I get this question a lot: “How did you get into wildlife medicine?” The truth is, it’s a highly competitive field, and there’s no one right way to break into the field. A lot of it has to do with luck and timing. Here’s what I tell people when they ask how I did it.

The first step is to get a degree in veterinary technology from an AVMA accredited school. There is no special course of study for wildlife medicine for technicians, so any AVMA accredited school will be fine. In addition to my vet tech degree, I also have a B.S. in wildlife biology. While a bachelors degree in biology may set you apart from other applicants, it is not nearly as important as the vet tech degree. This degree will be required for you to take the VTNE (Veterinary Technician National Exam) and your state’s licensing exam. Once you have your degree and pass the exam, you will become an RVT, LVT, or CVT depending on your state’s nomenclature. Most AZA accredited zoos, aquariums, and larger wildlife rehabilitation facilities will require you to be licensed.

Before I even started my veterinary technology degree, I volunteered a couple of summers at a wildlife rehab center that cared for small local animals (squirrels, rabbits, raccoons, ducks, turtles, etc.). After I finished my bachelors degree, I did a 4 month internship at a sea turtle and cetacean hospital in Florida. After that, we moved to California.

From there, I tried to get as much clinical experience as possible. I earned my vet tech degree online, and while in school, I worked in a small animal companion practice. We saw dogs and cats only. This job offered me well-rounded experience and allowed me to develop and refine my clinical skills. In addition to my full time job and full time course load, I also started volunteering one day a week at a marine mammal rehabilitation facility doing animal care.

When I was done with school, I started a new job at a companion practice that saw “anything that fits through the door”. That included dogs and cats, but also pocket pets, birds, reptiles, and the occasional mini pig or goat. This hospital was also open 24/7 and saw emergencies. My clinical skills and knowledge grew even more while I worked here. All the while, I was still volunteering with marine mammals, and asking to shadow their veterinary team whenever possible. Eventually, I also started volunteering at a local zoo’s hospital. All of this, combined with good timing and knowing the right people from all my volunteer work, helped me land my first job in wildlife medicine.

It took me several years of working almost every day of the week, and sometimes working for free, before it all paid off. As I said before, there is no one path. Some people have an easier time getting in than others. You just have to find the path that’s right for you, and know that it isn’t necessarily going to be quick.

I’m always happy to answer questions from aspiring vet techs, and from those wanting to work with wildlife. Just leave a comment or send me a message!