For those who enjoy working with animals, and people, few careers have as bright a future as that of a veterinary technician. The main reason for this optimism is because the U.S. Bureau of Labors Statistic projects the employment of veterinary technicians to grow 30% per year through 2022 (BLS data).
The education of a veterinary technician (vet tech) takes two to three years, requires only a high school diploma, and is very affordable. The distinction between a vet tech and a veterinary technologist must be made. A vet tech studies to attain an Associate’s degree in Applied Science in Veterinary Technology. A veterinary technologist achieves a B.S. degree in Veterinary Technology, which requires four to five years of study and costs more. Of course, the veterinary technologist earns more and has better career opportunities.
Alaska has no accredited veterinary technician program, but through cooperative agreements with neighboring states you can get an education at a very affordable cost and return to Alaska to begin your career.
What Does a Vet Tech Do?
The desire to work with animals is not the only requirement for a vet tech. One must possess certain physical capabilities (for example, the ability to be on your feet for extended periods of time, or to be able to lift 50 pounds), and the ability to maintain a flexible schedule. Depending on the facility in which you work, your daily duties might include taking x-rays, administering medications, assisting in surgery or animal restraint, intake and discharge, laboratory procedures, or facility management.
Most vet techs work in private practice but opportunities exist in many other areas: military service, public and private and research, zoos/exotic animal facilities, pharmaceutical supply and sales, livestock production, wildlife management, and humane/rescue organizations.
What Will You Study?
Most programs require prerequisite general courses in English, biology or other basic sciences, humanities, basic math, sciences, or computer skills.
The core curriculum is heavily science-based. You will study anatomy and physiology, terminology, parasitology, radiology, hematology, anesthesiology, animal restraint, wound care, large and small animal nursing, and practice management.
Ways to Get an Associate’s Degree
Alaska has no accredited veterinary technician program, but you can get an Associate’s degree in Applied Science in Veterinary Technology by other means.
1) Several accredited schools across the country have “distance education” (DE) programs through which you can do most of your studies in or near your home. For a list of DE programs, click here. The main features of DE programs are that you are responsible for arranging your schedule, classwork, prerequisites, clinical visits, and testing.
Most of the classwork can be done at home over the internet through which you can “attend” class via taped classes, web cam, or the Blackboard or eCollege systems. Most often, you access these classes on your time schedule, which requires more discipline to manage your time responsibly.
For your final semester-long internship and classes that require a laboratory to provide hands-on experience, you must be involved in arranging these. Being so involved in the planning of your education can be an advantage, depending on you, the contacts you have and make, and the situations you design. For example, if your interests are in large animals, you can plan your labs and internship to focus more on these clinical situations. Or, you may vary your experiences at more than one clinic.
Though you study mostly at home, periodic visits to a testing or proctoring sites are required. Visit every DE program’s website to find the one that is best suited to you.
2) Alaska belongs to the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education (WICHE), a reciprocal agreement between 15 western states to allow students to attend college in one of the other member states at a reduced out-of-state tuition level of 150% of that school’s in-state tuition. On the WICHE website, look for the Western Undergraduate Exchange (WUE), for specific details.
The WUE website lists colleges that offer vet tech programs. Click on WUE ONLINE DATABASE, Any Institution, Any State, Associate’s Degree (continue to step 2). Click on HEALTH PROFESSIONS AND RELATED CLINICAL SCIENCES (continue to step 3), then click VETERINARY/ANIMAL HEALTH TECHNOLOGY/TECHNICIAN AND VETERINARY ASSISTANT (display results). This will give you a list of the schools in the WUE program that provide a vet tech program.
Not all listed programs are accredited. Next, click here to find a list of all states with accredited programs. Cross-check the list of WUE programs with the programs in that state to learn of programs approved by WUE and are accredited. Only programs that show up on both lists will be accredited and WUE member schools. This will give you a list of schools with accredited programs from which to choose that best suits your educational needs.
3) A third way of getting a vet education from an accredited school is to combine means one and two, which can be done in a variety of ways and will depend on your creativity in cobbling together your plan to get the best education at the lowest cost. Some of your prerequisites can be done at your local two-year or four-year college before you enroll in a DE program or attend school in a WICHE state.
For most people, regardless of how you plan your education, an Associate’s degree can be earned in three years or less.
All these methods require much more research and planning on multiple websites, from those of the schools in which you are interested, to websites such as WUE to determine eligibility, admissions, tuition, financial aid, and reciprocity.
Please note that every school has its own admissions process, tuition, prerequisite courses required, curriculum, length of program, methods of conducting remote education, and means of proctoring. Check EVERY school’s website for every aspect of your education when searching for the program best suited for you. Only one of the ten programs restricts admission to in-state residents.
Tuition and Financial Aid
Because of the variability in your options to get a vet tech education to become licensed in Alaska, citing tuition rates is too complicated here. But whether through a DE program or attaining an Associate’s degree under the WICHE program, you should be able to find a program that meets your needs for tuition under $20,000 for the entire program.
Financial aid is more consistent, as almost every school or program offers the traditional financial aid options available to college students across the country. This includes benefits for veterans, including family and dependents.
Nearly all financial aid applications begin with the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). A visit to this website first is the best way to begin your financial aid planning.
The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs website has information about the many types of available aid for veterans and family.
It bears repeating that the time spent on the many websites you need to make a decision and plan your education is the best investment you can make. If the information you seek cannot be found on the websites, help via email or telephone calls to the institution or agency is available.
Job Prospects and Potential Pay for a Vet Tech
Per the 2013 report from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the average pay for veterinary technicians and technologists in Alaska was $40,970.
Regional average pay for Alaska (click the radio button for One occupation for multiple geographical areas, then find Veterinary Technologists and Technicians, 292056, and choose Metropolitan or Nonmetropolitan area, then Annual Mean Wage):
(Regional data is available only for Anchorage because the vast majority of employment opportunities are in the Anchorage and surrounding areas.)
After You Graduate
You will be graduated with an Associate’s degree in Applied Science in Veterinary Technology, which qualifies you to take the VTNE (Veterinary Technician National Examination). Passing the VTNE is required to become licensed in Alaska. Only graduates from an accredited program are allowed to take the VTNE, and this is why it is important that you attend a school with an accredited program. For a list of accredited programs in the U.S., click here.
Alaska allows for an alternate path to becoming licensed. Instead of graduating from an accredited program, one can complete two years of on-the-job training under the direct supervision of a licensed veterinary (within three years prior to your application). This application must be notarized. All the other application procedures for licensure must be completed by every applicant.
Career Resources for Vet Techs
Below are resources for vet techs in Alaska. These resources help you find a job, keep you current in your continuing education, and keep you in contact with your vet tech peers.
Vet Tech Life, an online journal for veterinary technicians
Vetcetera, a listing of national, state and specialty veterinary technician associations
Where Techs Connect, a job source connecting veterinary technicians with employers