If you have ever considered a career in veterinary medicine, you may have wondered about the difference between a licensed veterinarian, a vet assistant and a vet tech, short for veterinary technician. Veterinarians must undergo many years of graduate schooling to eventually earn a degree in veterinary medicine, just as medical doctors do to become licensed physicians. But becoming a vet assistant or a vet tech requires far less education than becoming a veterinarian. Veterinary assistants typically require very little schooling. Students can complete most vet assistant programs within a year. Becoming a vet tech takes more time, 2 to 4 years, and educational programs for vet techs are more in-depth. Because of this, veterinary tech positions generally pay higher salaries than vet assistant positions, and the people in those positions perform more complex tasks in their jobs than vet assistants.
Both positions require hands-on work with both animals and people. Vet assistants, however, will likely spend more time working with people, since their duties frequently encompass front office work, such as checking in animals as they arrive, taking payment for services and communicating with clients and pet owners. Veterinary assistants also educate people about how best to care for their animals. In addition, they clean the facilities, groom the animals and feed them. They offer assistance in the exam and operating rooms as well. Part of their job duties include bringing animals to and from the rooms, holding animals down when needed during procedures and sometimes administering medicines.
Vet techs spend less of their time working with people and more time doing research, lab work and surgery. They give exams to animals and give them injections like vaccines. They also do work that requires more precision and training, such as or performing surgical procedures alongside a licensed veterinarian or euthanizing seriously ill or injured animals. Like vet assistants, they also clean as part of their job. Vet techs must sterilize the equipment used at the veterinary hospital. Additionally, they may hold positions that require them to spend most of their time working in a lab or doing biomedical research.
Because of the difference in the type of work performed, to become a vet tech demands that you undergo much more schooling and training than a vet assistant. Someone who wants to become a veterinary assistant must complete a certificate program, which takes about a year of full-time study. The program generally consists of classroom learning, lab experience and an internship at a veterinary clinic or hospital. Once the certificate program has been completed, the new vet assistant can expect to earn anywhere from $17,000 to $34,000 annually, depending on salary rates in her area, according to VetTechs.com. By contrast, they state that vet tech salaries cap at about the same level but have a higher starting point, generally ranging from $25,000 to about $35,000 per year. For those who specialize in research, salaries can exceed $35,000 depending on the type of research and the employer. To become a veterinary technician, one must obtain an Associate’s or Bachelor’s degree in veterinary technology by an accredited college or university, which typically takes 2 years of full-time study for an associate’s degree and 4 years for a bachelor’s degree.
When deciding which career path to choose, understand what you desire from your career. Becoming a vet assistant requires less upfront cost and work, but has lower starting salaries and lacks opportunities for upward mobility without additional education. Becoming a vet tech means you will spend more and devote more time to your education at first, but you will have a higher starting salary as well as greater opportunities to conduct research and to advance your career should you ever decide you want to become a veterinarian.