When an animal requires care from a veterinary professional, whether it’s for a domestic pet or an exotic specimen, there are two categories of associates who work hand in hand with the veterinarian. Although both are often referred to as an assistant, there is a clear difference between a veterinary assistant and a veterinary technician.
One of the biggest difference between a veterinary assistant and a veterinary technician is the education the individual receives to earn licensing.
Veterinary Assistant: A high school diploma is required, or the equivalent (such as a GED). No higher education is required to enter this field, although to acquaint the employee with the basics of veterinary care there are programs that have been developed to address major topics such as:
- Office Support – Including computer programs and record keeping.
- Disease Management and Control Protocols – To include proper sterilization and cleaning for exam, laboratory and surgical rooms, and proper hygiene for all areas where animals are housed.
- Medical Terminology and Procedures – Understanding the common medical terms used, the most expected conditions and diseases, pertinent laboratory and surgical procedures, and overall operation of facility.
Veterinary Technician: For the technician, a two year program at an accredited college or technical school is required (with the resultant AA degree). This school should be accredited by the American Veterinary Medical Association. Furthermore, a vet tech will need to take and pass a credentialing exam. The education provided by this two year program should include:
- Patient Paperwork – Speak with pet owners to obtain the animal’s medical history, inclusive of the current complaint. Obtain and utilize medical reports, laboratory results, and other pertinent information as needed.
- Testing and Procedures – Collect any and all specimens required and perform lab procedures or prepare samples for transport if lab is off site. Take x-rays and develop films.
- Physician/Patient Assistance – Assist during procedures, including pre-and-post operative preparation, assist in diagnostics and prepare durable medical equipment and instruments for surgery and other procedures (such as wound care).
- Skilled Nursing – Encompasses all areas where a “people nurse” would be appropriate, including helping the veterinarian during surgery (handing over surgical instruments), administering injections, medications, and other forms of treatment.
While there appears to be some overlap in the responsibilities of a veterinary assistant and a veterinary technician, the tech has the formalized training and experience gained through classroom and onsite participation to allow them to encompass wider ranging duties.
Veterinary Assistant: The responsibilities of a vet assistant may include:
- Responding to client questions with appropriate information, familiarity with procedures used in that particular practice, e.g., billing, scheduling appointments and surgeries; and generally managing the patient from admission to release.
- Caring for all patients in house and boarding, inclusive of feeding, providing fresh water, cage and kennel cleaning, exercise, grooming, and observing the animals for signs of illness and/or infection.
- Assisting the veterinarian and the veterinary technician with animal restraint when examinations and injections are performed, medication – either orally or topically – is administered, pre-surgery and wound care, and during testing, such as x-rays.
- Following and performing sanitation and sterilization protocols for all areas of the facility – exam rooms after each patient and kennel, laboratory and surgical areas as specified by the veterinarian or administrator.
Veterinary Technician: With their formal education, vet techs are the “nurses” of the animal world. As such, in addition to the duties a veterinary assistant may execute, they are qualified to perform:
- Wound care (cleaning, medication application, bandaging), treatment as ordered by the veterinarian – such as injections and oral medications, and administering medication to hospitalized patients of the facility.
- Tasks related to patient surgery, i.e., patient prep (shaving surgical area and anesthesia administration), care following surgery, including medical record updates, and helping the vet during surgery.
- Filling and dispensing prescription medications as ordered by the veterinarian.
- Laboratory work such as blood work, urinalysis, and microbiological and parasitic identification.
With animal (pet) population currently at 377 million and counting, both veterinary assistants and veterinary technicians are in a growing field.
Veterinary Assistants: Projecting a growth rate of 14%, the Bureau of Labor Statistics notes job opportunities are “excellent”. Over 10,000 new jobs are expected by the year 2020.
This is great news for those who are entering the animal care arena. For those with no experience or those just out of high school, the median yearly wage of $22,040 is a great start. The hourly wage, currently averaged at $10.60 per hour, will vary according to the area of the country and the size of the facility where the veterinary assistant works.
Without formalized training, assistants will be slightly limited in the scope of employment opportunities. They may find more success in private practice or group clinic settings, animal shelters, large city facilities and the like.
Veterinary Technicians: Techs, on the other hand, can look forward to an astonishing 52% growth in employment. What this translates into is the addition of approximately 15,000 new jobs in the coming eight years.
As those who gain experience and education enter this career field, they can expect to earn $29,710 a year (the median salary), or roughly $14.28 per hour. As with vet assistants, technicians will experience differences in both hourly wage and yearly salary depending on where in the country they find employment.
With an education geared toward animal care, technicians have a wide array of employment possibilities. From private practice clinics to laboratories to zoos, adding to their education only grows their career options.
Entering into the animal care job market, with the outstanding growth potential for those just starting out and for those who’ve advanced their education, can be an exceptional career choice. Turning a love of animals into an expansive career means matching passion with pay and enjoying a winning combination!