According to data from The NAVTA 2022 Demographic Survey, the average lifespan of a Veterinary technician/nurse has increased in the last several years (up from 5-7 years as reported in 2016), though it’s difficult to obtain an accurate range, as most of the responses from the 2022 survey were likely biased, as the surveys were compiled by those who are committed to the field.  Even so, there is a huge issue with retention of Veterinary technicians and other Veterinary support staff in the field.

Veterinary Technicians play a crucial role in the health and welfare of animals in all sectors of Veterinary medicine, and their dedication to compassionate care is truly the backbone of Veterinary medicine.  However, many factors such as low wages, low job satisfaction, and the physical and emotional demands of the job can lead to burnout or high turnover.

To ensure a sustainable, fulfilling career in Veterinary medicine, it’s important to focus on career longevity. This article aims to explore strategies for career advancement and tips for sustaining a career in Veterinary technology.

This year (2024) marks 20 years that I’ve been a credentialed Veterinary technician! The following strategies include some real-life examples of what’s worked for me or many of my peers over the course of my career.

Take Advantage of Continuing Education

One of the easiest and often most accessible ways to advance your career as a Veterinary technician is through a commitment to lifelong learning. Staying up-to-date on advancements in the field, developing new skills, and enhancing knowledge will open opportunities for career growth and advancement.  Continuing education can be obtained through peer-based training and mentoring, as well as attending virtual or in-person conferences, workshops, and seminars.

Continuing education has always been a passion of mine! Attending CE sessions can expose you to areas of interest that you hadn’t previously considered or strengthen your interest and fuel a desire to pursue a deeper understanding of a particular subject area. CE can be as informal as team-based learning with other members of the Veterinary healthcare team in your current place of employment or more formal and structured such as local, state, or national Veterinary conferences. Always consider attending sessions centered around topics you’re unfamiliar with; it just might ignite a passion for a new area of interest!

Seek Mentorship and Networking

Building a strong network within the Veterinary community is imperative for career longevity. Seek out mentors who can provide guidance, advice, and support as you navigate your career path. Networking with other Veterinary professionals allows you to exchange ideas, share experiences, and learn from each other’s successes and challenges. Join professional organizations like the National Association of Veterinary Technicians in America (NAVTA), your state’s Veterinary technician association, or other associations or groups that align with your interests.

I have been fortunate to have so many wonderful mentors and contacts in the Veterinary field over the course of my career! Even early on, when I was finishing my degree, I was recruited to work at a large specialty practice in another state, because one of my mentors knew my goals and skills, and recommended that this practice get in touch with me when she learned of their open position. Networking is equally important! Sharing thoughts and ideas with others in the industry can help you gain clarity and understanding, as well as help you to respect and understand others’ point of views when they differ from your own. Building a strong network also can help advance your career. People are more likely to think of you and notify you when positions or opportunities of interest pop up. (I’ve done this for others more times than I can count!) You may also gain some great friends along the way!

Embrace Leadership Opportunities

Take initiative and seek out leadership opportunities within your workplace and professional organizations. Whether it’s serving on committees, volunteering for special projects, or taking on supervisory roles, stepping into leadership positions can help you develop valuable skills such as communication, problem-solving, and team management. Leadership experience not only enhances your resume, but it also positions you for advancement within the Veterinary field.

Some people are natural leaders. Other are not! No matter where you fall on that spectrum, there is room for you in leadership roles! I’ve always been a great “lead by example” person, which led me to pursue a team lead position early in my career at a specialty hospital. I’m also a problem solver, which led me to volunteer for a number of tasks and special projects, which transformed into leadership opportunities within my workplace. As I continued in these roles, I gained more experience and felt comfortable taking on more formal leadership positions at work. Volunteering for positions with Veterinary associations or groups can also lead to additional leadership or career opportunities. I’m currently serving as the secretary for my state’s Veterinary technician association, and it has opened doors for me.

Prioritize Mental Health and Self-Care

The emotional and physical demands of Veterinary medicine can be taxing, and prioritizing self-care and mental health care is essential for career longevity. Setting and maintaining boundaries at work and in your personal life can help maintain a better work-life balance. Explore healthy ways to manage stress.  Take time outside of work to truly disconnect from your workload. Engage in activities, such as hobbies and physical exercise, that bring you joy and fulfillment. Be sure to surround yourself with people that are positive and support you. Improving your quality of life outside of work can leave you more refreshed and ultimately increase job satisfaction.

Remember that self-care isn’t selfish! Boundaries can be difficult to set and maintain, especially when it feels like our patients will suffer if we need to leave on time or not pick up a last-minute shift on our day off, etc. Setting a healthy balance between work life and personal life is imperative, even if that means you need to move to a new position or even to a new employer in order to find that balance. Don’t forget to take care of yourself! I always feel better when I’m taking care of myself: eating healthy foods, getting some movement each day, and spending “down time” engaging in activities that I love or with people that uplift me. Scheduling regular visits with a therapist can also help you to process emotions and teach you valuable skills for managing and coping with stress.

Embody Adaptability and Resilience

The Veterinary profession is constantly evolving. New technologies, treatments, and protocols are regularly emerging. To thrive in this dynamic environment, a technician needs to cultivate adaptability and resilience. Technicians should be open to learning new skills and techniques and embrace change as an opportunity for growth. Developing problem-solving skills will help overcome challenges and setbacks within the field.

I’ve seen firsthand how those who are resistant to change get left behind due to the rapidly changing nature of medicine. By being flexible and leaning into new thoughts, ideas, and skills, you can ensure that you’re staying relevant in the field.

Advocate for Yourself

As Veterinary medicine continues to advance and pet parents are demanding more from their Veterinary healthcare team, Veterinary technicians are in an optimal position to showcase their skills and knowledge.  Technicians should demand to be utilized to their full potential and should be compensated appropriately for the value that they bring to the Veterinary healthcare team. The shortage of credentialed technicians can be leveraged if an employer is hesitant to expand the scope of practice to an underutilized technician. Technicians should not settle for a position in which they are underutilized or underpaid.

It goes without saying that Veterinary technicians, as a whole, are underpaid. In my opinion, a large part of changing that issue has to do with technicians advocating for themselves. I’ve seen highly skilled technicians accept positions in clinics where they weren’t allowed to practice at a fraction of their skill level! If technicians started refusing these types of roles or made efforts to educate other team members and management about the profit benefits (and increased client satisfaction!) of utilizing technicians to their full potential, changes would follow. It is also beneficial to stay current on salary ranges for technicians at your experience level and negotiate increases regularly.

Blaze Your Own Trail

The global pandemic certainly catapulted Veterinary medicine forward. As such, “alternate” career opportunities for Veterinary technicians have expanded at an increasing rate. Credentialed technicians are no longer limited to positions in clinics, research facilities, or with pharmaceutical companies. There are endless opportunities for credentialed technicians, such as staff training and development, various client education and services, consulting, and positions with any number of Veterinary or pet-related companies.  If an ideal position isn’t available, technicians are encouraged to propose a new position to an employer or company and demonstrate how they can be a valuable asset in that position.

It was not too long ago that it seemed that a Veterinary technician’s career options were limited. I remember hearing these things before I was credentialed: If you worked in a clinic and wanted to advance, you became a practice manager. If clinic life wasn’t for you, you could try being a sales rep for a pharmaceutical company or work in research. Large animal Veterinary technicians mostly were used for paperwork. That didn’t sound great for career longevity! In 2024, the possibilities are almost endless! In clinic life, there are a plethora of certifications and skill levels. Practice managers are now often individuals that chose to become managers and pursued the additional training necessary to do so!

Technicians interested in a particular area can pursue a VTS. Some technicians become consultants on a variety of subjects. Pet-centered companies want to hire Veterinary technicians as experts on their products. Pet insurance is also another rapidly growing sector that employs Veterinary technicians. The rise of telehealth and teletriage has also bought forth plenty of opportunities for Veterinary technicians. I truly believe that we’re at a time in Veterinary medicine that if you see an opportunity in the industry for a technician to make a big impact, you can pave your own way and make it happen.

In conclusion, longevity in a Veterinary technology career is possible! By adopting a combination of continuing education, mentorship, networking, and leadership opportunities, as well as self-advocacy and being resilient and open to novel ideas and positions, a technician can ensure they continue to have a fulfilling and sustainable career. Credentialed technicians continue to drive change and make a positive impact on the Veterinary profession. By keeping seasoned technicians in the field, their positive impact can improve animal welfare and continue to impact the profession for future generations.