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The Next Step

If you fear you’re in a dead-end job, start enhancing your skills and experience so that you can move into management or pursue other veterinary opportunities.

The Next Step
Veterinary nurses looking to move into management or leadership should pursue specific learning opportunities.

The idea of career advancement is particularly troubling for veterinary nurses because of the perception that becoming a team leader or supervisor is the limit. That might be the reality in some veterinary practices, but it couldn’t be further from the truth in general. Pathways to advancement are numerous for people willing to invest the time developing and honing their technical, communication and leadership skills. To move up, you must be able to motivate, inspire and oversee team members so that they perform at the highest level.

Here are three ways to climb the career ladder faster.

1. Obtain Your Credential

All but two states have some form of credentialing for veterinary nurses. The current terminology recognized by decree of the National Association of Veterinary Technicians in America and the American Veterinary Medical Association is veterinary technician. Whether you are an LVT, RVT, CVT or LVMT, the acronym you use depends on your state of residence.

A more recent development is the Veterinary Nurse Initiative, which NAVTA launched in 2016 in an attempt to standardize everything under one credential: registered veterinary nurse (RVN). While much work remains to be done before veterinary nurse becomes the officially recognized credential, don’t hesitate to obtain your state’s credential in the meantime.

Another possibility is to earn a veterinary technician specialist (VTS) or veterinary nurse specialist (VNS) credential, which recognizes a higher level of knowledge and skills in specific disciplines. NAVTA has 16 specialty academies, from dentistry to internal medicine. What aspect of veterinary medicine are you passionate about? Explore the options at bit.ly/3lJQhPD.

Knowledge is power, so the more education and training you achieve, the more opportunities you have to advance within the profession. Master your current position even if you don’t pursue an advanced credential.

2. Broaden Your Experience

The more you know, the further you will go. Broaden your professional experience and learn about subjects beyond your job description. You don’t have to limit your continuing education to medical knowledge and skills. If you want to move into management or leadership, look for those learning opportunities.

Regardless of your job title, try to expand your role within your current practice. Cross-training is an efficiency and opportunity enhancer. Whether you started as a customer service representative, kennel attendant, veterinary assistant or credentialed technician, you always have room to grow.

Communication with practice leaders is essential, so set your sights and make your desires known. You are more likely to advance and be supported within your practice if you have a concrete plan that makes sense to the practice owner or leadership team. Goal-setting is essential, too, so understand the critical steps you must take to realize your dreams. Don’t expect to be promoted on longevity alone. Instead, master your current role and pursue the training and education necessary to get to the next level.

If you want consideration for an expanded role, make the most of the training available to you. Practice management is a popular avenue for veterinary professionals looking for more responsibility. Some management positions require a college degree or certification, both of which take time. The Veterinary Hospital Managers Association can help with management education and certification. You also might want to earn the VHMA’s certified veterinary practice manager (CVPM) designation, which is widely recognized as a mark of excellence.

Factor in the time and financial commitments required as you set a new career goal. If your current practice offers no room for advancement, you might want to go somewhere else.

3. Improve Your People Skills

Working with others is a challenge under the best of circumstances. Veterinary hospitals have stressful work environments. Effective leaders must communicate and work harmoniously with a variety of veterinary professionals. You will earn the team’s respect and find success and satisfaction if you:

  • Support the practice’s mission, vision and values.
  • Exhibit good judgment and strong leadership in every situation.
  • Take pride in what you do.
  • Work well within the team.
  • Work well with veterinary professionals outside the practice.

Don’t take professionalism for granted. To be accepted as a serious leader, you must act and look the part, so set a good example. It says a lot about your character and won’t go unnoticed by coworkers and practice leaders.

Networking with veterinary professionals is another essential part of career advancement, so get involved locally and nationally. Memberships in NAVTA and VHMA are an excellent place to start. Not only will you benefit from the interaction, but you also will find many CE opportunities.

Veterinary medicine is about more than just animals. You must love people, too. In the end, strive to be the type of leader you would follow.

Getting Technical columnist Sandy Walsh is a veterinary practice management consultant, speaker and adviser. She is an instructor for Patterson Veterinary Management University and continues to work in a small animal practice. She has over 35 years of experience in the veterinary field and brings her in-the-trenches experience directly to readers.


The average full-time veterinary technician gets three paid continuing education days a year, according to AAHA Press’s “Compensation and Benefits, Ninth Edition.”