If you have been weighing the pros and cons of becoming a veterinary technician or a veterinary assistant, you are in luck! There has never been such a favorable time to pursue a career working with animals. As consumer spending on pets continues to grow and grow, the need for veterinary care is projected to expand along with it. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported in September, 2020 that job growth for veterinary technicians and assistants is expected to reach 16% by 2029.
So now that you have reasonable assurance that your job prospects are good, the question becomes which of the two career paths better suits your needs? While there are several similarities between a veterinary technician and a veterinary assistant–they both work under supervision and in similar settings–there are significant differences in education, duties, and salary.
What Are the Educational Requirements?
Becoming a licensed, certified, or registered veterinary technician requires either a 2-year Associate’s degree or a 4-year Bachelor’s degree from a program accredited by the National Association of Veterinary Technicians in America (NAVTA). This represents a substantial commitment of time and money, but comes with a higher salary and greater job responsibilities than those of a veterinary assistant. In contrast, a veterinary assistant requires no formal education; it is possible to enter the career by being trained on the job.
There are, however, veterinary assistant courses for those hoping to be more competitive in the job market. These courses take as little as 12 months and can be completed online with a required externship with a local veterinary partner. Veterinary assistant certification through courses recognized by the NAVTA gives job seekers a definite leg up on the competition, demonstrating to potential employers that you have been trained in animal husbandry, animal health and welfare, and veterinary facility administration. Such certification demonstrates that you are serious about a career in the veterinary field.
How Do Veterinary Technician Jobs Differ from Veterinary Assistant Jobs?
Whether you want to become a veterinary technician or a veterinary assistant, the likelihood that you will be working in a veterinary clinic or hospital is high. A 2020 U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics report states that 87% of vet techs and vet assistants work in a veterinary facility as opposed to a laboratory, research facility, or wildlife refuge. While some duties may overlap, there are more medically related responsibilities for a veterinary technician than for a veterinary assistant. While a veterinary assistant will work closely with animals, bathing, calming, feeding, and exercising them, much of the job consists of cleaning and sterilizing and handling clerical duties.
A veterinary technician, however, operates in a capacity similar to that of a nurse in a human medical facility. While only a licensed veterinarian may perform surgery, prescribe medication, or diagnose illness, veterinary technicians can prep animals for surgery, administer anesthesia, monitor vital signs, take blood samples, give vaccines, run tests, and do x-rays. As you might expect, the coursework for veterinary technicians requires a lot of general science, biology, and math!
Both careers allow animal lovers to spend their days helping a variety of large and small animals. It would be disingenuous to suggest that these careers are stress-free, however. The possibility for harm from a frightened animal always exists, and there will be heart-wrenching moments of loss and pain for animals and the humans who love them. But for anyone with a heart for animals and the courage to step up to the plate for them on tough days, becoming a veterinary technician or a veterinary assistant is an excellent decision.