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Thursday, March 1, 2012

Vet Or Tech?

Here's a question from Nicole....

I am a student struggling to find which career to pursue. I know I want to be in the Vet field but I cant determine if my calling is to be a vet tech or a veterinarian. Any advice to help guide me in the right direction? What scares me to become a veterinarian is the debt as well as that I really would love to start my career within the next 3-5 years, is it possible to get a vet tech degree and then later continue on to become a veterinarian?

Let's start with the last part first.  It is certainly possible to work as a licensed veterinary technician and then go on to vet school afterwards.  I've known several people who have done so and being a tech doesn't eliminate the possibility of being a full vet one day.

The debt-load of getting a veterinary doctorate is indeed an issue, and it's only getting worse.  Each year the amount of debt increases, worsening the challenges and burdens of paying it back.  From everything I've seen this is becoming a real crisis and there doesn't seem to be any solution on the horizon.  Anyone wanting to become a veterinarian needs to take a long, hard look at the cold reality of their finances once they graduate.  You can't simply have a great desire and figure that you're going to worry about it at another time.  Simply put, it's getting harder and harder to pay back the debt of a veterinary education and make a decent living.

There are some other factors in this decision.  I currently have one of my staff who is going through school to get her technician certification, and she's been asked by friends and family why she isn't going to be a doctor.  She says that the idea of being the final decision-maker is intimidating.  I can tell you from personal experience that it's very stressful to have a pet's health and life be dependent on your medical and surgical skills.  Not everyone wants that weighing on their minds and like the idea of being able to let other people make those hard choices.  And though technician school isn't easy, vet school is even harder.  My assistant is taking a clinical pathology course and is going through identifying parasite eggs.  She has one class on clin path that includes many topics.  I had one semester of parasitology and two semesters of pathology.  Lots more detail!  So you will have less stress and less time in school by going the technician route.  

And lastly, it depends on what you like about the veterinary field.  If it's mainly the technical aspects of placing catheters, running lab tests, educating clients, and handling pets, then a vet tech degree is likely your best choice.  Technicians usually do more of this than the vets do.  If you really like the idea of performing surgery, diagnosing challenging cases, and delving into the hard science of medicine, consider becoming a vet.

Best of luck with your decision, Nicole!


  1. Not to mention, this is what society thinks about vets:

  2. Great answer! I myself struggled with this question and finally decided to pursue the RVT certification because of those same points. I feel a strong desire to 'nurse' animals and being a vet tech gives you a lot of hands-on time with the animals, doing blood draws, administering meds, feeding, cleaning. :) The decision-making thing scares me a lot as well, which I'm sure fades somewhat with experience and knowledge, but I feel more comfortable being the one that follows orders. ;)

    Timing is also an important factor for me, as I am about to be 30 years old and my husband and I are planning on starting a family soon. I can't imagine taking both that and vet school on at the same time. I just wouldn't do it to myself, though I have heard stories that it can be done!

  3. I second Sarah's answer--my main reasoning for stopping at my vet tech degree and not pursuing vet school was how much I enjoyed the hands-on time with the animals. Unfortunately, the vet does not get nearly as much time with the patient as you'd think beyond their physical exams; in most cases the techs are the ones doing the day-to-day and hour-to-hour treatments and really keeping their finger on the pulse of the case.

    I absolutely love my job, though, and I have never been sad that I didn't go to vet school. (Especially now that I work in a university setting and I can see what the students and interns go through--I'm so much happier as a nurse!) Sure, I don't have the fancy title or the fancy salary--but I don't have the crippling debt load, either.


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