Laboratory Animal Technician
The biomedical research facility is one of the primary settings in which a laboratory animal technician works. Some of the technician’s typical duties include administering medications to lab animals orally or topically, preparing samples for laboratory examinations and recording information about an animal’s genealogy, diet, weight, medications, food intake and clinical signs of pain and distress. Some laboratory animal technicians, also called veterinary technologists, vaccinate newly admitted animals and occasionally are required to euthanize seriously ill, injured or unwanted animals.
Technicians handle ordering supplies and instruments and performing minor equipment maintenance. In addition, they assist medical personnel during animal surgery. They may provide routine preoperative and postoperative care, perform standardized laboratory tests on animal specimens and report findings. Other surgical duties can include catheterizing, starting intravenous injections and administering anesthesia and drugs. Laboratory animal technicians also maintain the lab operating room by following established standards of sanitation, including sterilizing laboratory and surgical equipment.
At research facilities, veterinary technologists typically work under the guidance of veterinarians, research physicians and other laboratory technicians. Some also find job opportunities in wildlife medicine, the military, livestock management and pharmaceutical sales.
There are primarily two levels of education and training for entry into a career as a laboratory animal technician: a two-year program for veterinary technicians and a four-year program for veterinary technologists. Most entry-level veterinary technicians hold a two-year degree — usually an associate’s degree from an accredited community college program in veterinary technology. These programs teach courses in clinical and laboratory settings using live animals, and there are more than 100 throughout the United States. Distance-learning programs also are available. About 15 colleges offer longer veterinary technology programs, which culminate in a four-year bachelor’s degree in veterinary technology. These four-year colleges, in addition to some vocational schools, also offer two-year programs in laboratory animal science. The cost of these programs varies from school to school. You should contact the school of your choice, which will be able to provide information on tuition and financial aid.
Individuals interested in careers as veterinary technologists and technicians should take as many high school science, biology and math courses as possible. Science courses taken beyond high school, in an associate or bachelor’s degree program, should emphasize practical skills in a clinical or laboratory setting.
Technologists and technicians usually begin work as trainees in routine positions under the direct supervision of a veterinarian. Entry-level workers whose training or educational background encompasses extensive hands-on experience with a variety of laboratory equipment, including diagnostic and medical equipment, usually require shorter periods of on-the-job training. As technologists and technicians gain experience, they assume more responsibility and perform more assignments under only general veterinary supervision. Some of these individuals eventually can become supervisors.
Employers in this career area recommend the American Association for Laboratory Animal Science certification for those seeking employment in a research facility. AALAS offers certification for three levels of technician competence, with a focus on three principal areas: animal husbandry, facility management and animal health and welfare. Individuals who wish to become certified must satisfy a combination of education and experience requirements prior to taking an exam. Required work experience must be related directly to the maintenance, health and well-being of laboratory animals and must be gained in a laboratory animal facility as defined by AALAS. Candidates who meet the necessary criteria can begin pursuing the desired certification on the basis of their qualifications. The lowest level of certification is assistant laboratory animal technician, the second level is laboratory animal technician and the highest level is laboratory animal technologist.
Currently, there is a strong demand for graduates from veterinary technology programs. In 2004 the Department of Labor listed veterinary technicians as one of the 20 fastest-growing careers in health care occupations. Veterinary technicians can find employment in veterinary practices, biomedical research, education, zoo/wildlife medicine, industry, military, livestock-health management, pharmaceutical sales and business ownership. The employment opportunities seemingly are endless and at the present time are plentiful. The demand for fully trained, competent animal care technicians in the field of laboratory animal science only will increase as the need for more medical and scientific advances continues to grow.
Most laboratory animal technicians can expect to earn between $16 and $24 per hour, or up to $39,000 per year.