Want to Work at a Zoo? Globe Vet Tech Students Get the Inside Scoop

Cowritten by Samuel Fisher, director of career services and Alexandra Randall, career services coordinator

As children, many of us have fond memories of visiting the zoo. Have you ever thought of working in a zoo? Where do you begin? Recently, the Globe University Vet Tech Club visited the Minnesota Zoo for Career Day to find the answer to this very question. After attending they will tell you— it is through hard work and preparation.

Students saw a wide variety of exotic animals on Career Day at the Minnesota Zoo. (Photo credit: Heather Mann)

Throughout the day, the students attended seminars covering an array of topics presented by the Minnesota Zoo staff. Career Day was designed to inform attendees about the many career opportunities, along with the education, training and experience that are necessary to be successful.

In addition to the career seminars, students were able to take a behind-the-scenes tour of the tropics kitchen, where the nutritional meals are planned and prepared for the animals. This was a great opportunity for students to see how important nutrition and diet are to the health of the animals.

Students learn how to gain a competitive edge

Sixty percent of all zoos employ a full-time veterinarian, while only 1 percent of all vet tech’s work in a zoo. What does this mean? It means it is competitive. It is important to start thinking about your career early, begin to build experience, and get the proper education needed to work in this field. Veterinary Technician Jen Drinen currently works at the Minnesota Zoo alongside Dr. Christina Hicks. They offer the following advice:

Start preparing early

  • Volunteer or work at a zoo: Consider all types of positions such as tour guide, gift shop attendant, etc.
  • Volunteer or work at a clinic: Dr. Hicks started as a kennel worker for her initial experience
  • Obtain a degree in veterinary technology from an accredited university
  • Complete a preceptorship or internship
  • Complete the national licensing exam and any state licensing, if required
  • Choose a specialization to increase your skills and marketability

Vet Tech Club Members attend informational seminar hosted by zoo professionals. From Left: Chase Trulson, Alexandrea Saiko and Amber Larson

Other tips

  •  Network: this is a great way to find out about openings and give you an advantage  when applying. Two great organizations to join: Association of Zoo Veterinary Technicians and Association of Zoos and Aquariums
  • Any experience is helpful, even working at a pet store, for example
  • Be willing to take on new challenges and be adaptive to change. Creativity is key.

Jennifer also reminded those in attendance that obtaining a career in a zoo is not going to happen overnight. Since it is highly competitive, building up your resume and gaining experience is very important. You need to be willing to relocate to pursue opportunities. In addition, she added that this is not a get-rich-quick career. Choose this field because you have a passion for the job and for the animals you work with.

Current student Amanda Haats demonstrates her laboratory training which she will utilize in her future career in a zoo or veterinary clinic

Current student Amanda Haats said, “Attending the career day was a very interesting experience. I did not realize how competitive it was to obtain a position within a zoo. I plan to start implementing the advice that they shared.”

Veterinary technology:  An abundance of opportunities

A degree in veterinary technology can assist you in other careers in the zoo field besides being a veterinary technician. Other opportunities include animal trainer, zookeeper, and animal handling.

One example of this at the Minnesota Zoo is their Zoomobile department, which helps bring the zoo to locations out in the community. In this department, workers bring animals to local business, schools, libraries, and other community events to inform and educate the public about animals and our interaction with them.

Zoomobile and Animal Handler Amanda Braun talked with the students about her experience and her specific career path. She focused on building her resume through volunteering and animal-related jobs as the strongest impact on her success. Amanda also shared with the group what it takes to work in a zoo environment. “You have to be flexible. You have to be prepared to get dirty,” as people often overlook the cleaning and animal care duties that comes even with a position like hers.

Vet Tech club members were excited after Career Day!

Overall, the day was a huge success. Students are excited to implement all of the items that they learned. Having a strong foundation of knowledge and experience is important in all areas of animal medicine. Globe University’s veterinary technology program provides the students with just that—a comprehensive education to help them in their future success.