, you are officially a Vet Tech! Depending on where you are, that means you become a Certified, Registered, or Licensed Veterinary Technician 🥳 

Is it difficult?

Being a veterinary technician isn't about playing with puppies and kittens all day, although those new patient appointments aren't half bad. But being a vet tech can be difficult. If you've been working in the field, you know. If you stumbled upon this blog because you're thinking about pursuing a career in vet med, we don't mean to scare you... you got this! We want you to be prepared so when those difficult days come, you'll know you are not alone.

There are HIGH expectations. From the doctors, from management, oh and don't forget from the clients... some of them expect us to do everything for free.

The critics. Not everyone you work with is going to be your friend, and that's okay. What's not okay is for your coworkers to belittle you. Instead, try to find that coworker willing to take you under their wing and guide you.

The hard cases. It may be a euthanasia of a long-time client, losing a patient in surgery, seeing a neglect case... The hard ones weigh heavy but try not to let them consume everything. Remember the good ones too!

Can anything make it easier?

I want to help you be the best vet tech you can be. To set you up for success, here are 5 things that have helped me in my day-to-day as a CVT.

1. A Journal.

And not just any journal... A Vet Med Wellness Journal. You can't keep everything bottled up or you will burn out very quickly. This journal keeps me, and over 500+ veterinary professionals, sane after each shift. It's specifically for those in veterinary medicine with prompts tailored just for you.

2. A Water Bottle. 

You need to stay hydrated! Nothing is worse than when you feel down because you haven't had a sip of water. And before you ask, iced coffee doesn't count (even though this tiktok audio is hysterical).

3. Stickers.

You're probably thinking, "why on earth would I need stickers?" First of all, you need to decorate those water bottles keeping you hydrated! Second, and most importantly, these stickers bring humor to the field. Having a bad day? Take a glance at one and have a good laugh. New to a clinic? Strike up a conversation as you show them these awesome, relatable stickers!

4. Bandage Scissors.

Wherever you work will [most likely] supply bandage scissors. But the worst thing is when you're working on a patient, you need bandage scissors, and they're in use or no where to be found. Instead, always be prepared with your own pair you can keep in your pocket. Plus you can get a pair with an awesome design! That way they always stand out AND no one else can steal them.

You can check out VetTechStuff.com for some really awesome bandage scissors. 

Vet Tech Stuff Bandage Scissors

5. Pocket Clippers. 

I have seen these clippers all over veterinary Facebook groups and the reviews are amazing! The only con I have seen is that they can work too well. Meaning, be cautious and gentle around sensitive areas like your patients nipples. Other than that, they are great to keep in your pocket when knocking down surgeries in the morning. Plus they're so cheap, who cares if they get kicked off the table!

Dog Grooming Clippers
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