Students interested in learning how to care for animals can pursue several types of undergraduate degrees and majors. Associate's and bachelor's degree programs in veterinary technology provide training to work as a veterinary technologist or technician. Practical experience in veterinary hospitals or other veterinary facilities is typical in these programs. Graduates of these programs are usually prepared for professional certification. Prospective veterinarians can enroll in 4-year veterinary science programs, which include all the necessary prerequisites for veterinary school admission.
Associate of Applied Science in Veterinary Technology
Associate degree programs in veterinary technology can take up to five semesters to complete. Program requirements include clinical and lab sessions in addition to internships. Students learn to perform physical exams on animals, administer medication, draw blood samples and care for wounds. They can also learn how to prepare animals for surgery and provide postoperative care. Courses usually include chemistry and biology, as well as the following:
- Veterinary anatomy
- Animal anesthesia
- Small and large animal medicine
- Veterinary radiology and surgery
- Clinical pathology
- Animal nutrition
Bachelor's Degree in Veterinary Technology
A veterinary technology bachelor's degree program is similar to that of associate degree programs; students take lecture and lab courses to gain hands-on experience working with animals. However, bachelor's students can also take advanced courses in veterinary practice management, emergency medicine or equine medicine. Some programs even offer clerkships in a specialty area like surgery or animal anesthesia. Students take required courses like biology, math, marketing, and supervision, along with electives such as aquarium science, neuroscience and histology. Other common course topics are:
- Small and large animal nursing
- Veterinary medical terminology
- Animal behavior
- Veterinary dentistry
- Animal diseases
Bachelor of Science in Veterinary Science
Veterinary science bachelor's degree programs are typically for students who are preparing for veterinary school. Some schools also offer microbiology or biomedical options to students interested in pursuing research careers. Regardless of the degree track, students spend much of their time in these programs studying biology and chemistry. Veterinary science programs feature science courses rather than the small and large animal medicine courses found in veterinary technology programs, although students may be able to take electives in topics such as livestock and beef cattle management. Common courses are:
- Organic chemistry
- Animal genetics
- Veterinary anatomy and physiology
- Cellular biology
- Animal pathology
Popular Career Options
In addition to working as a vet technician or technologist, graduates of a veterinary technology program may also be eligible for research careers with labs and food manufacturers. Other potential employers include veterinary equipment suppliers, pharmaceutical companies, and veterinary specialty hospitals.
Meanwhile, a 4-year degree in veterinary science can provide the training needed for research careers with biomedical and hospital laboratories, as well as vet school preparation. Careers in the agricultural and food processing industries are also available. Job titles might include clinical laboratory technician, animal scientist, animal nutritionist, and health inspector.
Employment Outlook and Salary Information
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), 95,790 veterinary technologists and technicians - between which the BLS does not differentiate in salary information - worked in the United States as of May 2015 (www.bls.gov). Their average salary was about $33,280. The BLS projected that employment opportunities for these professionals would increase 19% between 2014 and 2024.
Continuing Education and Licensing Information
The practice of veterinary technologists and technicians is regulated in most states, according to the BLS. While certification, licensure or registration requirements vary from one jurisdiction to the next, this process typically involves passing the Veterinary Technician National Examination (VTNE) administered by the American Association of Veterinary State Boards. Students must complete an educational program approved by the American Veterinary Medical Association before sitting for this exam.
Graduates of veterinary science bachelor's programs can pursue a 4-year Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM) degree. Students complete rotations in such areas as veterinary surgery, radiology and anesthesia. These programs also prepare graduates to meet state licensing requirements for veterinarians, which include passing scores on the North American Veterinary Licensing Examination.
In summary, veterinary technology students at the associate's and bachelor's levels complete coursework and internships and are prepared for a career working alongside a veterinarian. Veterinary science majors typically aim to further their education at vet school, though there are other career options open to these graduates, too.