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Choosing a Veterinary Technician School

vet tech holding nervous dogNow that you have decided to dedicate your life to helping animals, choosing a vet tech school may seem like a complicated process.  Yes, you will enjoy a rewarding career assisting with the healthcare of pets in a fast growing and in demand field.  But before you can work as a veterinarian technician or technologist, you must receive the proper training and licensing.  Therefore it is important that you do the research to make sure that the school or college you enroll in will provide an excellent education.  Many prospective students will base their decision on either the location of the school, the cost of tuition, or both.  But selecting the cheapest and/or the closest technical school is not necessarily the best option.  There are other important considerations that you must evaluate before you narrow down your list of veterinary technician colleges and make your final choice.  But before we talk about those, let’s start by reviewing what the differences are between a vet assistant, a technician and a technologist, as well as the advantages of an online veterinarian education.

Vet Assistants, Technicians and Technologists

vet tech examining kittensDeciding on which vet medicine program to specialize in will be based on your educational commitment and your desire to excel in this field.  All vet techs, technologists or assistants work under the direct supervision of a licensed practicing veterinarian.  And while they can perform a wide variety of job functions, they cannot diagnose an animal’s condition, perform surgeries or prescribe medications.  Their roles are in support of the vet, who is licensed to provide these services.  Some techs or technologists may also work outside of the clinic environment, working for zoos, animal control, the military or law enforcement, or the humane society.  Following are some brief descriptions of each career position.

  • Veterinary Assistants have typically gone through some type of training, either on the job at a vet clinic, or through a certificate program at a trade or technical school or college.  Their duties are basically to assist the veterinarians on staff as well as the vet techs.  They typically are not involved in more complex procedures, such as assisting with surgeries or collecting lab samples.  They are more likely to be involved with cleaning equipment and facilities, providing restraint during exams, or office work.
  • Veterinary Techs have more advanced training and generally earn an Associate’s Degree from an American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) accredited program.  They are similar to nurses in that they assist vets in the diagnosis and treatment of animals.  Unlike assistants, they routinely administer medications, collect lab samples, or assist with surgeries.  They are required in all states to pass a credentialing exam for certification or licensing.
  • Veterinary Technologists earn a 4 year Bachelor’s Degree in veterinary technology.  They typically perform the same tasks that a tech does, so the only real difference is their level of education.  Their advanced degree generally affords greater opportunities, higher pay as well as management positions.  As with techs, they are required to become certified by passing a state licensing exam.

Some vet techs and technologists also specialize in certain areas, such as anesthesia, internal medicine, emergency care or dental technology.  Also, they have the option of working in research facilities by receiving certification from the American Association for Laboratory Animal Science (AALAS).

Online Vet Tech Programs

dog with surgical coneReceiving your vet assistant training online may be a good option for your education.  Because the classes are taught online, you will have the benefit of being able to attend them using a computer in the comfort of your own home.  The curriculum is taught using a variety of methods, including videos, slide show presentations, live streaming and webinars.  And the clinical portion of the program is satisfied by completing an internship with a local veterinary clinic.  The online classes make it easier to balance schooling with other work and family obligations.  Distance learning may also reduce the cost of your education since some programs are less expensive than other on campus options.  Expenses such as commuting and even textbooks can be reduced to a great extent as well.  Between the clinical training and the online instruction, everything needed for a complete education is provided.  And the AVMA accredits many online programs that meet their rigorous standards.   So if you are disciplined and motivated enough to learn in this fashion, online veterinarian tech schools may be the right choice for you.

Create Your Vet Technology School Shortlist

Once you have decided on the type of veterinary training program to enroll in, as well as if you want to study on campus or online, you can start to create your shortlist of schools.  There are many vet technician trade schools and colleges in the United States, so it is important to develop a checklist of qualifications so that you can narrow your choices and make a final selection.  As previously discussed, cost and location are usually the first considerations for most aspiring veterinary students.  Choosing a school that offers the major or the type of certification or degree you want is also very important.  However, you should not make a final decision without first investigating each of the following points on our checklist.

Is the Veterinary Tech School and Program Accredited?  Many veterinarian schools and programs have earned either a regional or a national accreditation, or both.  One of the most highly regarded accrediting agencies in this field is the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA).  Colleges receiving accreditation from the AVMA have gone through a comprehensive screening of their curriculum and their instructors.  In addition, online schools may receive accreditation from the Distance Education and Training Council, which focuses on distance or online learning.  Make sure that the degree or certificate program as well as the school is accredited by a U.S. Department of Education recognized accrediting organization.  In addition to helping ensure that you receive a quality education, it may assist in securing financial aid or student loans, which are often not available for non-accredited schools.

What is the Reputation of the Vet School?  The veterinarian technical school as well as the program you choose should have an outstanding reputation within the industry.  Ask the schools for some references from employers that they refer their graduating students to for job placement.  Check online rating services to see what the general consensus is about the schools.  Ask any accrediting organizations for the schools for their reviews as well.  Also, check with your State school licensing authority to find out if there are any compliance issues, complaints or ongoing investigations.  Finally, you can also contact some local veterinarians that you may be interested in working for upon graduation.   Ask what they think about your short list of school choices.  They may even refer you to one or more other veterinary schools that you hadn’t considered.

What are the Graduation and Job Placement Rates?  Find out from the veterinarian schools you are considering what their graduation rates are.  Also, how long on average does it take students to complete their programs?   A low graduation rate could be an indication that students were unhappy with the program and dropped out.  It could also mean that the instructors were not qualified or skilled at teaching the course material.  It is also important that the school has a high job placement rate.   A high job placement rate will not only help confirm that the school has a good reputation within the industry, but that it also has the network of contacts to help students obtain internships or employment upon graduation.

Inspect the Vet School’s Facilities and Location.  Unless you are willing to relocate, the school needs to be within commuting distance of your home.  Taking courses online may be an option that will give you more flexibility to attend classes and reduce the need for travel.  Remember that if you decide to attend an out-of-state school, in addition to relocation costs there may be higher tuition fees than for in-state students.   Also be sure to check out the campus facilities in person before paying your first tuition payment.

Does the School offer Internship Programs?  One of the best ways to get hands on experience as a veterinary tech is to work in a clinical environment.  Find out if the schools have a working relationship with vet hospitals, clinics or labs for internship programs.  Not only will the experience be rewarding as far as technical training, but it may also help establish relationships in the local veterinarian community and open doors when looking for a position upon graduation.

Are the Classes Large or Smaller?  It is important that you receive as much one-on-one instruction as possible.  If the classes are large you may receive little to no personal attention.  Ask if you can attend some classes so that you can monitor the interaction between teachers and students.  Be sure to visit more than one to get an idea how large the classes are overall.  Speak with some of the students and find out what their experience has been.  Finally, meet with some of the instructors and find out what their level of expertise is and what degrees they hold.

Does the Vet College offer Flexible Scheduling?  The last item on our checklist is to find out if vet school offers flexible class scheduling.  If you can only attend classes at night or on weekends, be sure to consider only those schools that offer night and weekend classes.  If a school requires a full-time schedule and you can only attend part-time, then you may have to cross that school off your list.  Also, find out if you can make up classes that you may miss due to work, illness or family emergencies. The last thing that you will want to do is commit to an inflexible class schedule that you will have difficulty attending.

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Enroll in the Right Veterinary Technologist College

Enrolling in the right veterinary tech program is a crucial first step to beginning a career that provides medical diagnosis and treatment for pets and other animals.  As discussed in this article, it is very important that you choose a school and a degree or certificate program that are both accredited and have excellent reputations within the veterinary community.  This applies to both on campus training as well as online classes.  And if you ask the questions provided in our checklist for evaluating schools, you will be able to narrow down your options so that you can make your final choice.  And by selecting the right college, combined with discipline and dedication, you can achieve your career goal to become a vet technician.