Are you thinking about becoming a veterinary technician but aren’t quite sure you want to commit to earning the required degree? Do you wonder whether you really have the fortitude to work in a veterinary setting? Can you afford to wait years before you start working in your chosen field? Are you able to afford a degree right now?
Lots of people have doubts about their career choices, but fortunately there’s an easier, faster way to enter the veterinary field without committing to years of college.
If you have reservations but you have a passion for animals and love the idea of a career in veterinary medicine, you might want to give serious thought to becoming a veterinary assistant first.
Why Become a Vet Assistant First?
Becoming a vet assistant can offer a faster, more affordable entrance into the field of veterinary care. It is definitely less expensive and less time-consuming than becoming a veterinary technician, which can take two or more years. In fact, the job does not require any degree, license, or education. Technically, you can apply with just a high school degree.
That being said, anyone who wants to be competitive in the crowded animal job market, or when applying to vet tech school, should consider earning their veterinary assistant certification. This can be accomplished online and takes about a year to complete, which is much faster than earning a vet tech degree.
Getting certified accomplishes three things:
- It gives you an excellent education in the skills you need for the job.
- It lets prospective employers know you’ve learned the job basics and therefore should require less training than someone who isn’t certified.
- This certification, along with work experience, can give you an edge when applying to vet technician schools.
What Does a Vet Assistant Do?
Vet assistants are valued support staff who work under the supervision of a veterinarian or veterinary technician. Depending on the size of the facility, some of the work may be front office, clerical, or administrative tasks–scheduling appointments, filing charts, answering phones, greeting and/or discharging patients, etc.
A good deal of the job involves cleaning and disinfecting exam rooms, kennels, and surgical rooms. Since a vet assistant certification is not a medical degree, you won’t be diagnosing problems, performing procedures or vaccinating pets, but you will get to work closely with animals, which is what you are probably most eager to do.
Vet assistants can:
- Feed animals
- Bathe and groom animals
- Exercise animals
- Administer certain medications
- Provide post-operative care and monitoring
- Take vitals
- Restrain/calm animals during examinations or procedures
- Collect samples
Becoming a Vet Tech
As you get used to the routine and have a chance to talk with veterinarians and vet techs, you’ll get a better idea of what veterinary medicine entails. Not everyone is suited for the physical or the emotional aspects of the job
But if you decide you love working in a veterinary setting and value the chance to help animals, you may decide you actually do want to commit to going on to school to earn a veterinary technician degree.
As vet assistants discover, vet techs get to do so much more. They can perform dental care, anesthesia, lab tests, and x-rays, for example. Vet techs also earn more than vet assistants. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, in May 2022 the median salary for a vet assistant was $34,740, but he median salary for a veterinary technician was $38,240.
After having had the experience of working as a vet assistant, you may find you have a leg up in your vet tech studies. After all, you’ll have seen and done a lot of what your courses will cover. Sometimes, if you express your career goals to a supportive veterinarian or vet tech, you may gain additional opportunities such as watching surgeries or learning to do more tasks that could help you excel later in vet tech school.
Also, since you’ve seen veterinary medicine firsthand, you may have decided you want to specialize–and some vet tech programs give you that opportunity. You can specialize in anesthesia, internal medicine, emergency care, dental care, equine nursing, behavior, or zoological medicine, for instance.
Becoming a Vet Assistant Is Like a Test Drive
Think of becoming a vet assistant as like test driving a car. Maybe you will love the field of veterinary medicine; maybe you won’t, but isn’t it great to have a chance to try it out first?
Becoming a veterinary assistant makes a lot of sense if you’re not sure a vet tech career is right for you. It can be an effective way to get a quick head start on your career, or it can confirm once and for all that a career in veterinary care is not for you at all.
Either way, the experience and skills you’ll learn as a vet assistant will serve you well, no matter your next step in life.