Many people don’t realize that veterinary technician and veterinary assistant are two completely different careers. It’s easy for people outside the field to confuse the two. Sometimes the titles are even mashed together to become “vet tech assistant,” which isn’t even a formal career choice.
So, what are the differences between the two careers? Are there significant salary differences? What kind of training do you need? Is a college degree necessary for both? What are the job duties of each?
When you compare becoming a vet tech to becoming a vet assistant you are talking about two distinct career paths. Here’s a brief overview of the differences.
Vet Tech Salary vs. Veterinary Assistant Salary
When you compare a vet tech salary to a veterinary assistant salary, you realize that neither job requires you to take a vow of poverty to do something you love. Both vet techs and vet assistants enjoy the opportunity to work closely with animals while simultaneously earning a living wage. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2022 the nationwide vet tech salary averaged $38,240.
Currently, vet assistants average $34,740. While veterinary assistants do not make quite as much, the salary still makes it a worthwhile career, especially if you want to begin working as soon as possible. Also, with the cost of a college degree, your salary is in line with what you spent on your education. With a certification process that takes only 12 months, vet assistants can begin earning a salary in much less time than a vet tech can.
Vet Tech Assistants Do Not Exist
There is no such thing as a “vet tech assistant.” A person is either a veterinary technician or a veterinary assistant with no combination of the two terms. A vet tech must graduate from an American Veterinary Medical Association (AMVA) approved school and pass the National Veterinary Technician Examination. These are the only individuals who may use the title “vet tech.”
Veterinary Technician Training Vs. Veterinary Assistant Training
Veterinary technicians, at minimum, must complete a 2-year Associate’s degree in veterinary technology or animal science. A veterinary assistant carries no such requirements, but it is extremely helpful to earn your vet assistant certification in order to be a stronger job candidate. You can earn your certification online in around 12 months. The Animal Behavior College program also provides significant real-world experience with a local professional.
Hands-on training is a mandatory part of vet tech training as well.. Veterinary technician students must work a specific number of hours at a veterinary hospital, learning how to execute a variety of tasks, including obtaining blood samples, taking X-rays, assisting in surgery, client education and more.
For both vet tech students and vet assistant students, hands-on training not only provides realistic insight to the daily operations of a working clinic, it also teaches students how to calmly and professionally handle stressful situations that occur in veterinary hospitals.
After successfully completing a vet tech degree, graduates take a state or national board examination. Upon successful completion of the exam, a person becomes a Registered Veterinary Technician, Certified Veterinary Technician or Licensed Veterinary Technician (dependent upon state title).
Tuition for Vet Tech Degree Vs. Vet Assistant Certification
Each accredited veterinary technician program is priced differently. A two-year degree will almost always cost less than a four-year program. In-state tuition will be less than the cost of attending school in another state. Depending on school and degree path taken, your degree could cost you tens of thousands of dollars. Such a price tag is beyond many prospective students.
Becoming a certified veterinary assistant is far more affordable, especially if you enroll in an online school such as Animal Behavior College. Tuition for the ABC Veterinary Assistant Program ranges from $to $5,630 with full scholarships available to qualified military spouses.
Veterinary Technician – Continuing Education
Many states mandate that veterinary technicians must complete Continuing Education (CE) for a total of 20 hours of study every 2 years and show documentation of completed AVMA-approved classes in order to maintain their license. If the technician does not complete this necessary task, then the license in question will be suspended until proof of further education is garnished. This policy is to ensure that all veterinary technicians are able to provide the most up-to-date care and treatment to all patients under the care of a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM), allowing prevention of malpractice and negligence.
It’s also possible for a veterinary technician to continue on to become a veterinarian, enrolling in a 4-year Bachelor of Science program in animal science or pre-veterinary studies.
Veterinary technicians hold multiple roles while working in a veterinary hospital/clinic, which may include: anesthetist, surgical assistant, radiography technician, laboratory technician, pharmacist, dental technician and much more. Additional to the role that a technician must play, the technician is also the eyes, ears and hands of the veterinarian. While the DVM is responsible for diagnosing and selecting the care necessary for the patient, the technician must then perform the selected treatment plan on the patient. This can include wound care (including suturing in some states), surgical prep and nursing, vaccinations, ear cleaning, collecting laboratory samples and preparing medications. Vet techs may also monitor all in-hospital patients.
The duties of a veterinary assistant vary from those of a vet tech. Depending on the type of facility, vet assistants may find themselves:
- Performing administrative duties
- Sterilizing and preparing exam and surgical rooms
- Communicating with pet owners
- Feeding, grooming, exercising, and weighing animals
- Calming or restraining animals
- Administering medications
Is Working in a Veterinary Setting for Me?
Before branching into the world of veterinary medicine, you need to first determine if you have the mental fortitude to work in this industry. While part of the job does include spending time with puppies and kittens and checking in on the basic well-being of a patient, there may also be the negative experiences, including assisting with a patient’s end of life plan, helping victims of animal abuse cases and assisting in emergency situations with dire outcomes.
In order to determine if this is the field for you, potential students should first attempt to volunteer at a veterinary location to determine whether you might thrive in such an environment.. If you feel that you will be able to work in a somewhat stressful, but rewarding environment, you may then want to take the next step to completing the basic school requirements to enter into a veterinary technician program or, if you prefer, start your career path in this industry with a more affordable a veterinary assistant course which you can build upon for further advancement later.
What is the best way to determine if veterinary technician school is for me?
It can be quite challenging entering into the veterinary world at a student level! Students who think they might want to become a veterinary technician often times will first take a job at a veterinary hospital or clinic as a kennel technician or receptionist, to learn the basics. Other potential students may decide to enroll in a National Association of Veterinary Technicians in America (NAVTA) approved Veterinary Assistant Program, which is structured similar to a technician program. Getting started as a veterinary assistant allows students to determine if an AVMA-approved technician program is ultimately the right choice.
When completing a NAVTA – approved veterinary assistant program, students are able to complete studies that inform them of the various tasks, procedures and challenges they may face at a veterinary hospital. In addition, all students must complete a mandatory 100 hour externship experience at a veterinary hospital or clinic.
Due to course structuring, you will be able to see a sneak peak into what a veterinary technician program entails and if this is a goal that you wish to pursue. Additionally, once you have completed your studies with a NAVTA – approved school, you will have a distinct advantage while in technician school, as you will have first-hand experience and will better understand the topics discussed with your future professors