Veterinary technicians and veterinary assistants both work in establishments geared toward animal care. And in these establishments, they both work under the guidance and supervision of veterinarians.
Yet, despite the similarities, there are clear and critical differences between both professions. For one, the scope of their duties, roles, and responsibilities is different. Additionally, the steps involved in becoming a veterinary technician differ from those required to become a veterinary assistant.
Naturally, anyone looking to pursue a career in the veterinary industry may have to decide between one of these. And that is why we have provided an in-depth comparison of both below to serve as a starting point.
Who is a Veterinary Assistant? - Occupation Overview
A veterinary assistant is an animal care professional who performs a handful of supportive roles in animal health establishments. Basically, their job is to help make the lives of veterinarians and veterinary technicians easier by carrying out duties such as taking care of animals, collecting samples, bathing and exercising animals, and restraining them so that veterinarians can proceed with their examination and treatment.
As we’ll see below, the duties that veterinary assistants are allowed to perform are quite limited in scope compared to veterinary technologists. Also, the journey toward becoming a veterinary assistant is way faster than that of becoming a vet technician.
Who is a Veterinary Technician? - Occupation Overview
Like veterinary assistants, veterinarian technicians work in animal care establishments, but thanks to their extensive training, they can carry out relatively more advanced roles. Still acting under the guidance of veterinarians, a vet tech is able to analyze animal behavior and administer treatments.
Whereas most people become veterinary assistants in hopes of taking advantage of the short entry requirements to scope out the profession and decide whether it’s a good fit, a career as a veterinary technician has a much more long-term outlook.
Differences Between Veterinary Technicians and Veterinary Assistants
There is an overlap between veterinary technicians and veterinary assistants. This can sometimes lead to confusion about one for the other. We take a look at some of these distinctions below.
Roles and Responsibilities
The first major distinction between veterinary assistants and veterinary technicians lies in the scope of their roles in animal health establishments. While veterinary assistants play a strictly non-technical role, veterinary technicians are allowed to perform a handful of technical duties.
For instance, while veterinary technicians can take X-rays and provide routine emergency care to animals, these tasks are well beyond what a veterinary assistant is allowed to do.
Instead, veterinary assistants focus more on collecting urine samples and drawing blood.
Another key difference between veterinary technicians and veterinary assistants is the educational requirements. While it is possible to become a veterinary assistant in ten months by enrolling in a certificate program, becoming a veterinary technician takes longer.
Anyone looking to become a vet tech must complete a 2-year associate of science degree or associate of applied science degree and pass a national examination before they can obtain the appropriate license.
Certification & Licensing
Both veterinary technicians and veterinary assistants may choose to become certified upon completing a training program. However, only veterinary technicians are expected to obtain licensure.
Veterinary Assistants may become certified by completing a NAVTA-approved training program. Doing so increases their job prospects in most states.
To become licensed, veterinary technicians must pass the Veterinary Technician National Examination (VTNE) and a state board exam where applicable.
Another area of genuine difference between veterinary technicians and veterinary assistants is career path. Thanks to the swift nature of becoming a veterinary assistant, most people who work as vet assistants for a while either pursue another career line entirely or continue along the same path by becoming veterinary technicians or veterinarians.
For veterinary technicians, the path to becoming veterinarians is usually much easier as they already have the fundamental training necessary to take on the more advanced duties of a veterinarian. For this reason, most vet techs become veterinarians by completing a four-year Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degree.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual wage for veterinary technicians in 2021 was $36,850 in 2021. The top ten percent of earners made around $48,100, while those who fell in the bottom ten percent took home around $28,370 for the year.
For veterinary assistants, the BLS revealed the median annual salary for veterinary assistants to be $29,870. The top ten percent of earners made $38,860, while the bottom ten percent of earners took home $22,920.
Factors that influence how much either professional will make include location, particular establishment, experience, and part-time or full-time arrangements.
Occupational Demand & Outlook
Regarding projected demand, both occupations share another similarity with slight variation. According to the BLS, demand for veterinary assistants is projected to increase by 19% between 2021 to 2031.
For veterinary technicians, demand is set to increase by 20% between the same timeframes. Both projections are several points above the national average for other occupations, almost triple.
Additionally, the increase in demand in both fields is set to arise due to professionals moving on to different domains or retiring and the anticipated increase in pet-related spending over the next decade.