Layne worked as a wildlife rehabilitator and medical intern for several years before becoming a licensed veterinary technician (LVT).
How to Become an RVT and Work With Animals Professionally
If working with animals has been your lifelong dream, you may be looking into the next step for your career. If you have ruled out going to vet school to become a veterinarian either due to the length of study, the cost of study, or the job duties, you might instead be interested in becoming a veterinary technician.
With a little research, you will find various names for veterinarian technicians that have become licensed, registered, or certified. These titles are as follows:
- Registered Veterinary Technician (RVT)
- Licensed Veterinary Technician (LVT)
- Certified Veterinary Technician (CVT)
- Animal Nurse (outside of United States)
These titles all uphold the same requirements (more or less, with a few variances by state) and are overseen by the Veterinary Medical Board and international bodies.
The Veterinary Technician's Oath
"I solemnly dedicate myself to aiding animals and society by providing excellent care and services for animals, by alleviating animal suffering, and promoting public health.
I accept my obligations to practice my profession conscientiously and with sensitivity, adhering to the profession's Code of Ethics, and furthering my knowledge and competence through a commitment to lifelong learning."
Is This Profession Right for You?
Each state in the United States has different requirements and restrictions based on the types of duties that can be performed by veterinary assistants, veterinary technicians, or licensed, certified, or registered veterinary technicians.
What Does It Take to Become an RVT, LVT, or CVT?
I was registered in the state of California, attended a two-year-accredited program, and sat for my boards. In order to become an RVT, I recommend that you attend an American Veterinary Medical Association or AVMA-accredited two-year program to obtain your A.S. in veterinary technology.
Why Attend an Accredited Two-Year Program?
Accreditation makes the licensing process much easier and your education worth your money. Accredited programs are held to a certain set of standards to make sure that your education is up-to-date with the most recent veterinary medical policies, rules, and regulations.
Most states require that you attend an accredited program or else you will have to supplement your qualifications another way which can be very time-consuming.
My course of studies included:
- Medical Terminology and Calculations
- Comparative Veterinary Anatomy & Physiology
- Animal Management & Clinical Skills
- Veterinary Office Practice
- Large Animal Care
- Clinical Pathology Methods
- Laboratory Animal Technology
- Animal Diseases
- Diagnostic Imaging
- Veterinary Dentistry
- Emergency & Critical Care
- Exotic Animal Care
My program also required 480 hours of clinical internship. Look at accredited schools in your state.
What Exams Do I Have to Take to Get My License?
Upon graduating, you must sit for two exams:
- The Veterinary Technician National Exam or VTNE (challenging)
- Your state-designated exam. Mine was the California Veterinary Technician Examination CVTE (straightforward; topics covered).
California has strict requirements for licensing. Here is a map of which states require which type of license. If you test for your license in one state, you may have to sit for the board exam in the state that you have relocated to independent of whether or not you passed your VTNE.
What Every Veterinary Technician Should Carry
Some choose to carry these items in a nurse pro pack:
- Stethoscope (I like Littmann)
- Bandage scissors
- Needle nose hemostats
- Thermometer. I like the Vick's ComfortFlex because it bends and doesn't bother the animal as much for a rectal temp. Label the back of this though—your coworkers will want to borrow it. This thermometer fits well in my nurse pro pack.
- Thermometer probe covers
- Pen (black or blue ink) and pad
- Nursing cap (if helping with surgery)
- Eye lube (if helping with surgery)
Note: Medical records are legal documents and should only be written in with blue or black ink.
Where Can I Get Experience Working With Animals?
Animal care technician, medical intern
Exposure to spay and neutering, disease quarantine, basic husbandry, vaccine protocols, temperament evaluations, dentals (possible)
Animal husbandry volunteer or intern
Wildlife husbandry, behavior, nutrition and habitat needs, disease, disease prevention, medication
Veterinary assistant or veterinary technician
Small animal (dog and cat), exotics, pocket pets, some wildlife (?)—preventatives, exams, surgery, anesthesia, clinical pathology, radiology, emergency, (dentistry)
Veterinary assistant or veterinary technician
Small animal (dog and cat), exotics, pocket pets, some wildlife (?)—preventatives, exams, surgery, anesthesia, clinical pathology, radiology, emergency, (dentistry), diagnostic imaging (MRI, CT), internal medicine, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, physical therapy
Animal husbandry or veterinary technician
Wildlife husbandry and care, medication, behavior, conditioning, diet and nutrition, dentals, vaccinations, some surgery
Animal husbandry in laboratory setting
Veterinary assistant or veterinary technician
Equine medicine, husbandry, vaccinations, exams, dentistry, diagnostic radiology
What Are the Pros and Cons of Being a Veterinarian Technician?
It is extremely important to know for certain that vet tech is something you want to pursue. The program and the career path is not easy. Veterinary technicians are prone to burnout and compassion fatigue, which occurs from working long hours and from repeatedly being exposed to stressful situations and seeing animals suffer. There are, however, some amazing qualities about the profession. Working in a clinical setting poses the following challenges:
Pros and Cons of Being a Vet Tech
Working with animals
Dangers (getting bit, scratched, radiation, chemical exposure)
Learning amazing medical skills
Feeling like you make a difference
Getting pooped and peed on
Working with unusual species
Being a voice for the animals
Can use the career for further advancement
Short-staffing and compassion fatigue
Should I Become a Vet Tech?
The veterinary technology profession is not for everyone—many students enter into the program only to quit 1 year in because it wasn't what they thought it was. I highly recommend shadowing or volunteering or working PT in a veterinary clinic (general practice) to get a feel for the job.
This profession requires tons of nursing skills, long hours, and tough skin. We all enter into it because we love animals, but burnout and fatigue are real, so it's important to have a good sense of a work-life balance as you continue to pursue veterinary technology professionally.
A Note About Workplace Bullying
Workplace bullying is real. For more information on the issue of workplace bullying in veterinary nursing, read up on reliable sources.
What Can You Do With Your License?
You must keep your license active by completing a certain number of continuing education units or CEs every year (some of which can be done online and some in person from approved providers). You also have to reregister your license every 2 years. You get to waive your first 2-year license renewal period if you have just been licensed.
You can use your license to go into teaching, to work as a sales rep for major medical supply companies, to go into practice management, etc. The possibilities are really endless. I'm currently looking into conservation and film.
Veterinary Technician or Veterinary Nurse?
In some countries, "veterinary nurse" is indeed a protected title and the correct title for veterinary technician professionals. In the United States, it is not so simple. There is actually a push to standardize the titles under one 'Registered Veterinary Nurse (R.V.N)" designation. An initiative has been launched by the Veterinary Nurse Initiative (VNI) Coalition to get the title change but "the American Nurses Association (ANA) have declined to get behind the initiative and are now taking steps to protect the history and integrity of the title 'nurse,'" according to Nurse.org.
For a breakdown of legal veterinary medical duties by job title, check out the California Veterinary Medical Association website.
Where I Learned My Skills in the Field
Before I went to school to become a registered veterinary technician, I worked several jobs in the field. Here's how they benefited me:
I worked at two high-volume AAHA-accredited no-kill facilities for over 6 years. Here are the benefits:
- Understanding herd health management
- Disease, virus, parasite protocols: parvo, giardia, coccidia, ringworm, FIP, distemper (yes, we saw distemper)
- High-volume spay and neuter clinics and anesthesia
- Vaccine protocols
- Temperament evaluations
- Surgery and anesthesia
- Neonate care
Native Wildlife Rehabilitation Center
I worked at a local marine mammal center and a native wildlife rehabilitation center. I gained the following skills:
- Tube-feeding (marine mammals, birds, predatory mammals)
- Raptor, marine mammal, and predatory mammal handling and behavior
- Diet and nutrition
- Medicating and feeding
Small Organic Farm: Large Animal
- Cow, goat, pig, and chicken husbandry and care
- Cow and goat milking
- Diet and nutrition
Wildlife Sanctuary Abroad
I traveled to Bolivia with veterinary student friend to work at a sanctuary that cared for once illegally captive and owned wildlife:
- Bilingual communication
- Large cat behavior
- Native captive/rehabilitated wildlife husbandry
- Diet, feeding, and behavior
- Surgery and advanced anesthesia
- Diagnostic imaging (CT/MRI)
- Surgical assisting
- Perioperative procedures
Reasons to Work at an Animal Shelter
One of the most challenging aspects of the 2-year program for vet tech is gaining experience in anesthesia while you are still a student. Anesthesia is one of the most challenging aspects of the veterinary technician profession because you literally have an animal's life in your hands and you need to keep that animal "deep" enough but "light" enough for the surgeon to do their work and for the animal not to react, feel pain, or die.
If you are serious about pursuing a career as a vet tech, I highly recommend working at an animal shelter. You benefit in so many ways:
- You learned to read dog and cat behavior
- You learn to draw up medication and vaccinate animals with speed and precision
- You gain critical exposure to anesthetic cases and spay and neuter protocols which will overlap into general practice
- You do not have a client hovering over your every move so there is more room for support and learning
- You are helping homeless animals
- You are doing the public a favor by caring for future animal companions without charging them an enormous fee
- You will feel good about your work
- You see and learn how to deal with diseases that general practice techs rarely see
You Gain Critical Exposure to Anesthetic Cases
Anesthesia is a serious aspect and skillset to develop. I had the advantage of being exposed to a number of anesthesia cases working at animal shelters. In one year we did close to 1500+ spays and neuters with a small team—some of them were mobile (in a van and free to the public). It was hard work but it certainly prepared me. You will be much more equipped for this profession if you are familiar with surgical and anesthetic protocols.
© 2018 Laynie H
Laynie H (author) from Bend, Oregon on August 06, 2019:
Hi Adam, I'm glad you found it helpful! Feel free to ask me anything you like. Australia has some really great programs.
Adam Mason from Melbourne, Australia on July 31, 2019:
Thank you so much for this Article, I'm looking into this a career path. Your Article has helped tremendously. Thank you very much :)
How to Become a Veterinary Technician
According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, there are more than 230 programs accredited by the Committee on Veterinary Technician Education and Activities. Nine programs are offered completely online. Students should check with their veterinary state board for accredited programs in their home state, as well as educational requirements for licensure.
Most states use the national exam administered by the American Association of Veterinary State Boards to license veterinary technicians. Vet techs who pass this exam are referred to as Certified Veterinary Technicians.
The National Association of Veterinary Technicians in America is the preeminent industry group for professional veterinary technicians. Although not a prerequisite for employment or certification, membership provides many different professional and personal benefits.
The majority of veterinary technicians work in clinical settings at veterinary offices. This is the best place to begin a career search.
Continuing education is a requirement to maintain certification. There are many different resources available to complete continuing education.
As a Licensed Veteran Technician your tasks may include:
- Observe and record an animal’s behavior and condition
- Provide nursing care to ill and/or surgery recovering patients
- Administer emergency first aid as needed to injured animals
- Assist in surgery, administer anesthesia, monitor responses and vital signs
- Collect blood, urine, or tissue samples for laboratory testing
- Perform lab tests such as urinalyses and blood counts
- Take and develop x rays and other types of imaging
- Administer medications, vaccines, and treatments prescribed by a veterinarian
- Communicate with animals’ owners in an informed and courteous manner
How to Become an RVT or Licensed Veterinary Technician - pets
A law passed by the 83rd Legislature authorizes the Texas Board of Veterinary Medical Examiners to license and regulate veterinary technicians. This law became effective on September 1, 2014. After this date, an individual may not use the term 'LVT' or refer to themselves as a 'Licensed Veterinary Technician' without a license. A license to work as a veterinary technician is not mandatory, but it is an option available to you.
How to Apply for a License
An applicant must have taken and passed the VTNE prior to being eligible to take the State licensing examination. Applicants must have graduated from an AVMA accredited Veterinary Technician program.
Below is the application packet for the Licensed Veterinary Technician Examination (LVTE) which may be downloaded. Please complete the application and submit it with ALL required supporting documentation. LVTE Application (PDF)
Applicants that require ADA accommodations, please click here for forms. Please allow 45 days for processing.
License Examination Dates
The licensing exam will now be given on-demand at participating COMIRA Testing Centers nationwide. We are no longer using scheduling windows. You will be able to apply for your license at any time, and will be approved to take the exam as soon as we determine that your application is complete. We will begin processing applications for on-demand testing on January 1, 2016. Once your application is complete, you will be emailed instructions on how to schedule and take your exam. Your license will be issued within 7 business days after receiving your passing score from the testing center.
LVTs are required to obtain 10 hours of CE annually. CE earned before you receive your license will not count towards your renewal requirement. See the Continuing Education page for more information.
Educational Requirements & Applicable Experience
Two-year (associate) and four-year (bachelor’s) veterinary technician training programs generally provide a dentistry component as part of the curriculum. For example, the vet tech program at Truckee Meadows Community College in Nevada includes its dental component in a course called “anesthesia, surgical nursing and dental procedures.” Students interested in working in the veterinary dental technical field should double-check that their program of interest contains a dentistry component before enrolling. Many students of veterinary technician programs are required to complete an internship, externship, or practicum as part of their degree program, and students interested in veterinary dentistry will want to gear that experience specifically toward the animal dentistry field to begin accruing hours in pursuit of the VTS (Dentistry) credential.
Before co-founding Sechel Ventures Partners LLC, Barry Franklin was a VP at a Silicon Valley software company. He is an investor and advisor for DataSimply and Impellia. Barry believes that education and lifelong learning are paramount. Barry met his wife at Carnegie Mellon University and they have two beautiful daughters. He also volunteers for various committees at his kids’ high school.