Professionals looking to serve the animal medicine world will inevitably come across several roles that might spark their interest. Often, in this search, there are analogies to the human medicine world that provide a useful framework to help understand both the level of education required to fill that role and what responsibilities professionals will fulfill in their animal healing work. The chart below explains those common analogies.
If an emerging veterinary professional determines that animal nursing is their pathway, they have to decide whether they wish to become a veterinary technician or a veterinary technologist.
This article will discuss the ways in which the two roles are the same, the ways they are different, and the reasons why a future veterinary nurse would choose one over the other.
|Veterinary Medicine Role||Human Medicine Analogous Role||Degree Level Required|
Veterinary Technician Specialist
Specialty RN or LVN/LPN
Licensed Practical/Vocational Nurse
Overview of the Similarities and Differences Between Veterinary Technicians and Technologists
The following table gives a simple overview of how the two veterinary medicine roles are the same, and how they differ. For a deeper understanding of each of these similarities and differences, scroll below the table for more information.
|Veterinary Technician||Veterinary Technologist|
|General Roles||Assist veterinarians
Oversee vet assistants
Oversee vet assistants
|Employment Arenas||Clinical, Research, Nonprofit, Government||Clinical, Research, Nonprofit, Government|
|Possibility to Specialize||Yes||Yes|
|Minimum Degree Level||Associate||Bachelor|
|Cost of Degree||Less||More|
|Degree Opportunities||On-Campus, Online||On-Campus, Online|
|Minimum Number of Training Years||Two years||Four Years|
|Training Focus||Practical||Practical and Systems|
How Veterinary Technologists and Veterinary Technicians Are Similar
They Assist Veterinarians
Veterinarians are trained to deliver the high-level skills of diagnosis, prognosis, prescription, and surgery. Just as medical doctors and some nurse practitioners shoulder the responsibility for human outcomes, the ultimate outcomes for furry, feathered, and scaled patients ultimately rests on the shoulders of veterinarians.
Vet technologists and vet technicians are both trained to assist veterinarians in completing these high-level clinical tasks by taking responsibility for required routine, administrative, client-facing, preparatory, patient education, and diagnostic technology tasks. It is a similar relationship that LVNs and RNs have to medical doctors. In the research arena, vet techs assist docs the same way research assistants support scientists.
Most Have To Pass a National Credentialing Exam
Although what is required to practice as a vet technician or vet technologist in the United States varies from state to state, the vast majority of states require vet techs to pass the Veterinary Technician National Examination (VTNE) in order to practice. Whether someone becomes a vet technologist or technician, passing the VTNE confers the title of “registered veterinary technician (RVT),” “licensed veterinary technician (LVT),” or “certified veterinary technician (CVT).”
Learn expert advice on how to ace the VTNE.
Some Will Be Asked to Step Into Leadership
Because veterinary technicians and veterinary technologists are often second to veterinarians in the animal medicine organizational hierarchy, they may find themselves asked to do personnel management. Specifically, veterinary assistants often report to vet technologists and vet technicians in the same way that vet techs report to veterinarians. Vet techs may also be asked to manage non-clinical administrative staff as well.
Both Can Work Wherever Vet Techs Are Needed
Because their baseline training as generalist assistants is the same, vet technicians and vet technologists can work in private clinics, laboratories, biomedical research, food safety inspection, veterinary supply stores, animal hospitals, animal shelters, zoos, farms, wildlife conservancies, and more. Vet techs have roles anywhere that animal care, animal-centered research, or animal-focused industries are hiring.
Both Can Find Accredited Degree Programs On-Campus or Online
The main accreditation body for veterinary technician and veterinary technology education is a branch of the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) called the Committee on Veterinary Technician Education and Activities (CVTEA). There are accredited programs at the associate and bachelor levels, and aspiring techs can find programs all over the United States. Most accredited programs occur on campus, but for those living outside of metropolitan areas or those who don’t wish to relocate, there are several online options at both levels as well.
To learn more about accredited distance-based degrees, check out the guide to online vet tech programs.
Both Can Choose to Specialize
Most veterinary technology programs prepare technicians and technologists to enter the workforce as veterinary nursing generalists. According to the National Association of Veterinary Technicians in America (NAVTA), these general responsibilities include obtaining medical histories, collecting lab specimens, prepping for and assisting with surgery, administering anesthesia, educating clients, performing diagnostic imaging, supervision of clinic staff, and more.
Those who are passionate about a certain aspect of veterinary medicine can work to become a veterinary technician specialist (VTS) by focusing their professional time and attention on specialty skills. While this can happen in an informal way through experience, there are also specialization academies that can lead a vet tech NAVTA-approved certified specializations.
Currently, NAVTA fully recognizes five specialties including emergency and critical care, dental, internal medicine, anesthesia and analgesia, and zoological medicine. As of April 2021, there are 11 provisionally recognized specialties in laboratory animals, veterinary behavior, clinical pathology, clinical practice, dermatology, equine, physical rehabilitation, veterinary nutrition, ophthamology, surgical, and diagnostic imaging.
Each specialization has a unique pathway to certification which includes a combination of work hours, proof of knowledge and skills, case studies, educational requirements, and more. To learn more about joining a range of specialties, check out how to become a vet tech specialist.
How Veterinary Technicians and Veterinary Technologists are Different
They Graduate With Different Degrees
This is the fundamental difference between a vet technician and vet technologist. Veterinary technicians typically will complete a degree program that confers an associate of science (AS) or an associate of applied science (AAS) in veterinary technology. Veterinary technologists will complete a degree program that confers a bachelor of science (BS) or a bachelor of applied science (BAS) in veterinary technology.
The Different Degrees Have Different Completion Durations
Veterinary technicians earning associate-level degrees generally take two years to finish their programs. Some associate’s programs are shorter (18 months) while some can be longer if completed at a part-time rate (three years). Veterinary technologists earning bachelor-level degrees can expect to be in school for a minimum of four years.
The Costs of The Degrees Are Different
When thinking of the cost of a degree, there are two factors to keep in mind: actual cost and opportunity cost. The actual cost of a degree is how much a student pays for the program, and the opportunity cost is the earning that a student has to defer because they’re in school.
Those choosing the veterinary technician route will generally find that their program is cheaper because it’s shorter. The opportunity cost will also be lower because the veterinary technician will have to defer working for a shorter period of time, or will be able to keep working while they learn. Those choosing to become a technologist will generally have to pay more for their degree and may experience higher opportunity costs as many bachelor’s programs require a full-time commitment.
If you want to become a veterinary technologist and cost is what’s standing in your way, read our Guide to Vet Tech Scholarships (2021).
Technologists Earn Deeper Training than Technicians
A two-year veterinary technician degree has a very practical focus and prepares students to jump into work immediately upon graduation through a combination of coursework and externships/internships. A four-year veterinary technologist degree is the same two-year degree, plus an additional two years of training.
What a technologist learns in this additional two years of training varies, but can take a vet technologist on the path of specialization, train them more deeply in management skills, introduce the technologist to systemic thinking, give students more research-based skills, and deepen their understanding of the fundamentals they learned in the first two years. While students in both AS and BS programs will be expected to take some general education courses, those in bachelor level programs can expect to take upper-division courses outside of the veterinary medicine world.
Salaries May Be Different
At this point, the Bureau of Labor Statics (BLS) collects salary data for technicians and technologists as one unit. According to the BLS (May 2020), the 109,490 veterinary technicians and technologists employed in the United States earned an average annual salary of $37,860.
Although either technicians or technologists can work in research settings, there are several factors that make it more likely these roles will be filled by technologists with a bachelor’s degree. One factor in this differential is that those pursuing a bachelor’s degree are already in proximity to these types of jobs simply through their enrollment at a four-year university. Another factor in the difference is training at the bachelor’s level also includes deeper training in the language and skills related to academic research.
While becoming a technologist doesn’t guarantee a higher salary, it may open doors to opportunities that are more difficult for technicians to find or qualify for.
Technologists May Be Prepared to Do More Than Animal Nursing
While bachelor-level technologist programs prepare graduates to jump into work as a vet tech, they may also open other professional pathways as well. Some technologists may find a niche outside of the clinical scope in areas like research, management, policy, or academia. Some technologists may also discover that they want to level up to veterinary school, a process that they’ll be prepared for because of their earned bachelor’s degree.
While veterinary technicians with an associate degree can make their way to veterinary school, they will have to earn their bachelor’s first. The path is more indirect than earning a BS right away. In addition, in a world where bachelor’s degrees are the new high school diplomas, those who change their mind about entering veterinary medicine may find it simpler to transition to another field.
Thinking about eventually becoming a vet? Discover the Top 10 Pre-Veterinary Colleges.
Choosing to Become a Veterinary Technician or Veterinary Technologist
You may want to become a veterinary technician if…
- You want the cheapest, fastest timeline to work as a veterinary nurse.
- You know that you want to do hands-on practical work with animals.
- You’re a vet assistant who wants more responsibility and a possible pay bump.
- The idea of becoming a veterinarian someday is not currently on your mind.
- You’re open to learning management skills on the job.
You may want to become a veterinary technologist if…
- You have the money and time to complete a longer course of training.
- You think that you could become a veterinarian or pursue graduate education in the future.
- You want to understand veterinary medicine from a systemic and practical level.
- You see yourself in a research-focused role and/or a management role.
- You want the professional mobility that a bachelor’s degree provides.
To learn more about the specific steps to become a veterinary technician or technologist, read our detailed guide on How To Become A Veterinary Technician.