“I personally think that all veterinary students would benefit from having an associate’s degree in veterinary technology, though current requirements make this a challenging path. ”
Wendy Rib, DVM, PhD, Faculty Member in Veterinary Technology at St. Petersburg College
Working with animals in a veterinary clinic requires specialized education. The two primary career options in veterinary care are as a veterinarian or a veterinary technician. Both professions play critical roles in ensuring the health and well-being of animals but have very different job duties and educational requirements.
Veterinarians diagnose and treat medical conditions, perform surgeries, and prescribe medications. They are akin to medical doctors and must complete a pre-veterinary undergraduate degree followed by a doctor of veterinary medicine degree. “You would complete a pre-veterinary medicine degree because you want to be the person determining the diagnosis and treatment of the patient. Veterinarians also are trained to interpret test results and perform medical procedures, including surgery. Fulfilling the prerequisites for veterinary colleges requires a commitment to a rigorous undergraduate curriculum, which may include a number of math and natural science courses,” says Dr. Wendy Rib, a faculty member in the veterinary technology program at St. Petersburg College
On the other hand, veterinary technicians assist veterinarians in caring for animals. They administer medication, perform diagnostic tests, monitor anesthesia, and administer care to hospitalized patients: “Veterinary technology is the field for those most interested in the nursing care of patients. They are the biggest advocate for the patient, ensuring that they are receiving the care that they need to maximize their opportunity for a speedy recovery,” says Dr. Rib. “Additionally, with the right training, they are able to perform a number of procedures, and are a key part of the veterinary team”
Students generally pick either pre-veterinary or veterinary technology and stick to that field. “The way the education system is currently set up is that these education paths are mutually exclusive. You choose which of these careers you want to do. And if you’re going to do one, you won’t do the other,” explains Dr. Rib.
Read on to learn more about pre-veterinary and veterinary technology programs and Rib’s advice for prospective students.
Meet the Expert: Wendy Rib, DVM, PhD
Dr. Wendy Rib is a retired equine veterinarian currently working as a faculty member in the veterinary technology program at St. Petersburg College. She instructs several clinical classes, and her teaching philosophy centers around making courses as interactive as possible for students to maximize their educational experience.
Dr. Rib is interested in online teaching and believes her students should benefit from its convenience while engaging in thought-provoking assignments. She is a lifelong learner and just completed her PhD in anthropology at USF. She holds a doctor of veterinary medicine degree from the University of Florida.
Veterinary Technology Programs
Most veterinary technologists complete an associate’s degree program before finding entry-level work in this field. “To become a veterinary technician, you need to attend a two to three-year program, where you will be required to take a few general education requirements such as history or English, but it typically won’t be as many courses as required by a bachelor’s degree. The rest of your curriculum is centered on hands-on veterinary technology,” says Dr. Rib. “What veterinary technician students learn in this short period is stunning because, in human health care, we don’t expect nurses to have skills in radiology, anesthesia, and clinical pathology, but we teach all of that in veterinary technology programs.”
It is not uncommon for veterinary technologists to pursue additional education. “I work as a baccalaureate instructor. So I’m teaching students with an associate’s degree in veterinary technology, and they’re expanding their education. There are more education opportunities, including master’s degrees,” she says.
The role of a veterinary technician or technologist is to support the veterinarian and help care for the patients. “The veterinary technician follows the treatment plans derived by the veterinarian. For example, a veterinary technician will fill medications based on prescriptions, administer the medications, and do several procedures such as blood draws,” explains Dr. Rib.
Aspiring veterinarians need to complete a doctor of veterinary medicine degree. However, the prerequisite for this degree is an undergraduate degree in pre-veterinary medicine. Many schools offer a specific pre-veterinary degree, while others offer a degree in biology, chemistry, or a related field that includes all the prerequisite coursework for veterinary school.
Unlike a veterinary technology program, pre-veterinary undergraduate degrees usually require many courses that are not directly related to veterinary care.. “These are students who plan to become veterinarians, and they plan to go to vet school. The pre-vet route is about getting the prerequisites vet schools want, including a year of general chemistry, biology, physics, and organic chemistry. Some schools also require biochemistry. These courses help veterinary colleges get a sense of a student’s commitment to rigorous studies by their ability to do well on these courses,” Dr. Rib says.
Choosing Pre-Vet or Veterinary Technology
Picking between veterinary technology and pre-veterinary studies is choosing between two careers a student selects based on their own goals. Generally speaking, students don’t tend to move between these careers because of the significant difference in the curriculum. “I think that studying veterinary technology is amazing because it gives you a broad understanding of the veterinary field in a far better way than you were going to get being a biology major,” says Dr. Rib. “If you want to do veterinary technology as a pre-vet program, you must be willing to create your curriculum because the vast majority of colleges do not offer this opportunity. You most likely would have to work with an advisor to structure this educational pathway.”
She continues, “At St. Petersburg College, we have veterinary technology students who go on to vet school, and we advise them. But we do it outside of the structured curriculum. For example, they get a bachelor’s in veterinary technology and take additional prerequisites like organic chemistry and physics as an elective to be ready for veterinary school applications. So it can be done, but I wouldn’t necessarily advise that somebody choose veterinary technology as their major if they wanted to go to vet school as it might require taking many additional courses.”
Students’ education in a veterinary technology program can be very valuable: “I personally think that all veterinary students would benefit from having an associate’s degree in veterinary technology, though current requirements make this a challenging path. If I could do my own life over again, I think I would have had a more enriching experience in vet school with a background in veterinary technology. I would have already been exposed to anatomy, physiology, parasitology, and anesthesia. It would be at a different level than veterinary school as veterinary technology courses are not as in-depth, but it provides a solid foundation,” she concludes.