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4 ways to advance as a veterinary technician or assistant
Learn how to grow your career and improve your earning potential
Content submitted by BluePearl Specialty and Emergency Pet Hospital, a dvm360® Strategic Alliance Partner
Editor's note: This article was updated on November 28, 2022.
Veterinary technicians and assistants are essential elements of any veterinary care team. Techs and assistants help deliver care to patients, often acting as the first line of contact for pets and their owners. Although the role of the veterinary technician can be highly rewarding, job satisfaction levels are wavering. Turnover rates have increased in the past few years, with many technicians pursuing a different role after just several years.
This article highlights 4 veterinary technician advancement opportunities to help:
- Expand your skills
- Increase your earning potential
- Boost career satisfaction
- Lay the groundwork for advancing into leadership roles
1. Earn your credentials
Currently, only 19 states credential certified veterinary technicians (CVTs).1 If you are working in a state that doesn’t require credentials, that shouldn’t stop you from aiming to become a certified, registered, or licensed veterinary technician. Earning your certified veterinary technician, licensed veterinary technician, or registered veterinary technician credential shows your commitment to delivering outstanding care.
Earning your credentials goes beyond the letters after your name. The experience and education you receive to become credentialed are invaluable to your role, and the amount of knowledge behind the skills you know may astound you.
In a veterinary technology program accredited by the American Veterinary Medical Association Committee on Veterinary Technician Education and Training, you will learn core skills on a broad range of topics that equip you with the knowledge required as a vet tech, including essential nursing skills, medical terminology, laboratory procedures, radiology, and more.
You’ll be prepared to sit for the Veterinary Technician National Examination (VTNE), which is required in most states to become credentialed. Once you are a certified, registered, or licensed veterinary technician, you can continue honing your skills and growing professionally with growth opportunities such as these:
- Pursuing further credentials
- Being promoted to a supervisory role within your hospital
- Attaining a training or teaching role in a hospital or academic institution
- Joining hospital administration and management roles that support technicians and assistants
- Obtaining various roles in veterinary pharmaceutical, laboratory, and nutritional companies
2. Go beyond your credentials
Becoming a credentialed veterinary technician is an accomplishment to be proud of. After the work you put in to graduate from a veterinary technology program, pass the VTNE, and become credentialed in your state, your accomplishments should be celebrated.
Passing the VTNE and earning your credentials may seem like the end goal for a veterinary technician, but this time can be just the starting point for your future, depending on your professional goals and aspirations. Credentialed vet techs have many possible paths for advancement, depending on what interests you and ignites your passion.
Become a veterinary technician specialist
If you have an affinity for a particular veterinary discipline, such as emergency and critical care, internal medicine, or anesthesia and analgesia, you can advance your career and follow your passion by earning a veterinary technician specialist (VTS) certification in your desired specialty.
Why become a VTS?
Earning a VTS certification signifies your deep commitment and devotion to the profession and your desire to continue growing and advancing your role. This can lead to even more opportunities and earning potential in the future. VTS is an in-demand, high-growth career that allows you to enjoy job security and the professional satisfaction of performing a higher level of skills and duties to help animals.
What is NAVTA?
The National Association of Veterinary Technicians in America (NAVTA) has a list of approved academies that have met the NAVTA Committee on Veterinary Technician Specialties requirements to become fully recognized credentialing bodies for VTS certification. The academies cover veterinary disciplines such as: emergency and critical care, internal medicine, anesthesia and analgesia, nutrition, and more
These academies are responsible for credentialing and uniting technicians in their specific veterinary specialty.
How do I earn a VTS certification?
If you are interested in obtaining your VTS, the first step is gaining the experience needed for your specialty. Many specialty academies require proof of more than 1000 hours of experience in the specialty as part of your application for certification. Often, this includes materials such as case logs and summaries that detail your nursing skills and knowledge.
As you gain the necessary experience, sign up for specialized continuing education (CE) opportunities, which you can find on academy websites and NAVTA.net, among other places. Talk to your supervisor about your desire to earn a VTS certification. They may be able to help you identify CE opportunities and place you in a role in which you can gain the skills and knowledge needed
In summary, to be eligible to take the exam and earn a VTS certification, you will need the following:
- On-the-job experience
- Case logs and reports
- Specialty CE credits
- Support and mentorship from a fellow VTS or board-certified clinician
The requirements for each academy may differ slightly, so be sure to check NAVTA’s list of approved academies to learn more about your specific discipline’s eligibility needs.
3. Pursue a leadership role
Leadership and supervisory positions within a hospital are a natural progression for many veterinary paraprofessionals looking to advance in their careers. Leadership roles in nursing (eg, technician supervisor or technician manager) or in administration (eg, practice manager or hospital administrator) are an excellent way to progress in your career and foster important changes, such as developing resources to support patient care team associates at your workplace.
Show your dedication
If you are inspired to lead, find opportunities to make your commitment, initiative, and skills known to leaders in the hospital. This can take many forms, such as:
- Being an active participant in team meetings
- Mentoring new technicians and assistants
- Researching relevant CE sessions for your team
- Learning business acumen
- Studying leadership philosophies and styles
Demonstrate your capabilities
By proactively seeking ways to flex your newly acquired skills, broadening your scope of responsibilities, and enabling your team to make unique contributions, you will lay the foundation of success for transitioning into a leadership role in the future. You can also ask your manager about available opportunities to hone your leadership skills, such as the following:
- Volunteering to help with supervisory tasks
- Providing ideas for improving processes in your hospital
- Sharing your knowledge and skills with others
- Demonstrating your ability to be a team player
Consider asking directly: What skills do I need to have for the leadership position I aspire to?
4. Seek more knowledge
In addition to the CE credits needed to maintain your license set by your state, participating in internal or external CE credit hours every year gives you a chance to learn about new advancements in the field, hone your skills, and acquire new, diverse skill sets that can benefit your career progression and leadership journey.
Take advantage of scholarship opportunities provided by your company when possible to pursue your credentials and advance your education. If your goal is to become a VTS, look into CEs featuring your specialty of interest. If you are aiming for a leadership position, seek CEs that focus on management, business, and administration skills to gain experience and demonstrate your commitment to success.
Participating in training opportunities sponsored by your company—such as the Reassessment Campaign on Veterinary Resuscitation and cardio-pulmonary resuscitation refresher courses—is one way to maintain your knowledge and stay up-to-date with current field requirements and hospital procedures.
You can also lean on educational platforms to find CE opportunities approved by the Registry of Approved Continuing Education program. Many have options for leadership development, career advancement, and sessions specific to specialties, procedures, and treatments. For self-guided instruction and learning, find out what kind of medical library your organization has access to. This way, you can access primary veterinary medicine journals and stay current on industry news and research.
Achieve your goals as a vet tech
Wherever you aspire to take your career as a veterinary technician, these resources can help you build your skills and grow professionally. Whether you want to upskill and improve your caregiving abilities or become a VTS, the most important thing you need is a willingness to learn, try something new, and stick to your goals.
Amy Ramirez, LVT, LAT, is the director of nursing for BluePearl Specialty and Emergency Pet Hospital. She has worked within the hospitals for over 20 years as technician manager, practice manager, veterinary relations representative, hospital administrator, and director of field operations. As the director of nursing, she works closely with BluePearl’s regional nursing partners to elevate the role of assistants and veterinary technicians by ensuring they are able to work to the top of their licensure. She is passionate about creating career paths that support veterinary technicians across the course of their career. She and her team of regional nursing partners support more than 5000 associates, providing patient care across more than 100 BluePearl hospitals.
Credentialing. National Association of Veterinary Technicians in America. Accessed September 1, 2022. https://navta.site-ym.com/page/credentialing#:~:text=States%20that%20currently%20certify%20veterinary,%2C%20Vermont%2C%20Wisconsin%20and%20Wyoming
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