Becoming a Veterinary Technician or Assistant: More Than Just Puppy Love

Becoming a veterinary technician or assistantIt was many thousands of years ago when humans first discovered ways to domesticate animals. Dogs were the first pets, and sheep became our first livestock. Many centuries later, animals are still a huge part of the human experience.

As medical technology has changed for humans, it has also changed for animals. Now, working in the field of veterinary medicine is a skilled position that requires expertise far above the ability to muck out a stall or clean out a cage. A Veterinary Technician can perform diagnostic tests, dress wounds, and assist in surgery. A veterinary assistant handles clients and records and assists with basic medical care.

If you love animals, you will find a career in veterinary medicine to be deeply rewarding. Here is a more in-depth look at non-veterinarian careers in veterinary medicine.

Veterinary Technician

A veterinary technician (also called a vet tech) is a person trained and licensed to assist veterinarians. They usually complete an associate’s degree in their field and then take a test to be licensed in their state (requirements vary by state—be sure to check yours). Once they begin working in the field, they find that their job is similar to that of a nurse.

Common tasks performed by a veterinary technician include, taking histories, providing treatment to routine problems, and giving counseling to clients. Remember, animals are the patients—the owners are the clients.

Technical skills include the following:

  • Drawing blood
  • Collecting urine
  • Performing skin scrapings
  • Performing routine lab procedures and tests in hematology, chemistry, Microbiology, urinalysis, and serology.

They also assist the veterinarian with physical examinations that help determine the nature of the illness or injury. Veterinary technicians also administer medications, anesthesia, and blood products to the animals as prescribed by the veterinarian.

Tasks in patient care include the following:

  • Recording temperature
  • Pulse and respiration
  • Dressing wounds
  • Applying splints and other protective devices
  • Cleaning teeth

Veterinary technicians also perform catheterizations, both urinary and venous, ear flushing, intravenous feedings, and tube feedings. Equipment use includes operating electro-cardiographic and radiographic equipment.

Veterinary technicians commonly assist veterinarians in surgery by providing correct equipment and instruments and by assuring that monitoring and support equipment such as anesthetic machines; cardiac monitors, scopes and breathing apparatus are in good working condition. They also maintain treatment records and inventory of all pharmaceuticals, equipment and supplies.

In a sadder turn, Veterinary technicians also assist and sometimes even perform euthanasia. While this can be often be difficult, it is usually a relief to clients to not have to see their beloved pets suffer. In order to be a veterinary technician, you must be comfortable with this fact of the field.

Veterinary Assistant

Veterinary assistants are an important part of the veterinary medical team. Working with veterinarians and veterinarian technicians, they help provide medical care to sick and injured animals. If you were to draw a comparison with human medicine, you might compare them to physician assistants. Unlike physician assistants, veterinary assistants often get on-the-job training, although courses in animal science are helpful.

A typical day in the life of a veterinary assistant includes giving medicines, feeding and bathing animals, cleaning up after them, and assisting with examinations and tests. Vet assistants play a very hands-on role. They take a pet’s pulse, temperature and monitor respiration. Some even assist with surgery. Also, many do office work and act as receptionists.

While many veterinary assistants work with veterinarians in private practice, many others work in animal shelters, animal control facilities, pet stores, kennels and veterinary drug companies.

Because sick or injured animals need constant care, the work is sometimes hard, repetitious, and dirty, but people who genuinely love animals can find it both interesting and deeply rewarding.

Like all health professions, veterinary care is highly regulated, and licensed veterinarians or veterinary technicians can only perform most kinds of treatment or testing. While veterinary assistants assist with a number of medical procedures, they do not perform any of them completely on their own.

Here are some of the duties that fall to the veterinary assistant:

  • Preparing examination or treatment room
  • Holding or restraining animal during procedures
  • Preparing equipment, and instruments for surgical procedures
  • Assisting veterinarians during surgery
  • Assisting those who take and develop x-rays
  • Setting up basic lab tests
  • Maintaining hospital cleanliness
  • Answering telephones and scheduling appointments

Once again, veterinary assistants also find themselves occasionally facing the reality of euthanasia as a part of their job. They are often the ones having to help a family make the choice and schedule and appointment, or caring for the remains of a beloved pet. Be sure that this is a factor of the job you are comfortable with before making the decision to work in the field.

But all in all, working in veterinary medicine is a job that is full of joy and fascinating science. Unlike a human nurse, you will learn about and treat several species of animals—from dogs and cats to rabbits and iguanas, or from cows to sheep to horses. It is a fascinating and diverse field, and a rewarding one.