While furry companions have always had a place among humans, pets are now an integral part of two-thirds of American households. According to the American Pet Products Association (APPA), 67 percent of all American homes (85 million households) have a pet—up from 56 percent 30 years ago. Pet ownership is something that transcends age. When looking at pet distribution across generations, 29 percent of pets are owned by Baby Boomers, 29 percent by Gen X’ers, 31 percent by Millennials, and 11 percent by Gen Z’ers.
According to the American Veterinary Medicine Association (AVMA), cats and dogs are the most common household pets—two out of five households have a dog, and one in four have a cat. As a result, more than 75 percent of all private clinical veterinary practices cater exclusively or predominantly to providing care to companion animals.
Furthermore, the human-pet bond is stronger than ever. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) writes that “the bond between people and their pets can increase fitness, lower stress, and bring happiness to their owners.” Research has shown this to be true especially with disabled persons, war veterans, and those suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. According to the APPA, 76 percent of pet owners attest that pets make them happier, and 84 percent believe pets make them healthier.
The rise in pet ownership is good for pet-focused businesses – including veterinary care – as well. The elevation of pets to the status of family members has ushered in new businesses in food and treats, technology, and services like pet grooming, transportation, care, and boarding. According to the BLS (2019), the average annual household spending on pets has increased by 35 percent in the last decade, mainly due to increased spending on pet food and vet care. Specifically, the BLS report shows that household spending on vet services has grown from one-quarter to one-third of all pet spending.
An increase in spending on veterinary care is a sign and signal of a need for veterinary medical professionals like veterinary technicians and technologists. Vet techs perform duties like implementing routine tests, collecting blood samples, speaking to caregivers, and giving vaccines – very similar to nurses in the human medicine world.
However, just like in the world of human medicine, some veterinary medical cases go beyond the routine and require specialist knowledge and skill. When vets require a look inside of animals to diagnose their medical issues, veterinary radiology technicians can perform advanced diagnostic testing, such as x-rays, computed tomography (CT), nuclear imaging, digital fluoroscopy, and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). As diagnostic imagery is increasingly used for pets and animals, practices will have more specialized and technical equipment specifically designed for animals.
Those wishing to pursue a career in veterinary radiology can enroll in a vet tech program where they will learn about specific diagnostic equipment, and those who thrive as radiology techs can even become veterinary technician specialists who focus on providing that skill. Read on to explore the career outlook and academic requirements for this role.
Veterinary Radiology Technician Career and Salary Outlook
The boom in the animal industry also means a boom in opportunity. According to the BLS (2020), the rate of growth for the vet tech occupation is predicted to grow by 16 percent between 2019 and 2029. With a growth rate four times more active than the average (four percent) and an additional 18,300 new jobs anticipated in the decade, it is clear that veterinarians are going to need the administrative and support services that vet techs are uniquely trained to provide.
While vet techs of all skill sets will be in demand in the upcoming decade, the BLS states that one of main drivers for vet tech occupational growth is increased demand for imaging services for household pets. While precise data on demand for radiology vet techs is not measured by the BLS, this general perspective on why the industry is growing is a promising sign for vet techs looking to include diagnostic imaging technology in their skillset.
Industry recognition of veterinary technician specializations – like radiology and diagnostic imaging – is relatively new. The National Association of Veterinary Technicians in America (NAVTA) only established the Committee on Veterinary Technician Specialties (CVTS)—a committee responsible for codifying and operationalizing the credentialing of veterinary technician specialists (VTSs)—in 1994. As a result, specialty vet tech salaries are not yet officially tracked. According to the BLS (May 2019), the average annual salary for a vet tech in the United States was $35,320 per year or $16.98 per hour.
Ninety percent of vet techs work in veterinary services, working in private clinics or animal hospitals. Four percent find themselves working as laboratory techs in college and laboratory settings. Two percent of vet techs work for social advocacy organizations like human societies. Because animal health needs don’t heed the hours of a workday, vet techs can expect to work nights, weekends, and holidays. Being a vet tech may also be physically and emotionally demanding, as working with wild spirits can result in unpredictable animal patient behavior including kicking, scratching, biting, and other animal-like reactions to restraint.
Veterinary Radiology Technician Job Requirement
Vet techs are integral to any functioning animal care facility because they extend the capacity of a veterinarian to perform high-level non-routine tasks like diagnosis, surgery, and treatment planning. In order to gain the medical testing, patient intake, administrative, and technical skills needed to be helpful, most vet techs complete a post-secondary degree. Technicians typically earn a two-year degree from a community college or vocational school, and technologists typically earn a four-year bachelor’s degree.
Diagnostic imaging is one of the 11 vet tech specialities provisionally recognized by NAVTA, and the academy responsible for codifying what it means to be a diagnostic imaging specialist is called The Academy of Veterinary Technicians in Diagnostic Imaging (AVTDI). According to ATDVI, diagnostic imaging vet techs work with digital radiographs, hands-free radiology, fluoroscopic special procedures, computed tomography (CT), magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), and nuclear medicine imaging. Basically, all the types of imaging procedures allow veterinary practitioners to see inside an animal’s body.
In addition to the interpersonal communication skills, compassion, attention to detail, manual dexterity, and physical strength that the BLS identifies as important to all vet techs, radiology techs must also be savvy with the various technologies listed above. Radiology techs will need to have a deep understanding of animal anatomy and physiology, and how to use the imaging technology most appropriate to understanding the animal’s specific ailment. Radiology and imaging vet techs also need to understand errors in imaging, how to assist vets with imaging procedures, and emergency and troubleshooting protocols when technology doesn’t work as expected.
Much of the diagnostic imagery used by a radiation vet tech creates pictures for veterinarians through the use of x-rays or sound waves. X-rays are known to give off radiation and, as part of their training, students in veterinary x-ray technician schools will learn what amount of radiation is safe and permissible and what they need to do to take protective measures for themselves and for their patients. The IDEXX Learning Center provides additional information about radiation safety steps for vet technicians.
Continue reading for a step-by-step guide towards becoming a veterinary radiology technician.
How to Become a Veterinary Technician in Diagnostic Imaging
1. Complete high school (four years).
Those who know they want to pursue a career in pet care are encouraged to take biology and other science classes in high school. If not, they will need to take prerequisite courses before beginning their post-secondary program. Most vet tech schools require that students have a foundational understanding of biology and natural science. Volunteering or working in a veterinary clinic to learn more about the day-to-day operations in this setting may also be useful as some vet tech programs do require work experience prior to acceptance.
2. Obtain a postsecondary degree (two to four years).
At a minimum, most veterinary diagnostic imaging techs need to complete a two-year, AVMA-accredited associate of science degree to be able to work as a vet tech. Some schools offer specific radiology or X-ray programs, while others offer vet tech programs with specialized coursework in radiographic and sonographic diagnostic assessment.
The vet tech program available through Columbus State Community College in Ohio, for example, offers radiology coursework as part of its instruction. Lehigh Carbon Community College in Pennsylvania also offers students in its vet tech program coursework in diagnostic radiology. Students can also look for internship or externship opportunities that provide them with additional opportunities to learn more about x-rays and diagnostic radiology as it relates to animal care.
3. Get national credentialing through the American Association of Veterinary State Boards (timeline varies).
All graduates of vet tech programs need to follow a series of steps to obtain credentials or licensing. Often, the first step is to take the Veterinary Technician National Examination (VTNE) offered through the American Association of Veterinary State Boards (AAVSB).
This exam assesses the technical understanding and comprehension of vet tech applicants. Upon completing the exam, test results are sent to the vet tech’s veterinary board or licensing agency in their state of practice. Attending a program accredited by the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) is often the most direct route for credentialing exam preparation.
After becoming a registered vet tech, professionals should consult their state’s veterinary medical board for state-specific licensing conditions as licensing is under the jurisdiction of each state. If a state-specific license is required, the vet tech typically needs to pass a state-specific exam in addition to the VTNE. Vet techs can find their state’s Veterinary Medical Board terms here.
4. Gain work experience and take CEs in radiology and diagnostic imaging technology (varies)
Once trained and certified, aspiring vet radiology techs can find opportunities at the American College of Veterinary Radiology, American Veterinary Medical Association, and Academy of Veterinary Technicians in Diagnostic Imaging websites to find veterinarians who provide diagnostic services for animals in the vet tech’s region of practice. By looking for diagnostic-specialized vets or vets seeking radiology and diagnostic imaging skills, the vet tech can ensure they’ll have the opportunities to deepen their knowledge and skills of these types of technologies.
In addition to work experience, maintaining credentialing as a vet tech often requires completing continuing education (CE) coursework. To deepen skills and to qualify to become a VTS-DI a vet tech should make sure to pursue CE units that specifically focus on mastery of radiology and diagnostic imaging.
Work experience with radiology and diagnostic imaging and taking CEs are the minimum required to be a vet tech skilled in diagnostic imaging. Vet techs satisfied with the salary, opportunity, and growth of this path can stop here if desired. Those looking for higher pay, expanded responsibility, a broader professional network, and more growth within the field can consider the two optional steps listed below.
5. Optional: Join a professional organization.
After meeting the requirements to work in a state and becoming a registered vet technician (RVT), licensed vet technician (LVT), or certified vet technician (CVT), graduates of veterinary technician schools or similar programs may want to join a professional organization such as the National Association of Veterinary Technicians in America or the American College of Veterinary Radiology.
Professional organizations like NAVTA and ACVR provide vet techs with membership perks like access to CEs, networking opportunities, job boards, conferences, professional advocacy and more.
6. Optional: Earn a veterinary technician specialist in diagnostic imaging (VTS-DI) credential (at least five years and 10,000 hours)
Vet techs that accrue at least 10,000 hours of experience over the course of five years, where 75 percent or more of the experience hours are in diagnostic imaging qualify to sit for the specialist certification exam offered by The Academy of Veterinary Technicians in Diagnostic Imaging (AVDTI).
While a VTS-DI is not required to work as a radiology vet tech, pursuing certification can make a job candidate more competitive in the market or lead to pay raises in one’s current job.
To qualify to sit the for VTS (diagnostic imaging) exam, AVDTI requires candidates to have:
- A valid vet tech credential, registration, or license
- A passing VTNE score
- At least 10,000 hours (five years) work experience; 75 percent (7,500 hours) must be in clinical or research-based diagnostic imaging
- 40 CE hours focused on veterinary diagnostic imaging and advanced imaging modalities
- Two letters of recommendation
- Skills form proving mastery of certain diagnostic and radiology skills
- A case log with 45 to 60 cases where the vet tech worked with at least two different species
- Six detailed case reports
- Five exam questions
- $25 pre-application fee
- $50 application fee
- Exam fee
Vet techs must renew this certification every five years.