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Friday, June 7, 2013

Become A Vet Tech Or Not?

Alexa writes me with the following......

I'm planning on attending a university in the fall that offers a four year veterinary technology degree. I know you can be a vet tech without having a four year degree, sometimes even without having a two year degree, but I really feel that a four year degree would be better, just in case. Anyways, on to my question. 

I had orientation a couple weeks ago and was shocked at the number of students majoring in veterinary science to go onto vet school. I understand that some will drop out, not make it into vet school, ect., but the number of students majoring in vet science greatly outnumbered those majoring in vet tech. It made me wonder if I was missing something. I've done a lot of research. I know the salary isn't that great (do you think I could potentially get paid more because of a four year degree? I want to work with horses or at a zoo, some sort of wildlife facility), and that it can be a rough job. But I love animals. I've been riding horses since I was three, always had an abundance of small animals that I've loved. I wanted to be a veterinarian since I was in 6th grade. A surgeon, as of more recent years. I've watched a couple on horses and am so fascinated with it. I did a lot of research, though, including reading your blog posts about upcoming veterinarians and decided it was just a bad time. The debt, the low salary, the low employment outlook. But vet techs have a rising employment outlook, potentially increasing salaries. 

Do you think being a veterinarian technician/technologist is better than becoming an actual veterinarian right now? 

All of the people I ran across were just so confident there were going to become vets. Granted, when I pointed out things I had read on your blog/read elsewhere, they seemed like it was new information to them, but some knew and just didn't care. I want a job when I graduate college, not to go to school for eight years and then end up in a ton of debt with no job. But am I getting myself into an even bigger mess with becoming a vet technologist? 

I don't have much longer to figure this out. I keep debating my decision, thinking I'm positive I'll be happy as a vet tech and then wondering if I'm going to be content not actually being a veterinarian. I know they deal more with the science, and vet techs with the animals, but I love both. With the current situation, it'd be better to become a vet tech, right? I think so. But I'm in desperate need of another opinion.

The first thing you need to do is consider how much your education will cost and how much you'll be making.  I don't know the specific data on whether or not veterinary technicians are an increasing job market.  You're looking at an average starting salary of $20,000-$30,000 per year.  With a lot of experience and the right opportunities you might end up making $40,000 or more per year.  That's not a very promising salary with a four year degree, and if your education costs that much to acquire, it may not be worth the expense.  

I'm also not entirely certain how a veterinary technology degree takes 4+ years, at least in the US.  Typically this is a two-year program and will give you an Associates Degree.  You don't need an undergraduate degree before going into vet tech school, and having a four-year degree isn't going to improve your job opportunities in this particular field.  If this is the route you want to go for your career, I would recommend stick with the two-year program as you'll incur less debt and have just as strong of an education and job prospects.

Vet techs are a very important part of the veterinary team, with much more advanced training and better skills than most veterinary assistants.  In some states they can do things that non-certified assistants are prohibited from doing, such as drawing blood and placing catheters.  However, most of the people who work in veterinary offices are trained on-the-job and have no formal training.  With enough years of experience one of these people can be as skilled in the basics as many certified/licensed techs.  In my own clinic I have five assistants and none of them are licensed technicians, though one of them is currently going through school to get this training and certification.

Certainly having your certification and license will open many more doors than an average assistant, especially to more rewarding and well-paying jobs.  Veterinary colleges won't hire someone unlicensed, and most specialty facilities strongly prefer a certified tech.  These are the jobs that have higher salaries and are more interesting, so opportunities are certainly greater.

I would recommend talking to people who are working as techs and asking them the pros and cons of getting licensed.  You should also check out, as they have a lot of resources on technician training programs, salaries, etc.  As usual I welcome comments from vet techs and others in the profession who might have advice or differing opinions on Alexa's situation.

As an aside, the people who simply don't care about the job prospects, salaries, and debt load of a newly graduated veterinarian are in for a very rude awakening.  While it would be nice to say "money doesn't matter" and simply follow your passion, the reality of the world is that money does matter and you can't pay your bills with love.  No matter what your profession or education, you need to seriously analyze your job prospects, salary, and ability to repay loans and other debt before you make the jump into that training.

I'm not sure if any of this helps your decision, Alexa.  I wish you the best of luck!