Veterinary Technician vs. Veterinary Technologist

When determining the specific capacity in which one wants to work in a veterinary clinic, there are several titles and roles to consider. Deciding between becoming a veterinary technician or a veterinary technologist can be slightly confusing, in that the difference in the two roles lies primarily in the level of education completed. If working in a small animal clinic, the roles are – at their core – synonymous (in some clinics the role of technologist may come with greater responsibility) and hold the most commonly used title of vet tech. However, the National Association of Veterinary Technicians in America (NAVTA) recognizes these two roles as significantly separate – this can be best understood by carefully tracing the education path and determining the differences in long-term career options for each.

Again, in clinic these roles are essentially the same. The responsibilities of a veterinary technician/technologist are in their entirety performed under the supervision of the veterinarian and will not include diagnosing, prescribing, or performing surgery except where explicitly permitted by regulation. This position requires knowledge in the care and handling of animals as well as their normal and abnormal life processes. Additionally technicians must be trained in medical and surgical nursing, anesthesiology, diagnostic imaging and clinical laboratory procedures, according to the AVMA Policy on Veterinary Technology.

Both technicians and technologists can pursue a specialization in a variety of areas – equine nursing, anesthesia and analgesia, zoological medicine, etc. This occurs oftentimes when a practice owner nurtures a technician/technologist, encouraging them to pursue a more advanced role in the field. Along with this support, should the specialization be completed (which requires completion of practice hours at the clinic and, depending on the certification, continued education hours), frequently a promise of a new position and increased salary is agreed upon by the practice owner and technician/technologist pursuing the specialization.

As previously mentioned the main differentiating factor between the two careers lies in the realm of education. A veterinary technician is a graduate from a two-year, American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) accredited program from a community college, college or university. Whereas a veterinary technologist has graduated from a four-year AVMA accredited bachelor degree program. In a majority of states, both technicians and technologists are required to pass a credentialing exam.

The role of veterinary technologist is relatively new – created over the last ten years. It was developed as educators and program directors within the field continuously encountered graduates of the associate’s degree program who wanted to secure a bachelor’s degree for the purposes of career development and salary growth.

There are clear benefits to completing the 4-year program to become a veterinary technologist. Should a technologist wish to advance to the role of veterinarian – this is made possible by having acquired a B.S. degree. If being a veterinarian is not the desired progression, more schooling can be looked more favorably upon by potential employers, enables more room for growth and specialization within the field and opens the door to pursuing a master’s degree. Completing a master’s degree enables technologists to pursue careers working in research facilities, pharmaceutical companies and government agencies. Furthermore, should a veterinary technologist wish to become an educator and teach within the veterinary field, securing a master’s degree is mandatory. Naturally, there is greater income potential when in these roles.

Vet Tech vs. Vet Assistant: Side-by-Side Comparison

Veterinary TechnicianVeterinary Technologist
Schooling2 year Associate Degree.4 year Bachelor’s Degree.
Requirements to PracticeIn order to practice as a veterinary technician, a candidate must complete the following steps:
Step 1: Submit proof of having graduated from a program accredited by the Committee on Veterinary Technician Education and Activities (CVTEA).
Step 2: Pay for ($300) and pass the Veterinary Technician National Examination (VTNE), during one of three month-long windows each year. Competencies tested include: 9 Domains (Pharmacy and Pharmacology, Surgical Nursing, Dentistry, Laboratory Procedures, Animal Care and Nursing, Diagnostic Imaging, Anesthesia, Emergency Medicine, Analgesia), 38 Task Area Statements, and 50 Knowledge Area Statements.
Step 3: Should the state require it (some do, some don’t), pay an application fee and submit the necessary materials in order to obtain a valid state credential.
Step 4: Maintain active credentials on an ongoing basis.  Veterinary medical boards and other credentialing entities typically require vet techs to complete continuing education (CE) hours.
Veterinary technologists must complete the same requirements as do veterinary technicians, although as indicated above a veterinary technologist will typically earn a bachelor’s degree in veterinary technology, as opposed to an associate degree.
Work EnvironmentMost veterinary technicians work in clinics or laboratories.
Certain specialists work in other environments.
Example #1: with a specialization in equine nursing, a vet tech may work in a hospital or on a ranch or farm.
Example #2: with a specialization in zoological medicine,  a vet tech may be employed directly by and work at a zoo (About Careers).
Veterinary technologists typically work alongside veterinarians and veterinary technicians in clinics and laboratories.  
Some specialists may work in hospitals, at zoos, or on farms.
SalaryThe median salary for a veterinary technician is $31K with no specialization (varies by region & increases with experience – US News).
With specialization, the median salary can increase to $38K or more.
While salary numbers for veterinary technicians and technologists are generally similar, a veterinary technologist with a bachelor’s degree is qualified to pursue a master’s degree.  And with a master’s degree, a veterinary technologist may qualify for an increased salary.
For example, with a master of science (MS) degree, potential career options for a veterinary technologist might expand to include:

  • Research Associate – $51K
  • Research Scientist – $52K
  • Laboratory Manager – $57K
  • Associate Research Scientist – $75K
Bottom Line: Why Pursue this Profession?Reasons to pursue becoming a veterinary technician include:

  • Less time required to complete education (2 years instead of 4)
  • Less money required to complete education
  • Faster entry into the workforce
Reasons to pursue becoming a veterinary technologist include:

  • Some employers require a 4-year degree
  • Qualified to pursue to master’s degree, which opens the door to higher salary potential, and expanded career options in research and teaching
  • Additional schooling may provide more opportunity to strengthen lab skills and take on additional responsibilities on the job, and/or take them on sooner
Barry Franklin (Editor)

Barry is the Managing Editor of VetTechColleges.com, operated by educational web publisher Sechel Ventures Partners LLC, which he co-founded. Previously, Barry served as a VP at a Silicon Valley software company. In addition to running editorial operations at Sechel, Barry also serves on the Board of Trustees at a local K-8 school, and graduated from Carnegie Mellon University. He presently lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with his family and their black maltipoo.