What Does an Emergency & Critical Care Vet Tech Do?

Learn About the Salary, Required Skills, & More

A day in the life of an emergency and critical care veterinary technician: Being on call in the intensive care unit; clean wounds and apply casts and bandages; give injections and take blood samples; monitor vitals

The Balance / Katie Kerpel 

Emergency & critical care veterinary technicians are specially trained and certified to provide assistance to veterinarians in treating cases that require emergency surgery or other critical interventions.

Emergency & Critical Care Vet Tech Duties & Responsibilities

Routine responsibilities for emergency vet techs may vary from one clinic to the next but often include duties such as:

  • Being on call in the intensive care unit
  • Monitoring vitals
  • Placing catheters
  • Taking x-rays
  • Cleaning wounds
  • Applying casts or bandages
  • Handling surgical equipment Giving injections
  • Taking blood samples
  • Giving fluids
  • Updating case files

Emergency & Critical Care Vet Tech Salary

While the salaries of veterinary technician specialists may vary, they generally earn slightly more than the average for all veterinary technicians due to their experience and advanced professional certification.

Depending on the specialty, vet tech specialists can earn anywhere from $23,000 to just over $50,000 in salary. The benefits package for vet techs may include a combination of items such as medical insurance, paid vacation, retirement plans, discounted veterinary services for their personal pets, and uniform allowances.

An emergency & critical care vet tech's salary varies based on their expertise, level of experience, education, certifications, and other factors.

  • Median Annual Salary: $34,420 ($16.55 /hour)
  • Top 10% Annual Salary: More than $50,010 ($24.04/hour)
  • Bottom 10% Annual Salary: Less than $23,490 ($11.29/hour)

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2018

Education, Training & Certification

Emergency & critical care vet techs need a minimum of two years' education, and may also require certain licenses or certifications such as the following:

  • Education: There are more than 160 veterinary technician programs in the U.S. that allow students the opportunity to earn a two-year degree in the field. Most positions require completion of a two-year associate's degree in veterinary technology.
  • Licensing and certification: In addition to the completion of an accredited degree program, vet techs must pass a licensing exam in their specific state. Most states use the National Veterinary Technician Exam (VTNE®). The National Association of Veterinary Technicians in America (NAVTA) recognizes several specialty certifications for veterinary technicians. Some of the recognized specialties include anesthesia, internal medicine, dental, surgical, emergency, & critical care, clinical pathology, clinical practice, equine, behavior, zoo, and nutrition.
  • Additional specialist certification: The Academy of Veterinary Emergency & Critical Care Technicians offers specialist certification to licensed vet techs that have completed at least three years or 5,760 hours of work in the field of emergency & critical care, at least 25 documented hours of continuing education, a year-long case log that documents at least 50 cases, and four in-depth case reports. Techs meeting these requirements must pass the AVECCT certification exam to achieve specialty recognition. Some veterinary technicians choose to become certified in multiple specialty areas, such as combining their certification in emergency & critical care with an additional option in anesthesiology or surgery.

Certified emergency & critical care vet techs may have preference over other candidates when applying for positions at emergency clinics due to their advanced skills in the field. Vet techs may also transition to other positions in the animal health industry where their knowledge can be valuable (such as selling veterinary pharmaceuticals or medical and surgical devices).

Emergency & Critical Care Vet Tech Skills & Competencies

Emergency & critical care veterinary technicians are qualified to assist veterinarians with a variety of emergency procedures and critical care situations.

  • Work under pressure: They must be able to react quickly and remain calm under pressure to assist with emergency cases as they arrive.
  • Mental and emotional strength: Emergency & critical care vet techs routinely see animals that have been poisoned, hit by cars, burned, or injured in fights.
  • Communication skills: Vet techs need to communicate effectively with their supervisors, other staff, and owners of animals.
  • Compassion: Individuals must treat animal patients with kindness and compassion, and must be empathetic with the owners of sick pets.
  • Attention to detail: Vet techs be very precise when recording patient information, and administering diagnostic tests or medication.
  • Manual dexterity: Vet technicians must be able to handle animals, lab equipment, and medical instruments with care. Steady hands are necessary for tasks such as giving anesthesia, taking x-rays, and performing dental work.
  • Physical strength: Veterinary techs need to be able to lift and manage animals.

Job Outlook

According to the most recent BLS survey, veterinary technicians held a total of 102,000 positions nationwide. Over the decade from 2016 to 2026, the BLS predicts that the profession will expand at a rate of about 20 percent, a significantly higher rate than the average for all careers surveyed. This is due to the increasing number of homes with pets, and the amount of continued spending on them.

It is expected that there will not be enough new graduates entering the field each year to satisfy the strong demand. Demand should be particularly strong for certified emergency & critical care veterinary technician specialists due to the very limited number of candidates that qualify for this specialty certification each year.

Work Environment

Emergency & critical care veterinary technicians most frequently find employment with small animal hospitals, though some may work for large animal or equine hospitals.

Work Schedule

Veterinary technicians, especially emergency & critical care techs, may be required to work night and weekend shifts. Many emergency clinics operate on a 24-hour basis, so staff must be on hand around the clock to ensure proper care is administered to current critical cases and incoming emergencies.

How to Get the Job


Get guidance and experience by working in a veterinary practice. You can find vet tech internships through your school's career center or through online job search sites. Consider joining a veterinary industry trade group and attending local events to meet and network with potential hiring managers and vets.


Look at job-search resources like Indeed.com, Monster.com, and Glassdoor.com for available positions. You can also visit the online career center at NAVTA and other veterinary industry organizations.

Comparing Similar Jobs

People interested in an emergency & critical care vet tech career also consider the following career paths, listed with their median annual salaries:

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2018