Veterinary Assistant vs. Vet Tech: Which One Is Right For You?
When first investigating a career in animal health, many people come across Veterinary Technician and Veterinary Assistant diploma information and see that the two are somewhat similar—some may think that they are one and the same. In reality, however, these two careers have distinguishing features that set them apart. Those thinking of getting into veterinary medicine should explore the differences between the two to find the right career choice for them.
What Does a Veterinary Assistant Do?
Those looking to earn a veterinary assisting diploma should be aware that their days would mainly include doing the following tasks:
- Feeding, bathing, and exercising animals under their care
- Restraining the animals during routine examination and laboratory procedures
- Post-surgical monitoring
- Administering drugs and immunizations as prescribed by licensed veterinarians
- Cleaning and disinfecting cages, operating rooms, and kennels
On top of the above responsibilities, veterinary assistants can also assist during surgical procedures. However, their roles are limited to gathering supplies for intubation, catheterization, and surgical site preparation. They cannot operate surgical machines.
Veterinarian assistants support veterinarians when they are handling animals.
What Does a Vet Tech Do?
Veterinary technologists/technicians or vet techs, on the other hand, have a more complex role in animal health care. Aside from supporting veterinarians when handling animals under their supervision, vet techs can also do medical tests to diagnose and treat animals. Some of the duties assigned to them include:
- Providing nursing care and first aid for injured animals
- Restraining animals during examinations and laboratory procedures
- Injecting anesthesia and monitoring responses
- Administering medications, vaccinations, and other treatments as prescribed by a licensed veterinarian
- Preparing animals for radiograph and other laboratory examinations, such as blood tests and urinalysis
- Setting up animals and surgical instruments that veterinarians will use during operations
In surgery, vet techs also have various roles and responsibilities. They can draw blood samples, place intravenous (IV) catheters, and insert endotracheal tubes. Vet techs are also knowledgeable in operating anesthetic machines and ventilating animals during a surgical procedure. During the surgery, they are also the ones to monitor the vital signs and assist the veterinarian. Post-operation, vet techs also monitor the animals to see any signs of respiratory distress.
As mentioned, the roles of vet techs are more advanced and involved than those of veterinary assistants. These differences are due to a number of factors. Here are some of them:
First, there is training. Vet techs enroll in a two-year program and have to undergo at least six weeks of on-the-job training under the supervision of a licensed veterinarian. Students must pass a Veterinary Technician National Exam. After completing their education and training, they must get their license from an accredited technician association in the state where they wish to work.
Veterinary assistants only need to complete a ten-month veterinary assisting program, and on-the-job training with a veterinary team. Once complete, students can receive their veterinary assisting diploma. It’s not necessary to pass a national exam to qualify for employment.
Vet techs must also take continuing education to maintain their license. Some associations require an annual fee to maintain their accreditation with an association.
Since veterinary assistants are not required to pass any national qualifying exam, they don’t need to secure a license or complete a continuing education exam to work under a veterinarian.
Which One is Best For You?
After careful evaluation of the educational and training requirements, and the roles and responsibilities assigned to veterinary assistants and vet techs, it’s time to choose which of the two would best suit your needs.
In general, the choice will depend on the individual’s priorities. Those who wish to complete a program faster can choose to get a veterinary assisting diploma and land a job in the animal health industry right away—the demand for veterinary assistants is estimated to grow by 14% from 2020 to 2030. If salary is a deciding factor, consider that veterinary assistants earn about $30K per year, while vet techs bring home around $36K.
Upskilling is also an excellent way to bump your salary range, for those who choose to start out as a veterinary assistant and upgrade to vet tech. Should you wish to upskill, you can opt to get additional units and pass a licensing exam. The beauty of going this route is the opportunity of learning while earning with on-the-ground exposure. Plus, you also have direct access to veterinarians who can help you with your lessons. You can also use your experience to improve the skill sets needed to succeed in the field. The job outlook for vet techs is expected to grow by 15% until 2030.
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