Veterinarian technicians are invaluable members of any veterinary team. If you are studying to become a veterinary technician, or vet tech, it helps to familiarize yourself with the many specializations that are available to you as you progress in your career. Whether you plan to eventually become a veterinarian or would prefer to remain a technician, pursuing one or more sub-specializations is an excellent idea. In doing so, you will gain valuable credentials that will entitle you to better positions, better pay and more opportunities. Veterinary technician specialties vary widely, so there’s sure to be one or more that are up your alley.
The National Association of Veterinary Technicians of America, or NAVTA, officially recognizes these 11 specialty areas for vet technicians:
As a veterinary nutrition technician, you will assist in the nutritional management of animals that are in your care. Your work may include helping overweight animals achieve healthier diets or creating diet plans for animals who are recovering from surgeries or illnesses. To be eligible to sit for the certification exam, you’ll need at least 4,000 hours, or three years, of related experience; 40 hours of continuing education; a one-year case log; five in-depth case reports; a completed skills form or documented research and two letters of recommendation.
Should you pursue a career as a clinical practice vet tech, you will be able to choose from three sub-specialty areas: canine/feline, production animal or exotic companion animal. These professionals typically work in private practices and provide general care for animals. You will need at least 10,000 hours, or five years, of relevant experience; four case reports; 50 case logs and 40 hours of documented continuing education.
Internal medicine veterinary technicians assist veterinarians who work across a wide array of sub-specialties, including neurology, cardiology and oncology. Their work therefore varies depending on the type of sub-specialty that the primary veterinarian handles. These professionals commonly work in private clinics and practices. To be eligible for certification, you’ll need at least 6,000 hours, or three years, of experience; two professional letters of recommendation; a case log with 50 to 75 cases; 40 hours of continuing education; a completed skills checklist and four case reports.
As a veterinary surgical technician, you will assist veterinarians with surgical procedures. You will also oversee pre- and post-operative care. Most procedures involve orthopedic or soft-tissue operations, and surgical techs assist with everything from wound management to cleaning and preparing surgical equipment and instruments. These professionals earn an average yearly salary of around $39,000. To become certified, you’ll need at least 6,000 hours, or three years, of experience, with at least 4,000 hours involving surgical work.
Emergency and Critical Care
If you like working in fast-paced environments, pursuing a certification as an emergency and critical care vet tech may be just the thing for you. These professionals provide intensive emergency care to animals that have suffered serious traumas. They typically work in 24-hour urgent care facilities, so they often work overnight and on weekends. Emergency and critical care veterinary technicians earn an average of $39,000 per year. To become certified, you’ll need at least 5,760 hours, or three years, of experience; four case reports; a year-long case log with at least 50 cases and 25 hours of continuing education.
Veterinary behavior technicians assist veterinarians with behavior modification and management. They often help to facilitate bonding and cooperation between humans and animals through proven training techniques. Many also work in animal therapy, which involves working with animals to overcome problematic behaviors. To be eligible to sit for the certification exam, you’ll need at least 4,000 hours, or three years, of experience; five detailed case reports; a case log with at least 50 cases, or one year of research experience; two letters of recommendation; 40 hours of continuing education and a completed skills checklist.
As an equine veterinary technician, you will assist equine veterinarians with their day-to-day work. Equine vets work with horses, so they need to have strong physical capabilities. The same applies to vet techs within this sub-specialization. These professionals sometimes work in animal hospitals, but many travel from farm to farm providing on-site routine and emergency care. The certification is overseen by the American Association of Equine Veterinary Technicians, and you will need to pass their exam to earn it.
Clinical pathology vet techs perform lab analyses of animals’ bodily fluids–most typically blood and urine–to look for potential health concerns. This work is mostly diagnostic in nature, so you must enjoy doing research as opposed to working directly with animals. To be eligible for certification, you’ll need at least 4,000 hours, or three years, of relevant work experience; five detailed case reports; a year-long case log; a completed skills log or checklist and two professional letters of recommendation.
With an average annual salary of around $48,000, vet tech anesthetists do quite well for themselves. These professionals assist veterinary anesthesiologists and surgeons with a variety of procedures. They prepare and administer anesthesia, monitor sedation and ventilation, adjust dosages as needed and assist animals as they recover from anesthesia. To be eligible to sit for the certification exam, you will need at least 6,000 hours, or three years, of experience–and at least 4,500 hours must be in anesthesia; 40 hours of continuing education within the last five years; 50 cases documented during the year in which you apply; two professional letters of recommendation; a completed skills checklist and four case reports.
If you would like to work with exotic species of animals, pursuing a certification as a zoo vet tech may be a good option. These professionals assist zoo veterinarians with a wide variety of tasks. Not surprisingly, they typically work in zoos, but some travel from zoo to zoo as needed. To earn your certification, you will need at least 10,000 hours, or five years, of experience in zoological medicine; 40 hours of continuing education; 40 case logs; five case reports; a completed skills checklist and two professional letters of recommendation.
As a veterinary dental technician, you will work directly with veterinary dentists in providing dental care to animals. Vet dental techs often perform cleanings and other procedures under the supervision of veterinarians. They earn an average annual salary of $44,000, so you can expect to be well-compensated. To sit for the certification exam, you will need at least 6,000 hours of experience, with at least half of them directly related to dentistry; five detailed case reports; case logs and 41 hours of continuing education.
As you can see, the possibilities for skilled and experienced veterinary technicians are diverse. Before you can pursue any of them, you will have to put in your time as a regular vet tech. As you accrue more experience, you will get closer and closer to being eligible to sit for a certification exam. By figuring out which area interests you early on, you can map out your career and achieve your goals more smoothly and easily. Like many, you may need to work in the field for a while before zeroing in on a sub-specialty that appeals to you. In the meantime, focus on honing your veterinary skills and on providing top-notch care for your patients.