Complete Guide to an Online Veterinary Technician Degree
Veterinary technicians and technologists are paraveterinary workers that assist veterinarians in animal hospitals, animal shelters, veterinary clinics, kennels, zoos, or rescue facilities. These animal lovers are responsible for a wide range of duties, including monitoring the progress of animals, administering anesthesia and medication, creating X-ray imaging, preparing animals for surgical procedures, and keeping track of patient history.
Like traditional programs, online veterinary technician programs require clinical internships in the student’s local community. Depending on the program, students may be required to already be employed in a veterinary setting or have a clinical location in mind. Other programs work to place students in clinical externships at a location that reflects their particular veterinary specialization. It’s wise for prospective online veterinary technician students to consider the state where they want to practice, as well as the veterinary specialization they want to pursue when examining potential programs. Students seeking accredited vet tech programs should consult the American Veterinary Medical Association, which is recognized by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation.
Veterinary technician associate degrees train graduates to understand both the medical science involved in veterinary work, as well as the hands-on diagnostic and clinical techniques. Graduates of these programs understand how to monitor and treat animals at every step of the veterinary process, from presentation to recovery. Students also learn about preventive treatments, such as check-ups and vaccines. The clinical mentorship aspect of the program allows students to practice veterinary technician skills in a particular veterinary setting; some mentorships focus on equine medicine, anesthesia, pharmacy, necropsy, or imaging.
A bachelor’s degree in veterinary technology is necessary for work as a veterinary technologist, a professional with more clinical skills and management potential than the veterinary technician. Veterinary technology students study advanced clinical areas like surgical nursing, toxicology, radiography, and the fundamentals of animal research. Veterinary technologists also study how to utilize diagnostic laboratory equipment and learn how to educate clients about animal care. Bachelor’s-level students complete clinicals and internships in advanced animal-care environments, such as emergency care, oncology, internal medicine, and genetic engineering.
Online certificates in veterinary technology generally cover an introductory core of classes in veterinary assisting. Students usually master the basics of assistive care, such as taking vital signs, administering medications, and using diagnostic medical equipment. Depending on the state, a certificate in veterinary technology may be sufficient to land an entry-level position.
Comprehensive List of Online Colleges & Universities for a Veterinary Technician Degree
The standard educational requirement to become a veterinary technician is an associate degree from an institution accredited by the American Veterinary Medical Association. Associate degree programs in veterinary technology train students to assess the health of small and large animals, perform diagnostic exams, administer medication, and prepare animals for surgery. These programs are offered by community colleges, vocational institutes, and online schools and take approximately two years. Different programs use a different balance of online courses, interactive practicums, and on-site clinicals in order to acquire hands-on training. Students should verify the exact requirements with their particular school or program. Applicants must possess a high school diploma and may have a higher chance for acceptance if they have taken classes in biology and mathematics.
Graduates of the two-year degree usually work in smaller veterinary practices and provide care for companion animals. Some people who are already employed in a veterinary office in a nonclinical capacity choose to earn the two-year degree online so that they can assume more responsibilities in this work setting. Others simply love animals and hope to gain the skills to work in a clinic helping dogs, cats, and other pets.
Students become knowledgeable about different kinds of animals, ranging from cats, dogs, and birds to reptiles and exotic creatures. Common courses include topics such as animal nutrition, parasitology, chemistry, microbiology, laboratory procedures, animal pharmacology, sociology, communications, veterinary medical terminology, surgical nursing, animal management, physiology, and animal radiology. Medical science classes discuss large and small animal nursing and health, clinical pathology, and imaging equipment. Students learn how to perform X-rays and sonograms on different animals.
Obtaining an associate degree in veterinary technology allows graduates to sit for exams to become licensed, certified, or registered. Most state regulatory boards require passing the Veterinary Technician National Examination, although each state's specific guidelines may differ.
Veterinary technician bachelor’s degree programs equip students with the theoretical knowledge and practical skills for a career in animal healthcare. A step beyond an associate degree, a bachelor's degree in veterinary technology will enable graduates to work outside of private clinics and conduct research. Applicants to bachelor's programs will need a high school diploma, GED, or an equivalent. Program prerequisites typically include biology, chemistry, communication, and mathematics. Students are required to earn 120 to 130 credits, which typically takes four years of full-time study.
The bachelor's vet tech curriculum consists of didactic instruction, laboratory training, and clinical practice. Core classes cover areas such as anesthetic principles, animal anatomy and physiology, animal hospital practices and procedures, clinical techniques, companion animal behavior, health and disease of farm animals, laboratory procedures, microbiology, radiographic techniques, small and large animal medicine and therapeutic techniques, veterinary clinical pathology, veterinary nursing skills, veterinary office practices, and veterinary pharmacology. Bachelor’s degree programs also require students to complete an externship in a veterinary setting.
Graduates of bachelor’s degree programs may pursue careers in a wide range of areas in veterinary practice. This includes case management, client education and communication, laboratory testing, management, patient care and nursing, surgical and medical nursing, and radiographic procedures. Work settings for veterinary technicians include animal practices, humane societies, biomedical facilities, public health services, veterinary colleges, and zoos. Others choose to pursue careers in animal nutrition, animal research, biomedical research, pharmaceuticals, sales, and technical research assistance.
Accredited vocational schools and online universities offer certificate programs in veterinary science that take between one and three years to complete. The minimum requirement for most certificate programs is a high school diploma. Students will learn how to collect laboratory specimens, clean animals' teeth, sterilize equipment, and other tasks that are associated with prepping animals for examination and treatment with vet techs and veterinarians. Classroom instruction is combined with clinical hands-on experience in a campus laboratory, veterinary office, or surgical facility. Core courses emphasize a wide range of topics, such as office and computer skills, surgical assisting, diagnostic imaging, pharmacology, animal care and restraint, and veterinary clinical techniques.
Due to the nature of the veterinary science, on-site training will likely be required in the form of laboratory and clinical practice prior to obtaining a certificate. A few schools offer a combination of online coursework and then on-site training in order to accommodate distance education students. Students should verify the specific program requirements with the school they plan on attending.
Depending on the type of certificate, students who complete a veterinary science certificate will be qualified to work in entry-level nursing or lab positions at zoos, animal shelters, and veterinary clinics, and animal hospitals. To become a certified vet technician or technologist, students will need to complete further training.
Most of the people who enter the veterinary technician field have already demonstrated a passion for, and excellence in, such subjects as the life sciences, mathematics, and communication skills. If possible, high schoolers should consider taking extra classes that will expose them to clinical scientific conditions early on, in addition to working with animals as often as possible. In a vet tech program, students can expect such classes as animal anatomy and physiology, parasitology, veterinary radiology, animal nutrition and disease, veterinary pharmacology, surgical nursing, and anesthesia training. Upon graduation, most vet techs will study on the job as an trainee under a head veterinarian.
While there are schools that offer distance learning for students interested in veterinary technology, all of these programs will require some kind of internship or on-site training. The essential skills of veterinary technologists can only be mastered when taught in the proper setting: a clinic or laboratory. Students must train under the physical supervision of an experienced veterinary professional.
Veterinary technician students typically learn how to do following tasks:
- Assess an animal's medical state
- Assist veterinarians during surgery
- Collect samples for diagnostic tests
- Give injections
- Prep exam and operating rooms
- Record information in medical charts
- Take and develop X-rays
- Take vital signs
Veterinary technology bachelor’s programs include the coursework of the associate degree, along with additional general education and clinical care courses. Many programs also require internship or co-op work experiences in a veterinary hospital, clinic, zoo, research lab, or another animal care setting. The curriculum at the bachelor's level will likely include biology, chemistry, small animal diseases, animal handling, pharmacology and toxicology, fundamentals of animal research, and surgical nursing.
Veterinary technology is regulated at the state level, so prospective vet techs should check with their state veterinary board for the most accurate certification information. In most states, technicians and technologists must graduate from an accredited two-year program and successfully pass an examination before they may be employed as a vet tech. Some states will allow exam applicants to have completed a related degree or sign up for on-the-job training in lieu of formal education. Different states give this process different titles; some call it "certification," others call it "registering" or "credentialing." Veterinary technicians and technologists may have different professional titles, such as Registered Veterinary Technician or Certified Veterinary Technician, depending on their state's preferred terminology.
The most commonly required certification exam for vet techs is the Veterinary Technician National Examination (VTNE), which is administered by the American Association of Veterinary State Boards (AAVSB). Some states require another test in addition to the VTNE. Students should also note that passing the VTNE does not automatically certify an applicant to practice as a veterinary technician; a passing score is just one component of the materials needed to apply for state certification.
Veterinary technicians who are especially interested in working in research facilities, such as a university, biotechnology firm, or pharmaceutical company, should consider attaining technical certification by taking a special exam administered by the American Association for Laboratory Animal Science (AALAS). This certification is rapidly becoming a requirement for most animal laboratory technician positions. AAVSB recommends these major areas of expertise for veterinary technicians: anesthesia, animal nursing, dentistry procedures, laboratory procedures, pharmacy and pharmacology, radiology and ultrasound, and surgical preparation and assisting. AALAS offers three types of certification for veterinary technicians, depending on a candidate’s level of education and work experience in laboratory animal science: Assistant Laboratory Animal Technician (ALAT), Laboratory Animal Technician (LAT), and Laboratory Animal Technologist (LATG).
When considering a future in veterinary technology, it's important to put some serious thought into the type of school that you want to attend. Enrolling in an accredited program should be top priority, as accredited educational programs will best prepare individuals for employment in their field. Accreditation is official acknowledgment of an institution's credibility. Schools with vet tech programs must apply to become accredited by the American Veterinary Medicine Association (AVMA), and then undergo a series of extensive evaluations that assess competency. The US Department of Education recognizes AVMA as the accrediting agency for veterinary medicine. The program you choose may also impact your ability to apply for financial aid; most student loan lenders will only grant loans to students who attend an accredited program or school.
In many instances the job titles "vet technologist" and "vet technician" are used interchangeably. Also, the tasks of the technologist and technician may overlap, depending on where they are employed. The largest differences between the two is that technicians usually have an associate degree and work under the direction of licensed veterinarians, while technologists usually have a bachelor's degree and work in animal research settings under the direction of a scientist.
Veterinary technologists more commonly work in animal research settings, where they give animals medications and monitor changes in the animal throughout the experiment. These technologists have completed additional scientific training in order to carefully monitor and observe animals. Gene therapy, cloning, wildlife medicine, and biosecurity and disaster readiness are among the research subjects that require the skills of vet technologists. Some people find this job emotionally challenging, as it requires using animals in experimental studies. Technologists employed in research and development firms or colleges and university settings typically earn more than those in private veterinary services.
Veterinary assistants are also found in many animal care facilities. Vet assistant positions are usually entry-level positions filled by people who have a vet assistant certificate or by students who are studying to become vet techs. Veterinary assistants may be in charge of dressing animals' wounds, cleaning cages, feeding animals, prepping exam rooms, checking vitals, and a number of other tasks that are assigned to them by veterinary technicians and veterinarians. They may also transport animals and perform various administrative duties, such as scheduling appointments and filing documents.
If you seek more autonomy, responsibility, and medical training, a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine or Doctor of Philosophy in Veterinary Medicine degree might be an appropriate fit. These degrees require four years of study and prepare graduates for private practice or extensive research. Those who study veterinary medicine become veterinary physicians, or veterinarians, and perform surgeries, examine, diagnose, and provide treatment to animals. They are also legally qualified to prescribe medicine to animals.
- Occupational Outlook Handbook. Bureau of Labor Statistics of the US Department of Labor. Accessed May 25, 2014. http://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/veterinarians.htm#tab-1.
- Occupational Outlook Handbook. Bureau of Labor Statistics of the US Department of Labor. Accessed May 25, 2014. http://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/veterinary-technologists-and-technicians.htm#tab-1.
- Technician Certification. American Association for Laboratory Animal Science. https://www.aalas.org/certification#.U4KTwfldWSo.
- Veterinary Technology Programs Accredited by the AVMA CVTEA. American Veterinary Medicine Association. Accessed May 25, 2014. https://www.avma.org/ProfessionalDevelopment/Education/Accreditation/Programs/Pages/vettech-programs-all-programs-list.aspx.
- Veterinary Technician National Exam. AAVSB. Accessed May 25, 2014. https://www.aavsb.org/vtne.
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