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What Should an Aspiring Veterinary Tech or Veterinary Assistant Study?

Veterinary techs and veterinary assistants generally work alongside licensed veterinarians in private practices and animal hospitals. While some on-the-job training is acceptable, in many cases those seeking to fill these positions must complete a formal education program focusing on, among other topics, animal physiology, clinical processes and office practices.

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The educational requirements for veterinary techs and assistants vary due to the different natures of their jobs. Explore the academic programs and licensing requirements for these occupations, and then take a look at what vet techs and assistants do as part of their work.

Educational Requirements for Veterinary Techs & Assistants

Veterinary tech is short for veterinary technician or veterinary technologist. Although much of the work performed by both veterinary technicians and technologists is similar, veterinary technologists are required to spend more time in school than veterinary technicians. Veterinary assistants require the least training among all these positions.

Certificate Programs for Veterinary Assistants

Veterinary assistants typically are only required to complete on-the-job training, but may wish to enroll in an undergraduate certificate program, which can be found at a community college or vocational school. Such programs might only require two semesters or one year of study. Courses are mainly job-oriented, meaning that they provide a general overview of what to expect once employed. However, there may also be general education course requirements for classes in science-related areas, such as anatomy and physiology. Other topics of study can include:

  • Surgical procedures
  • Laboratory procedures
  • Pharmacology
  • How to work in exam rooms

Degree Programs for Veterinary Techs

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 231 veterinary technology programs were accredited in 2015. Veterinary technicians usually earn a 2-year degree in veterinary technology. Veterinary technologists are required to earn a 4-year degree in veterinary technology. Students in both of these programs generally complete a practicum and clinical rotations. Typical major courses in veterinary technology programs include:

  • Animal disease
  • Nutrition
  • Anatomy
  • Physiology
  • Occupational health
  • Clinical toxicology
  • Parasitology
  • Veterinary pharmacology

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Licensure

Veterinary assistants don't typically need licensure or certification to be hired. However, aspiring veterinary techs must complete a licensure exam. Many take the Veterinary Technician National Exam after completing their coursework, but requirements vary by state. The computer-based exam is regulated by the American Association of Veterinary State Boards. The actual certification or license comes from the state of intended employment. Depending upon the state in which the student is living, the individual may be referred to as a licensed, certified or registered veterinary tech.

Job Descriptions

Veterinary Assistants

Zoos, animal hospitals and other settings employ veterinary assistants to perform basic tasks in aid of veterinarians. Their tasks range from clerical to clinical in nature, performing such duties as:

  • Bookkeeping
  • Feeding animals
  • Maintaining veterinary equipment

Many veterinary technicians and even some veterinarians get their first glimpse of the veterinary field while working as veterinary assistants.

Veterinary Techs

Veterinary techs typically work in veterinary offices under the supervision of a licensed veterinarian. Many start out as trainees. They are often engaged the following tasks:

  • Performing laboratory procedures
  • Taking blood and tissue samples
  • Diagnosing illnesses in animals
  • Developing x-rays
  • Administering nursing care

Although they may learn the necessary skills through on-the-job training, veterinary assistants who do complete a certificate program typically study veterinary office administration and basic animal care. Veterinary techs take more advanced coursework through 2- and 4-year programs in order to prepare for licensure.

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