Should You Be A Veterinarian Or A Veterinary Technician? How To Decide Which Is Best For You

Many young people want to work with animals. Why wouldn’t you? They’re adorable and fun, show you companionship and love; animals are truly amazing, so it only makes sense that so many want to make a career out of it.

If someone still decides that they want to work in veterinary medicine once it’s time to look into colleges, they may be wondering: should I be a veterinarian or a veterinary technician?

By Allison Salonko.

Allison is a Veterinary Technician in the state of Indiana. She graduated from International Business College and Vet Tech Institute of Indianapolis with a degree in Animal Science and Technology in 2011.

Affiliate Disclosure

This post may contain affiliate links. We may earn a commission from qualifying purchases made through these links. This is at no extra cost to you.

If you’re one of those individuals who wants help understanding the difference between what it takes financially and time wise, then keep reading to learn the details about veterinarians and their technician peers.

What Is The Difference Between A Veterinarian And A Veterinary Technician?

There is a pretty big difference between a veterinarian and a veterinary technician.

If you think about a human doctor and the nurses that they work with, it is essentially the same.

Veterinary technicians, or Techs, as we call us in vet med, are the nurses you see placing IV’s, taking patient histories and being the shoulder to cry on.

The veterinarian is the doctor who orchestrates tests and treatment plans.

That’s not to say that the veterinarian doesn’t do plenty.

They are under a lot of pressure to be accurate and well informed, relying on the Techs to deliver appropriate information.

The doctors work their butts off to see every patient that walks in, while also managing surgeries and following-up with their critical cases.

Both positions; vet or tech, are typically quite busy and must have plenty of knowledge and technical abilities that are beyond the scope of just bookwork.

Many practical skills must be learned on the job and little opportunity for real application is handed out while in school.

A Breakdown Of What It Takes To Be A Veterinarian

Being a veterinarian takes a lot of discipline, caffeine, money and hard work.

I have spoken with numerous human physicians that have said they tried to go to veterinary school, found it too difficult so they switched to human medicine.

That’s how hard it is academically to finish!

If you think about it, you have to learn and remember the anatomy and physiology of several species, plus their unique diseases and conditions and what medications it will require to treat them. That’s a lot!

The Duties Of A Veterinarian

Veterinarians are the only ones that are allowed to perform surgery, diagnose and prognose medical conditions or prescribe medications.

Vets must see and perform a physical exam on every sick patient as well as any that are there for routine yearly exams and vaccinations.

Depending on the volume of the hospital that number can be over 50 patients in one day!

Don’t even get me started if you work in a high-volume specialty or emergency facility. They stay BU-SY!

Quality of life appointments and euthanasias are certainly one of the more depressing aspects of the job.

Veterinary professionals didn’t get into the career in order to see dying animals or euthanize them, but we all knew that it was still part of the job.

Consulting a family or individual to make the decision to end their pets life is heartbreaking but something that many vets do every single day.

In the end, it must be what is best for the pet and their family.

Career Opportunities For Veterinarians

While being a vet can be crazy stressful, it can also be crazy cool.

Some veterinary professionals have had opportunities to work with dozens of different species from all over the world; big or small!

Sometimes they even have amazing and rare chances to work in wildlife rehabilitation, nursing beautiful and exotic creatures back to health, sometimes even saving a species from becoming endangered or extinct.

We all know that puppies and kittens are just the cutest. It’s true, sometimes you have a day where you feel like all you’ve seen are the fluffiest and sweetest babies.

Those are truly days to cherish and remember because they can be rare.

What Does It Cost To Be A Veterinarian?

In the states, it takes 8 years MINIMUM to become a veterinarian.

First, there are 4 years of undergraduate classes that you must take, typically at a university of the person’s choice.

Then they must apply to veterinary school at any of the 30 US colleges that have a veterinary program.

There are also 3 schools that are outside of the US that many American students attend.

Anyone wanting to attend vet school must also meet a specific list and number of hours required to even be accepted.

This usually involves so many hundreds of hours of volunteer time in a clinic or shelter and also time working as a veterinary assistant.

It is important to note that these numbers are based on US colleges and only count the 4 years of veterinary school, not the undergraduate years prior.

Depending on what college a person attends and if it is out of state for them, the average veterinary student right out of school is going to be in debt around $188,000.

Yikes.

And that’s for those that stayed in the states.

If someone went to Ross or St. George’s Universities, they were looking at closer to $295,000. This data doesn’t include the huge ranges that some students were owing, costs were anywhere from $1,000 to $500,000.

To compare to a human physician, they typically owe between $200,000 and $250,000 after graduation but can usually pay that off within 5 years.

Many of these doctors make around a median salary of over $200,000 a year, which is more than double the average veterinarian’s yearly salary.

So not only do vets spend about the same to go through college, but they make half as much ($99,000 median salary) once they finish.

That means that it will take most veterinarians at least 10 years to pay off their student debt.

The Pros And Cons Of Being A Veterinarian

Every single job out there has its good and bad aspects, so here is a short breakdown of what I think the pros and cons are of being a veterinarian.

Pros:

  • Seeing adorable animals instead of stinky people all day (we still have to deal with the owners though)
  • Making an animal feel better or saving its life
  • Not as at risk of communicable diseases like in human medicine
  • Everyone thinks that your job is really cool

Cons:

  • You will likely get hurt by a patient at some point
  • Patients can’t tell you what is wrong, sometimes making diagnosing very difficult
  • Owners don’t always follow your directions (that’s all medicine)
  • Often underpaid and overworked for the amount of debt you are in

I want to touch on how I think that euthanasia is both a pro and a con of veterinary medicine.

While it is certainly upsetting that you have to put an animal down, you know that it is better than letting them die slowly and painfully as their body shuts down on its own.

It’s never an easy decision to make but it is always made in the better interest of the pet.

A Breakdown Of What It Takes To Be A Veterinary Technician

The veterinary technician is the backbone of the clinic and every doctor I’ve ever worked for has said that they would never survive without us.

We do a majority of the work with every appointment.

Yes, the doctor does their exam and diagnoses and sets up a treatment plan etc, but the tech is who restrains the patient, draws the blood/collects samples, runs any tests, goes over discharge/medications, takes care of the patient while they’re in the hospital, etc.

That is really only a summarization of what a technician does in a veterinary hospital.

We are also running anesthesia for surgery, prepping for surgery, recovering afterwards, running appointments, cleaning teeth, trimming nails, you name it, we do it!

Oh and guess who cleans up the poop too, you guessed it, the techs!

Career Opportunities For A Veterinary Technician

Techs will often have similar career opportunities to the doctors.

Because they work so closely together, it is always better to have vet techs to assist the veterinarians, even if you are doing a mission trip in the amazon; the two are always a team.

Veterinary technicians tend to do a lot of the physical work, so if you don’t mind getting your hands dirty working with farm animals or looking at poop under a microscope in a clinic, a vet tech career could be perfect for you!

What Does It Cost To Be A Veterinary Technician?

To be a registered, certified or licensed veterinary technician, there are a few options for schooling.

There are several smaller programs in the US that can be completed as quickly as 18 months (Associates degree) and some programs through veterinary schools that can take as long as 3 years for a Bachelor’s degree.

Almost every veterinary program for doctors also has a program for technicians, the two will often work together throughout school.

The average veterinary technician will accrue over $5,000 – $7,000 a year in debt.

This does depend entirely on the college they attended and the program they went through. Most techs will go to school for an associates, adding up to about $10,000 – $20,000 total of student loan debt.

Upon finishing school, the average new grad (depending on the state) will make between $22,000 and $36,000 a year.

Most technicians can make as little as $13/hr to $20/hr.

The rate changes significantly with experience, accreditation and the state they work in.

With how little the pay is for the career, it can be a huge struggle for many technicians to pay off their student debt.

There are many that have left the field in order to make more money gaining a degree in human nursing or some other similar branch.

The Pros And Cons Of Being A Veterinary Technician

With ten years of experience as a veterinary technician, I could probably make a pretty long list of pros and cons, but I’ll try to keep it short and sweet.

Just like every field, there are always going to be the good and bad sides, you just have to decide if it is worth it to you to deal with a lot of poop and grumpy dogs for the occasional puppy or kitten.

Pros:

  • The animals, they really are what makes everything worth it at the end of a bad day
  • Helping the doctor to diagnose and treat pets, making them feel better
  • Doing the fun stuff, like draw blood and snuggle puppies, while the doctor gets to do boring work
  • Discounts on things to take care of your own pets

Cons:

  • Lots and lots of cleaning
  • Aggressive patients (sometimes it’s the owners too)
  • Can be so busy you hardly have time to eat or use the restroom
  • Nail trims. The menial task that we get hurt the most over. Dogs HATE nail trims.
  • Very little pay compared to other medical career fields

This job can be generally very difficult, but it is full of passionate and driven individuals who are underpaid and underappreciated by many.

It is key to pay attention to mental health and always stay outspoken about burn out and any feelings you may have that negatively impacts your life.

Veterinary Medicine Can Be A Challenge And A Reward At One Time

It does disappoint me that the veterinary field struggles so much to support its workforce.

With high student loan debt and a lower median salary than most medical professionals, it can be tough.

We need to continue to educate and standardize our field, bringing consistency and fairer wages and lower college debt to every vet and technician out there.

If you are considering working in the veterinary field, please make sure you are informed and feel confident in your decision to join the journey of being a veterinary professional.

It won’t be easy but it will certainly be worth it in the end!

Photo by Ulrike.

Leave a Comment