The Sky's the Limit: Career Planning for Veterinary Technicians
Today’s veterinary technicians have more opportunities for professional growth than ever before. As your career progresses, you will want increased responsibility, appreciation, and appropriate compensation for what you bring to the table in experience and maturity.
You are limited only by your imagination in what you can create in your career, but you need a plan.
Begin your career plan with a thoughtful self-assessment. Get a piece of paper, think about your current situation, and write down your answers. What brings you joy in your job? What are your strengths? What creates the most stress or anxiety? What are your weaknesses? Self-assessment can be difficult, but it is a critical step in mapping your course.
Next, think about where you want your career to go. In this article, we will discuss many opportunities within veterinary practice and beyond. Ask yourself, “If I could do anything I wanted to in the field of animal health care, what would I do?” Think BIG! This is about your growth, not about placing limitations on yourself. How can you achieve your goal?
Opportunities to Explore
Veterinary Practice Leadership
For team members who display maturity, communication and problem-solving skills, and a desire to lead, moving into management can be a natural progression. Titles may include lead technician, technician manager, kennel manager, safety coordinator, or inventory manager. Consider reading books and magazines on management, self-help, and personal development to expand your knowledge and improve your “people” skills.
Other management positions include office manager, practice manager, and hospital administrator. The Veterinary Hospital Managers Association website includes an outline of duties and coordinating titles, levels of supervision, and salary ranges. Another path is to become a certified veterinary practice manager (CVPM). In a recent survey, 20% of CVPMs in fact are veterinary technicians, and the demand for CVPMs is high.1 Create a road map for success: generate a job description, establish performance reviews, and take business management classes. You will find a link to local manager groups on the VHMA website.
Networking in this group is highly recommended; local and national manager meetings provide an opportunity to find colleagues with whom you can discuss legal issues and brainstorm human resource ideas. As a leader in a veterinary hospital, it is critical to get outside information so you are continually bringing best practices to your team.
|Current NAVTA Academies|
You may enjoy going that extra mile and chatting with clients about their pets and families. You confidently review treatment sheets, follow up with phone calls, and record all of your client communications in their pets’ records. If this sounds like your “joy” list, consider outlining a road map to be an extraordinary client communications expert in your practice. Expanding skills in active listening, using empathy statements, and contacting clients about the progress of a pet will help you reach an extraordinary level (see Communication Toolbox). SkillPath.com also offers 1-day presentations ideal for this purpose of learning and expansion.
Grief counseling is another area in which veterinary technicians can excel. In veterinary health care, we are exposed to death 10 times more often than in human medicine, considering the average life span of our patients is 12 years. The technician can help the pet owner with scheduling appointments, answering questions related to end-of-life, and being present at the euthanasia. Sympathy and empathy can elevate the experience a pet owner has at the end of a beloved friend’s life. Education can be expanded by attending local human hospice classes, reading books on the grief process, and updating client materials in your practice.
Specialty Veterinary Technician
When your “joy” list includes surgery, dental procedures, emergency care, equine medicine, or behavior, consider becoming a veterinary technician specialist (VTS). Through the National Association of Veterinary Technicians in America (NAVTA), technicians can earn certification from 10 different academies (see Box). Research the opportunities at NAVTA, download an application, apply the Career Road Map worksheet, and determine if you are a good candidate. Your commitment to become a VTS may take 2 years and may include continuing education classes, time away from work to take an exam, the expense of application fees, possible travel and lodging, and time to generate case studies and x-rays (dental requirement). You can talk with your employer about the benefits to the pet, pet owner, and hospital. What about the benefit to the individual? Be sure to determine your added value and be compensated accordingly. Some have negotiated a salary increase of $10,000 a year.
Beyond Veterinary Practice
The 9% of veterinary technicians who work in industry also make the highest salaries. To take on this challenge, you will need to be a team player, confident in your communication style, able to interact with various groups, and willing to travel. A wide variety of businesses (medical supplies and equipment, pet food, pharmacies, pet insurance, etc) offer services and provide products to the veterinary community.
The 9% of veterinary technicians who work in industry also make the highest salaries.
Veterinary Technician Educator
The approximately 6% of veterinary technicians who are employed as veterinary technician educators make an average of $21 per hour, plus benefits. As the profession continues to grow, the demand for teachers will also increase. The best way to determine whether this is a good venue for you is to contact one of your previous educators, set up an appointment, and inquire about his or her experience.
Research & Development
Many positions are open to veterinary technicians in research and development; however, some will require more than a 2-year degree or additional training. While working in R&D, technicians may manage animal facilities, treat sick or injured animals, or offer preventive health care. In addition, they may be instrumental in quality control of various research programs, oversee report writing, and be involved in grant applications. Those interested in laboratory animal medicine should check out the Association for Laboratory Animal Science’s website. Technicians can make around $45,000 a year in this field of expertise. The benefits package can be very good.
There are many professional associations supporting the veterinary community. If you are computer savvy, communicate well, can articulate services, know the veterinary community, and like social events, you may be a candidate to work in association management. A few associations already hiring veterinary technicians include American Animal Hospital Association, Colorado Association of Certified Veterinary Technicians, American Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, and American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine.
Start a Business
If your interest lies in being your own boss, you are free to create your own path. Consider reading the book 101 Best Businesses for Pet Lovers (Joseph Nigro, Sphinx Publishing, 2007) for inspiration. Attend local business meetings, create a large networking group, and learn how to sell yourself and your services or products. What about owning your own hospital? In certain states, a technician (nonveterinarian) is allowed to own the hospital. See NAVTA Journal Fall 2010.
Your career is in your hands. It is your responsibility to design it, mold it, and make it your own. By outlining a road map and working with your manager and veterinarian, you can achieve new heights as a veterinary technician. Never stop learning.