By Josephine Reid
There are different types of educational training involved in the process to becoming a veterinary technician or veterinary assistant. Vet techs have to undergo more extensive training equating to an education lasting two years while attending on a full-time basis. The educational path is designed to conclude with a Veterinary Technology Associate’s Degree in Applied Science.
This degree is offered by many junior colleges and even select four-year institutions. Some of the subject areas that are covered by this educational path include vet pathology, biochemistry, clinical practices, animal behavior, and animal pharmacology. Vet techs must also complete a set amount of observation hours as part of their curriculum (similar to the shadowing we mentioned earlier).
Meanwhile, no college degree is needed to work as a veterinary assistant. Most vet assistants earn certifications from post-secondary schools, such as community colleges, technical institutes, and vocational schools. The length of these vet assistant programs typically lasts anywhere from six months to a year. The areas that are covered include an introduction to medical terminology, proper restraining techniques, breed identification, and ways to administer medicine.
The job duties of a veterinary assistant are more complex, although they are not as technical as the duties of a veterinary technician. Veterinary assistants assume both clerical and clinical responsibilities. The clerical side includes customer service responsibilities, such as scheduling appointments, requesting pet records from other facilities, and issuing customer bills. Vet techs have different kinds of clerical duties that extend to maintaining records in regards to animal treatments and medications.
Vet techs could be compared to nurses in human care while vet assistants would be more along the lines of a CNA (Certified Nursing Assistant). Vet techs have the authority to take x-rays, assist in surgery, and process tissue samples. Vet assistants typically ensure the conditions are ready for vet techs as they are required to clean animal cages, sanitize examination rooms and feed animals.
Because of the upgrade in education and job duties, vet techs earn a higher annual salary than vet assistants. The average salary for a veterinary technician in the United States starts at $33,280 can go up to as much as $47,410 annually. Vet assistants can expect to earn salaries that average out at $24,360, although some vet assistants can make up to $38,000 a year.
Currently, there are no kinds of restrictions or guidelines that require veterinary assistants to be licensed in their respective state of employment. Although, things differ for vet techs. Each state’s Board of Veterinary Medicine is entrusted with setting the requirements for a vet tech license. Before obtaining employment, vet techs must obtain a license and present it to an employer before they are hired. Issuance of a license requires vet techs to have earned an associate’s degree and also registered a passing score on the statewide examination.
When hiring a vet assistant, it is up to the individual employers to set their own criteria for the hiring process. Vet assistants can hold certifications, which prove that they completed a training program. However, those certifications are not considered the same as licenses.
Vet assistants are often asked to perform a wide array of duties within a veterinary practice and many practices label that versatility as invaluable. Vet techs have actual specialty areas which require a little more training and education. For example, veterinary technicians can undergo specialized training in areas such as internal medicine, zoological medicine, emergency care, dental technology, anesthesia and more.
Getting a job as a vet assistant can prepare individuals for a career as a vet technician, which is often the natural progression. Meanwhile, vet techs often go on to earn a four-year degree in animal science, while others have aspirations of becoming a veterinarian. Even though the specifics of each job are different, both are ways to begin a positive journey through the veterinary field.
Generally speaking, veterinary medicine is an economically stable profession with a salary that tends to increase steadily with each year of practice. In addition to years of experience, other factors influencing a vet’s salary include the type of practice, geographic location, and whether the vet is a partner or an associate in the practice.
Vets in their first year of practice can expect to earn a salary of approximately $60,000.
However, it is worth noting that many of the veterinarians who make more than that aren’t caring for pets day to day — they’re researchers or other specialists for industry or government, executives in veterinary-related businesses or older, long-established owners of veterinary practices.
Most young veterinarians may never see the high end of the $40,000 to $100,000 salary range. Even though $40,000 goes a long way in many parts of the country, except for one staggering problem: Many young veterinarians carry massive debt from the student loans that paid for their educations.
Many of the factors that are correlated with lower or higher income are consistent between current and new veterinarians. These include the region of the country, one’s species concentration and practice type, and previous experience. In addition, there’s a statistically significant difference in pay between men and women in both samples of veterinarians.
However, some of the factors that influence compensation are different for current veterinarians than new veterinarians.
Here are some ways to make additional funds as a vet to keep up with the expenses of today:
A lot of veterinary technicians have on-the-job training, foregoing the traditional degree program for learning at the helm of a veterinary clinic. However, most clinics agree that they pay more for technicians with a board certification. If you’ve been trying to get into a larger clinic, a research facility, or a university, you’re more likely to be hired with a certification. On average, a certification will give you a raise that could be as much two to three dollars an hour more than you’d make without it.
Find a Specialty Certification, such as Zoological Medicine, Dentistry, Emergency/Critical Care, Internal Medicine and more.
Write Magazine Articles or Web Content
Certified veterinary technicians with plenty of experience have a great resume to present to magazines or owners of websites. In a technological age, a lot of owners turn to online resources to answer their questions, and you have the perfect amount of knowledge to provide the answers they’re looking for. As a VTS, you can write for industry publications regarding your specialty.
You also have the option of becoming a teacher.
In Their Own Words
To get a better understanding of a real day in the life of a veterinary nurse, one good tactic is to shadow one! From this, a mentorship could be born as well.
To get a better understanding of a “real day in the life,” we can look at a play by play, provided by a veterinary nurse via goddardvetgroup.co.uk:
My Head Nurse allocates me the vet I will be assisting throughout the day. I then organise a list of patients that the vet and I will be looking after. I familiarise myself with the patients' notes and what each patient requires for the day.
I then help the vet check all their in-patients that have been hospitalized over night. This generally involves taking and recording the patients' temperature, heart and pulse rates and weight. Four of these patients need to have a blood sample taken, which I carry out with the assistance of one of the student nurses. One of the cats is dehydrated so we set up an intravenous drip. I administer any medications required and provide care instructions for the ward staff. Every hospitalized patient has a hospitalization sheet which records all of their information including medication, temperature and times of walks and toileting.
My vet is due to consult so while they are consulting I set up theatre for the day's surgery. This involves damp dusting all the surfaces with disinfectant, setting up the anesthetic equipment and monitoring equipment, making sure that all the surgical instruments required are ready, setting up a heater on the operating table, as well as ensuring the theatre is spotless and prepared. It is important to ensure any animals being operated on are kept warm throughout their procedure.
It is back to wards again to check with the ward nurses that my patients are all comfortable and settled and that their treatments are going smoothly. I check to see if their blood results are back and make sure that the vet sees a copy.
I answer the telephone enquiries from the owners of my inpatients who ring to check on their progress. I discharge two of our patients from the hospital and spend time speaking to their owners making sure that they have all the support and information they need to continue their pets care at home. General advice involves feeding special recovery diets, making sure that the owner knows how and when to administer any medication prescribed for the pet, keeping pets warm and quiet and keeping an eye that they are not licking wounds. All clients are told to call if they have any questions or need any further guidance prior to their pet's next check up.
The vet calls me into a consultation as she needs my help to hold a young puppy who is wriggling with excitement as she tries to give him his booster vaccination. All animals vaccinated are fully heath-checked so my vet also needs my help as she examines the puppy's ears and generally checks him over. After this I help one of my colleagues take one of our patients outside for fresh air and the toilet. We use a sling under her tummy as she has had surgery and needs support to help keep her balance. My vet has finished her consults now and wants to prepare our patients for their anesthetics. The vet asks me to administer a premed injection to each case, which I do. This injection includes an anesthetic and a pain killer.
It's now my lunch hour, so I hand over to another nurse. This gives me time to glance over my nursing journals and latest Veterinary Times newspaper so I can catch up on new developments. A grateful client has also kindly brought in chocolates so I enjoy a few of those with my cup of tea!
Back from lunch I have a handover with the lunch cover nurse before assisting the vet with a cat spay. I monitor her anesthetic which involves checking and regular recording of her heart rate, respiratory rate, blood oxygen levels and the depth of her anesthesia. I inform the vet of my findings each time and adjust the anesthetic gases where necessary. I record all of this patient information on an anesthetic monitoring sheet. As the cat recovers from her operation she is settled into a kennel with warm blankets and is closely monitored by another nurse.
A German Shepherd Dog is next. He has a very painful ear so I help the vet to sedate him so he stays calm and we can examine him more closely. I stay with him so I can monitor him as the drugs take effect -this monitoring continues as the vet examines his ears. The Vet finds a grass seed, the cause of the ear pain, down his right ear canal. After cleaning out both ears we reverse the sedative and the dog wakes up ten minutes later feeling much more comfortable with the seed removed and pain relief administered.
I load the details of the patients going home onto the computer, then talk to the owners about their pet's post operative care before discharging them from the hospital. This is a very busy part of the day.
My vet asks for my help in the consultation room again. This time it is to assist with a cat being put to sleep. These situations are always difficult due to the obvious upset of the client. The cat is very elderly and has severe renal failure. We spend time reassuring and comforting the client and explaining what will happen. We also discuss cremation options as we know the client will be too upset to do this afterwards. We then take the cat to our prep room and place an intravenous catheter before taking her back to her owner who cuddles her as she falls peacefully to sleep following an injection. One of the other vets needs me to admit a dog that he has just seen in consults. It is a West Highland Terrier that has been attacked in the park by another dog. The dog is clearly hurt and in shock. We quickly take him out to the hospital and get him on a drip and into a warm kennel in the prep area where he can be closely monitored before we assess how badly hurt he is. I then reassure the owner and explain that we will contact her as soon as we know more about her pet's injuries.
I should finish at 6pm but my vet has x-rayed the dog that has been attacked. He is stable now so we anesthetize him to stitch him up. Prior to this I call the owner and tell her that her pet will need to stay in over-night but thankfully there appear to be no broken bones or internal damage.
Another busy day and although leaving late I am relieved that the dog will make a full recovery.
The transition from a veterinary nurse to a vet is very possible, especially since you would be working closely with surgeons and the entire team. You would have to return to school and/or get the appropriate certifications.