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.

Veterinary Techs and 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. Students will learn about surgical and laboratory procedures, pharmacology and how to work in exam rooms. Programs might also require general education courses in a science area related to the field, such as biology or anatomy and physiology.

Degree Programs for Veterinary Techs

Veterinary technicians usually earn a 2-year degree in veterinary technology. Students train with live animals in clinics and laboratories. Veterinary technologists are required to earn a 4-year degree in veterinary technology. Students in this program generally complete a practicum and clinical rotations. Typical major courses in veterinary technology programs include animal disease, nutrition, anatomy and physiology, occupational health, clinical toxicology, parasitology and veterinary pharmacology. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 231 veterinary technology programs were accredited in 2015.

Veterinary Assistant Job Description

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

Veterinary Tech Job Description

Veterinary techs perform laboratory procedures, take blood and tissue samples, diagnose illnesses in animals, develop x-rays and administer nursing care. Veterinary technicians and technologists usually start out as trainees. Their work is often supervised by a licensed veterinarian.

Licensure, Certification and Registration

Many veterinary tech students in the United States must 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. Veterinary assistants don't typically need licensure or certification to be hired.

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