When you graduate from vet tech school, the most obvious option is to begin working in a local veterinary clinic. Regardless of whether you want to work with small animal or large animal patients, many vet techs envision themselves in general veterinary practice, providing a combination of wellness, medical, and surgical care.
What if general practice isn’t a good fit for you, though, and you’d like to do something different?
Here are ten alternative vet tech careers that you may not have considered:
1. Work at a referral hospital or vet school
Referral hospitals and veterinary teaching hospitals typically employ veterinary specialists. These veterinarians have completed additional training in a specific area and treat only cases that fall within that area. Specialists typically treat the most complicated cases in veterinary medicine, which are referred to them by general practice veterinarians.
Therefore, working in a referral hospital or vet school means that you will likely be replacing the routine cases of general practice with complex medical and surgical cases typical of a specialty hospital. For some vet techs, this can be an excellent option.
The National Association of Veterinary Technicians of America (NAVTA) recognizes a number of vet tech specialties that work alongside veterinary specialists.(1) While specialization is not typically required for vet techs working in a specialty hospital, it might be something you want to consider if you plan to spend your career in specialty medicine.
Recognized vet tech specialties include Anesthesia and Analgesia, Clinical Practice, Dentistry, Dermatology, Diagnostic Imaging, Emergency and Critical Care, Internal Medicine, Ophthalmology, Physical Rehabilitation, and Surgery. Each specialty academy has its own individual requirements, involving some combination of education, experience, and testing.
2. Explore opportunities in veterinary behavior
In addition to the specialties mentioned above, the NAVTA also offers a vet tech specialty in behavior. Specializing as a veterinary behavior technician requires a combination of work experience, self-study, and attendance at veterinary behavior conferences.(2)
Veterinary behavior technicians can work in a number of settings. While many work with a veterinary behaviorist (a veterinarian who specializes in the treatment of behavioral conditions in pets), behavior technicians may also find themselves working with zoos, animal welfare organizations, research facilities, animal shelters, service dog organizations, and/or animal therapy organizations
3. Specialize in clinical pathology
Clinical pathology vet techs typically work at veterinary schools, state laboratories, and privately-owned veterinary reference laboratories. These vet techs spend their days analyzing lab samples for veterinarians and pet owners. While labs often employ entry-level vet techs, the NAVTA also offers a recognized specialty in Veterinary Clinical Pathology for vet techs that seek additional training in this field.(3)
4. Work for a research lab, providing care for laboratory animals
Research studies conducted by universities and industry often involve the use of laboratory animals. Animal welfare laws require that these animals are under the care of a veterinarian; in many cases, this lab animal veterinarian is assisted by a lab animal vet tech. Lab animal vet techs may pursue specialty certification through the Academy of Laboratory Animal Veterinary Technicians and Nurses.(4)
5. Focus on veterinary nutrition
Veterinary nutrition is a popular topic, both within the veterinary profession and among pet owners. Vet techs with additional training in nutrition might work within a general veterinary practice (in a role focused on providing detailed nutritional information to pet owners), work with a nutritionist (providing nutritional consultations), or may work with a pet food company (developing and marketing new diets).
If you’re interested in veterinary nutrition, there are two ways that you can pursue additional training. The Academy of Veterinary Nutrition Technicians offers a route to specialization in veterinary nutrition, achieved through a combination of education, experience, and testing.(5) Vet techs within this specialty often work within animal nutrition companies or work with veterinary nutritionists.
If you’re interested in gaining practical pet nutrition information that you could use within a small animal practice setting, you might want to consider the North American Veterinary Community’s Pet Nutrition Coach certification.(6) This certificate program requires eight hours of nutrition-related continuing education and will help prepare you to discuss pet nutrition with small animal clients
6. Take a walk on the wild side
If you’re seeking an alternative to general practice, you might be interested in working at a zoo, aquarium, or wildlife rehabilitation community. These positions are often highly competitive, but they do exist! In many cases, the key to obtaining a role in the zoo/wildlife field is networking and flexibility.
Specialization in zoo medicine is offered through the Academy of Veterinary Zoological Medicine Technicians.(7) This specialty requires five years of work experience within the zoo field in order to complete the qualifying examination, so vet techs that are first entering the zoo/wildlife field are not expected to be specialists.
7. Look for a position within industry
Many animal health businesses employ veterinary technicians for a variety of roles. You may be able to find positions assisting a company with research, promotional/educational writing, or outreach to veterinary clinics. Each of these opportunities would provide a unique way for you to utilize your vet tech skills in a non-traditional manner.
8. Work with a professional association
Veterinary associations, such as NAVTA, your state vet tech association, the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA), and others, often employ a team of veterinary professionals that includes vet techs. Vet techs working for an association help set the organization’s goals, execute those goals, and perform outreach to veterinary professionals and students.
9. Teach future vet techs or vet assistants
Vet tech colleges, as well as veterinary assisting programs, often employ vet techs for teaching roles. If you live near a vet tech college, you may be able to find employment opportunities teaching lectures or laboratories. If you aren’t located near a vet tech school, consider online vet tech programs; these programs may also need vet techs to write courses or serve as mentors to students.
10. Consider opportunities in practice management
If you’re looking for a different way to utilize your veterinary knowledge while still remaining within a practice setting, consider practice management. This field requires a wide variety of skills, including financial skills, employee management, client communication, and others.
If you wish to gain additional training in practice management, or make yourself more competitive for management opportunities in larger practices, consider becoming a Certified Veterinary Practice Manager (CVPM).(8) This program requires a combination of education, experience, recommendations, and an examination to ensure that you have gained the necessary skills and experience to be a CVPM.
One thing is certain, you’re never without options as a vet tech! Keep these options in mind as you begin your career, be open to changes, and focus on finding the niche that works for you.
- Specialty Information. NAVTA.
- Academy of Veterinary Behavior Technicians.
- Academy of Veterinary Clinical Pathology Technicians.
- Academy of Laboratory Animal Veterinary Technicians and Nurses.
- Academy of Veterinary Nutrition Technicians.
- NAVC. Pet Nutrition Coach Certification.
- Academy of Veterinary Zoological Medicine Technicians.
- Certified Veterinary Practice Manager. Veterinary Hospital Management Association.