healthcare worker petting and holding a golden retriever's paw.

Vet Tech Unveiled: Expert Answers to Your Burning Questions

Take a look behind the scenes of the Penn Foster Veterinary Technician Program and find out what this career is like in this interview with vet tech instructors.
Laura Amendola.

Laura Amendola

Deciding to enroll in a veterinary technician program can be a big step. You may want to gather as much information as you can before making the leap. Here is a helpful Q&A with Penn Foster’s veterinary staff to help you determine if this program and career are right for you!

We spoke to Penn Foster veterinary technician instructor Vicki McLain, CVT, LATG, VTS-LAM and veterinary externship assistant Heather Leer, CVT to get you all the answers you need about becoming a vet tech. Vicki and Heather combined have 14 years of vet instructional experience under their belts to draw on.

Is Penn Foster's vet tech program hard?

To enable students to succeed in their careers and to prioritize the safety and wellbeing of their future patients, vet tech programs should be academically rigorous. However, it’s important for potential Penn Foster students to understand that while a self-paced, online program can help them succeed, it also comes with challenges.


Explains Vicki McLain, one of Penn Foster’s veterinary instructors, “I think the biggest thing that can make our program difficult is it being online and self-paced. Students aren't required to be any certain place at any certain time, so it really does fall on them to be good with organizing their time and being able to stay disciplined in that realm. Overall, I think, life can get in the way and things can kind of be put off when your program is self-paced. Students really need to understand this when coming into this type of setting.”


Read more: How This Penn Foster Vet Tech Graduated Successfully


How is Penn Foster's vet tech program different from other programs?

Penn Foster’s vet tech program is online and self-paced, but fully accredited. This allows students to prepare to gain their vet tech certification while working full-time, caring for family members, or simply not living near a brick-and-mortar program.


Says Heather Leer, Penn Foster vet externship assistant, “Penn Foster’s vet tech program is different in that it allows students that are working full time, have busy lives, have families, or other responsibilities, to still be able to go through the program and earn their degree.”


Read more: How to Become Certified as a Vet Tech (State by State)


infographic  Title: Is the Penn Foster Vet Tech Program Right for You? You need flexibility Penn Foster’s program is self-paced and works great for those with other responsibilities.    You want accreditation    The Penn Foster Vet Tech Program is accredited by the AVMA.    Hands-on experience is important    Externships are a requirement of Penn Foster’s program to get students the skills they need. You need academic support Penn Foster’s instructors are available by appointments you schedule at the time that works best for you.

How do online vet tech programs compare to brick-and-mortar programs?

It’s important to know what you are looking for out of a vet program. Any legitimate veterinary program will be rigorous, whether it’s online or in person. The difference here lies in whether you need flexibility or can go to school full time.


Vicki weighs in on this subject, saying, “There are pros and cons to each. If they're the type of student that needs to have that accountability and be in a class setting, then maybe brick-and-mortar is more their style. If they are working jobs, they have families to take care of, and they need more flexibility, then an online option is probably better.”


Read more: Earning Your Vet Tech Degree Online vs. On Campus


Is it better to complete the vet tech program than the vet assistant program?

While both programs can lead to rewarding careers, if you’re looking for upward mobility, the vet tech program may be the right one for you.


Vicky explains, “The vet tech program allows students a much better future opportunity because at the end of the vet tech program they have their associate degree and they're eligible to sit for the VTNE, which makes them a credentialed veterinary technician in the eyes of the AVMA. It gives them those credentials that are invaluable and affords them so much more opportunity down the road. Once they have those credentials, they can then pursue vet tech specialties so they can become specialists in all areas, from emergency and critical care to physical therapy.”


Read more: The Difference Between a Veterinary Technician and a Veterinary Assistant


What is the difference between a vet tech associate and bachelor’s?

A bachelor’s degree gives you a higher credential than an associate degree, but also takes longer. Penn Foster offers an Associate in Veterinary Technician as well as a Bachelor’s in Veterinary Technology, though the bachelor’s degree program has more requirements to enroll. One prerequisite to enroll is completion of an AVMA-accredited associate degree program.


Vicki elaborates, “If a student wants to get to the next level or get into management, the Veterinary Technology Bachelor’s Degree allows them to go that route. Also, it allows them to move into research medicine and sets the stage for future career growth within the vet tech field.”


Read more: What’s the Difference Between Associate and Bachelor’s Degrees?


What surprises students about the Penn Foster Vet Tech Program?

Every student has different expectations when entering into higher education, and they may have pre-conceived notions about online programs like Penn Foster.


Vicki shares what she often hears from students: “Students are surprised by the rigor of the program—what's expected of them and how much a vet tech really needs to know. Vet techs are on the front lines. It's a lot, it’s demanding, and you need to be familiar with a lot of different things.


Anatomy and physiology and medical math are very in-depth, and sometimes students don't really understand the full scope of the profession and all the courses they're going to be required to take and understand."


Heather adds, “Sometimes students are surprised that the externships are so in-depth and that they have to complete all the clinical skills. Externship one requires them to work with only companion animals, so cats and dogs, whereas the second externship does encompass a large variety of species from the companion animal side to large animals like equine, bovine, and some exotic skills.”


What do students worry or struggle with the most when it comes to Penn Foster’s Vet Tech Program?

It’s normal for students to struggle with parts of their program. Since Penn Foster’s program has two externships, students may feel a bit nervous entering into such a hands-on experience.


Vicki offers up some reassurance. “Students worry the most about externships, but my advice, if they’re not already working in the field and they need to find an externship site, is to have someplace in mind before they get to that part of the program. Start to establish some relationships; for example, with the hospital they take their own pets to, and really just start to plan that out. Don't wait! The sooner that they start thinking about that and coming up with a plan, the better.


They need to treat it as though they're going for an interview for a job. Have a resume on hand and be ready to talk to the staff in a manner that really represents yourself at a high level.”


What's often easier or better about Penn Foster’s Vet Tech Program than students expect?

A huge component of any good school is the ability to get help. This could be a concern for anyone not familiar with online schooling, but Penn Foster makes this process simple and easy for students.


Vicki agrees with this, outlining how it works. “Instructors have office hours with the students! Even though the program is rigorous and challenging, you have access to the instructor team to get your questions answered.


Because we’re an online school, I think some of them have the preconception that maybe we're not really here. But I also hear a lot of students say, ‘Oh wow, getting help is a lot easier than I thought.’”


How much writing is necessary in the vet tech programs?

While the vet tech program does focus on courses that are relevant to the field, there are several general education requirements you must fulfill, some which require writing papers.


“There are a total of four research projects within the vet subjects for the program,” Vicki explains. “The English course requires writing assignments along with some of the other general education courses. The externships require written assignments as well along with the hands-on portion.”


How do Penn Foster students juggle school with jobs, caregiving, disabilities, and even mental health struggles?

As a self-paced school, Penn Foster allows students to keep up with their schoolwork while maintaining the other parts of their life.


Vicki explains, “It's imperative that students make a schedule and stick to it. Whether they use their phones or an old-fashioned calendar, they need to set a goal each week to obtain, even something as simple as getting through a lesson plan, just something that keeps them on track.


For people that have kids, they have to have a safe space where they can just sit down and learn, and kind of step away from everything else because we all know it's easy to sit down, then say to yourself, ‘oh, I should put that load of laundry in’ and get distracted. I highly recommend that because otherwise it's just too easy to get off track.”


Read more: 5 Ways to Earn More Money as a Vet Tech


Why does the Vet Tech Program require an externship?

Working with animal patients is just as important as working with human patients. This is why Penn Foster ensures our students get hands on experience by requiring externships in our vet programs.


Heather elaborates, “Penn Foster’s externship is vital to help students get that hands on experience in the vet field. As a technician, we have a lot of responsibilities and lives in the palms of our hands. I know that sounds dramatic, but it's the truth. At any point in time, you could be monitoring anesthesia and dispensing or giving drugs. All those things are very important and life-threatening. So technicians are responsible for so many tasks and there's so much knowledge to learn. All vet tech programs have a specific set of standards that they have to adhere to that's set by the AVMA CVTEA, which is our accreditor.”


Vicki adds, “They can't complete the program without them. They can't use prior work experience. Our first externship takes three months, so they need to be able to coordinate that in their lives to be able to complete those tasks.”


Read more: How to Pass the Veterinary Technician Exam (2024 Guide to the VTNE)


FAQs about Penn Foster’s Vet Tech program

1. How long is the program?

The Penn Foster Veterinary Technician Program is comprised of 4 semesters.


2. How long does it take to complete?

This will vary based on each student, but the program can be completed in as little as two years and students have six years total to finish.


3. Can I do my externship where I work?

This is often possible if the site where you work meets the requirements set by the AVMA. Heather gives some insight on this! “If a student wants to be credentialed, they need to graduate from a program that is accredited by the AVMA-CVTEA. The AVMA-CVTEA has specific requirements. Students must complete certain hands-on skills, and work with specific species and equipment items. They also want facilities that host externship students to meet specific requirements, ensuring safety for both students and patients.”


4. Do I have to buy textbooks?

You do not need to buy textbooks. Any books required for the program are provided as ebooks and included in the tuition.


5. Where do I get additional study materials?

The majority of your study material is provided by Penn Foster through the student portal. We also have a Learning Resource Center, a vet tech Facebook group, and instructors available to assist you.


Get started on the path to a rewarding vet tech career

With great staff to support you, the Penn Foster Vet Tech Program could be the right fit for you! The great news is that you don’t have to already work in the vet field to enroll in our program. Learn more about how to become a veterinary technician and consider enrolling today!


Popular Posts