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How to Become a Veterinary Technician in California

Does your love of animals run deep? If you can envision a life of helping animals, a career as a veterinary technician (or vet tech) may be the right choice for you. Dedication to the proper treatment and care of animals, whether you wish to work with exotic animals or cats and dogs, is an excellent start. If you are interested in joining the world of veterinary medicine, it is time you explore this challenging and rewarding career path. Let’s take a closer look at how you can make a difference in the lives of animals and their families by becoming a veterinary technician in California.

What Does a Veterinary Technician Do? 

Veterinary techs and technologists are supervised by licensed veterinarians who perform medical tests to help diagnose animals’ illnesses and injuries. Depending on the work environment, a vet tech job description may include care, clinical, and laboratory tasks. Additional vet tech responsibilities consist of:1

  • Check the condition of an animal and observe its behavior.
  • Administer first aid to injured animals.
  • Groom animals such as bathing, brushing, cutting hair, and trimming nails.
  • Restrain animals during exams and procedures.
  • Prep animals and equipment for surgery.
  • Create and maintain animal case histories.
  • Perform diagnostic testing like taking x-rays, laboratory tests, blood counts, and more.

Technicians who work with small animal practitioners may help care for a variety of animals such as cats, dogs, rabbits, guinea pigs, and mice. Duties may include administering medications (where permitted), conducting various diagnostic and laboratory tests like heartworm and urinalysis, and recording an animal’s weight, diet, symptoms of illness, and signs of pain.

In addition, it is typical for a vet tech to talk with pet owners and explain their pet’s condition or how to administer any treatment or medication prescribed by a veterinarian.

Benefits of Being a Vet Tech 

As you consider taking on a vet tech role, you may question whether it comes with benefits. Yes, the job has advantages that many other occupations lack. One advantage is a unique, fast-paced work environment that varies daily. The vet tech’s career has a high degree of flexibility, allowing professionals to work across the country in various settings. Vet tech positions also offer the potential for growth and a higher salary over your career. One of the most cited benefits of being a vet tech is knowing that you can make a difference for pets and their families.

Vet Tech vs Vet Assistant 

While Vet Tech and Vet assistant jobs seem similar, there are several key differences between them. The tasks of a vet tech include all of the tasks outlined for vet assistants, and also additional duties determined by the VMB. In CA those additional duties are Induction of anesthesia, Suturing existing skin wounds, and extracting teeth. Veterinary assistants are not permitted to perform any of the duties designated for RVTs (or Vet techs).

On the other hand, vet assistants do not require a degree, although employers may prefer a candidate that holds one. These professionals provide support services for a veterinarian or veterinary tech. Vet assistants perform kennel work, aid in the handling of animals, walk or feed animals, and carry out clerical duties. While there are training programs for vet assistants, some receive on-the-job training.2

Those vet assistants that opt for a post-secondary degree can do so in a relatively short time allowing for quick entry into the field. 

Why Become a Vet Tech? 

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the number of vet tech jobs will grow by 18,300 or 16% between 2019 and 2029.3 This rate is much faster than the average for all professions. The reason behind such growth is the number of families with pets, and spending on pets continues to rise. Overall job prospects for vet techs and technologists are good as well due to the projected growth in the industry. If you have the dedication required to earn a degree, pass a credentialing exam, then enter the profession, you will do well.

Vet Tech Salary 

The average veterinary technologists’ and technician’s salary in 2019 was $35,320, according to the BLS, with the highest 10 percent in this occupation earning more than $51,230, while the lowest 10 percent earned less than $24,540. Based on BLS figures, in 2019, the average annual veterinary technologists’ and technician’s salary based on the top industries were as follows:4

  • Junior colleges, colleges, universities, and professional schools; state, local and private — $40,990
  • Veterinary services — $34,990
  • Social advocacy organizations — $34,980

Be advised, salary for entry level positions may be lower than the national average.

Best States to Work as a Vet Tech 

When you seek vet tech jobs, you should consider many factors, including which states have the highest number of vet techs and top-paying positions. 

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports the following five states as the top paying for veterinary technologists and technicians:5

State Annual average salary Employment Employment per thousand jobs
District of Columbia $60,290 190 0.26
Connecticut $49,900 1,590 0.96
Nevada $49,320 640 0.46
Virginia $43,820 2,100 0.54
New York $43,700 5,020 0.53

The following are five states with the highest employment levels based on BLS data:5

State  Employment  Employment per thousand jobs Annual average salary
Texas 12,280 0.99 $32,700
California 9,750 0.56 $43,470
Florida 8,660 0.98 $33,360
Pennsylvania 5,250 0.89 $37,050
New York 5,020 0.53 $43,700

Find Your Path as a Veterinary Technician

SJVC is committed to hands-on training in the skills you need as a Veterinary Technician. Learn more about our program and exciting opportunities.

Veterinary Technician Jobs 

Although a vet tech or veterinary technician can work in a variety of environments, such as educational facilities or laboratories, 90 percent of these professionals work in veterinary services like private clinics and animal hospitals.6

Within the field of veterinary medicine, there are several job titles related to vet techs. While a licensed veterinary technician (LVT), registered veterinary technician (RVT), and a certified veterinary technician (CVT) all mean the same thing, your position varies based on the state in which you work. 

Many of these vet techs have obtained post-secondary education from an AVMA-accredited vet tech program, passed the VTNE credentialing exam, and received state licensure.6 The following specialties differ in many areas like education and job responsibilities:7

  • Emergency Veterinary Technician (Emergency Vet Tech) — This veterinary technician is trained and certified to aid veterinarians in treating animals that require critical care, such as emergency surgery.
  • Internal Medicine Veterinary Technician (Internal Medicine Vet Tech) — This certified professional manages complex disease or medical problems that affect multiple body systems.
  • Veterinary Laboratory Technician (Vet Lab Tech) — A vet lab technician studies and cares for various animals involved in research programs.

In any vet tech position, there are some high-volume risks related to workplace injuries. They may be subject to hearing loss, standing for long periods of time, and lifting or carrying sick animals. Like other medical professional vet techs, work schedules may include weekends, evenings, and holidays.6

How to Become a Veterinary Technician 

Want to know how to become a vet tech? Here are a few suggestions before getting started. 

  • If you are still in high school, you can begin preparing for your career in veterinary medicine by taking biology and other science courses now. 
  • For those who have their high school diploma or GED, you can find a two-year associate degree in a veterinary technology program. 
  • After enrolling in vet tech training, try seeking out internships or volunteer opportunities to help further your learning experience.

After a graduate successfully completes the Veterinary Technician National Examination (VTNE), they may be eligible for state licensure to work as a Registered Veterinary Technician (RVT).

Veterinary technicians usually have a 2-year associate’s degree in a veterinary technology program.8 Although each state regulates veterinary technologists and technicians differently, most candidates must pass a credentialing exam. Most states require technologists and technicians to pass the Veterinary Technician National Examination (VTNE), offered by the American Association of Veterinary State Boards.8

5 Key Skills for Veterinary Technicians

While not mandated as vet tech requirements, there are a few important qualities that will help ensure your success in the role:8

  1. Compassion — You must treat animals under your care with kindness and be sensitive when engaging with the owners of sick or injured pets.
  2. Physical strength — Depending on what animals you care for, you may be required to manage and lift large, heavy animals.
  3. Detail-oriented — Similar to the field of human medicine, vet technicians must be precise when recording information, performing diagnostic tests and administering medication.
  4. Communication skills — You will need to communicate with fellow staff members, veterinarians, and animal owners. Depending on your skillset, you may counsel pet owners on animal nutrition and behavior.
  5. Manual dexterity You must handle animals, lab equipment, and medical instruments with care. A steady hand is necessary for intricate work like performing dental work, taking X-rays, and giving anesthesia.

Do I Need to Be Certified to Be a Vet Tech? 

Wondering if a vet tech certification or vet tech license is required to practice as a veterinary technician? Each state regulates veterinary professionals differently. Most states require technicians to pass the Veterinary Technician National Examination offered through the American Association of Veterinary State Boards. Even if the state you wish to work in does not require certification or a license, individual employers may be more apt to hire certified, licensed candidates. This also demonstrates your commitment to the field of veterinary medicine.8

What to Look for in a Veterinary Technician School 

Higher education is necessary in order to possess a successful and rewarding career in animal wellness. With a wide range of program options available, choosing between Veterinary Technology programs that fit your needs can be a tough decision. Check out these four considerations before enrolling in a vet tech program: 

  • Cost — Higher education is an investment in your future. Like most post-secondary institutions, San Joaquin Valley College offers federal and state financial assistance programs and private financing. Student loans, scholarships, and grants are available to qualified students. For more information on the current tuition costs at San Joaquin Valley College, please see our academic catalog.
  • Accreditation — Accreditation signifies to employers that an institution meets the set standards of quality. 
  • Instructor quality — Experienced, knowledgeable faculty who build relationships with their students can positively impact students’ learning abilities. 
  • Hands-on experience — Because vet technicians have direct contact with animals, a veterinary technology program must offer hands-on training.

How Long is a Vet Tech Program? 

When choosing the best institution for your lifestyle, it is important to ask this question: how long are vet tech programs? Most veterinary technology courses take two years for an associate degree. But if you want to get in the workforce quickly, students at San Joaquin Valley College can complete our Associate of Science degree in Veterinary Technology in as few as 18 months. 

Can I Attend Veterinary Technology School Online? 

Yes, you can attend veterinary technology school online with some institutions. However, at San Joaquin Valley College, we understand the importance of hands-on training in the field. For this reason, we offer our veterinary technology program in-person at our Fresno, California campus. In addition to attending on-campus classes, students participate in clinical experience.

Kickstart Your Career as a Veterinary Technician

Small class sizes, individual attention, and hands-on training in the skills you need. Learn more about how to become a Veterinary Technician with SJVC.

What Will I Learn in SJVC’s Veterinary Technician Courses? 

As a student in Veterinary Technology at San Joaquin Valley College, you will learn how to:

  • Calculate dosages, prepare, and dispense medications in compliance with a veterinarian’s orders.
  • Implement anesthetic plans to facilitate diagnostic, therapeutic, or surgical procedures.
  • Perform pre-, peri-, and post-operative management of surgical patients.
  • Perform dental procedures, including a Complete Oral Health Assessment and Treatment (COHAT).
  • Perform laboratory tests/procedures and understand the results.
  • Apply the concepts of animal care and nursing.
  • Produce diagnostic images and/or radiographs following protocols for quality and operator/patient safety.
  • Evaluate a patient requiring urgent or emergency care.
  • Relate and apply concepts of communication, reasoning, critical analysis, ethical behavior, and appropriate interpersonal interaction to situations in his or her career and personal life.
  • Demonstrate the social skills, professional appearance, attitudes, and behavior that employers expect of all SJVC graduates.

Vet Tech Classes 

In as few as 18 months, the Veterinary Technology program at SJVC can teach students to learn through a combination of classes, hands-on training, and clinical experience under the supervision of a registered veterinary technician or doctor in veterinary medicine. The training addresses animal patient care, including anatomy, physiology, pharmacology, and surgical assisting. To ensure students receive real-world experience, practicum hours rotate among various animal care facilities.

Additionally, graduates are eligible to work immediately as veterinary assistants and can test for the Veterinary Technician National Examination. SJVC prepares students to take appropriate certification and licensure exams related to their individual majors. The College does not guarantee students will successfully pass these exams or be certified or licensed as a result of completing the program.

The coursework consists of 77 total credit hours comprised of the following topics:

Veterinary Technology Courses:

  • Introduction to Veterinary Assisting 
  • Introduction to Life Sciences 
  • Animal Nursing 
  • Veterinary Anatomy & Physiology I 
  • Veterinary Anatomy & Physiology II 
  • Veterinary Pharmacology 
  • Veterinary Laboratory Procedures 
  • Veterinary Radiology 
  • Veterinary Surgical Assisting 
  • Veterinary Dentistry and Critical Care 
  • Advanced Anatomy & Physiology 
  • Animal Nursing II 
  • Veterinary Pharmacology II 
  • Advanced Technical Skills 
  • Veterinary Laboratory Procedures II 
  • Exotic and Large Animals Skills 
  • Veterinary Surgical, Dental, and Critical Care Procedures 
  • Course Review and Essential Skills 
  • Directed Clinical Experience 
  • Graduate Readiness Seminar

General Education Courses:

  • Reading Composition-Part A
  • Reading Composition-Part B
  • College Algebra-Part A
  • College Algebra-Part B
  • Ethics
  • General Psychology
  • Introduction to Sociology

Prepare for a Career in Veterinary Medicine With San Joaquin Valley College 

Whether you are pursuing work in a private clinic, animal hospital, zoo, lab, or humane society, our veterinary technology training will prepare you to work as a vet tech upon graduation. As a community college, we are committed to your success. And to help ensure our students’ achievement, we offer several start dates, small class sizes, and career planning and employment-related services in your career field. Request more information about the Veterinary Technology program.

Vet Tech FAQ

How long does it take to become a vet tech?

Training can be completed in as few asIt takes about 18 months.

Do I need to be certified as a vet tech?

It depends on the state or location in which you work.

Where can I work as a vet tech?

You can work in private clinics, laboratories, animal hospitals, educational institutions, humane societies, zoos, and farms.

How much do vet techs make in California?

The average annual salary for a vet tech in California  was $43,470 in May 2019.

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