Why Are Veterinary Technicians So Underpaid?

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Veterinary medicine is considered a highly respectable career to work in. However, a huge problem in this field is the lack of appropriate pay for all that work in it.

As a Veterinary Technician of over ten years, I can confirm that this is a chronic issue.

No matter if you’re a Veterinarian, Vet Tech or Assistant, you will make far less money in this field than you would in many others.

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.

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If you’re a Vet Tech or you’re interested in being one and just want to know what pay you can expect, then keep reading to find out more!

Veterinary Medicine: An Underappreciated and Underpaid Work Force

In many economies, the dollar value that is placed on someone’s work and skillset is based on the necessity, desire and appreciation for that work.

Veterinary medicine is something that a lot of people would consider valuable because so many people have pets.

However, they’re not often willing to pay the prices that veterinary clinics charge for services because they are considered “too expensive.”

The reality that many pet owners don’t actually see is that medicine in general is expensive.

People would balk at the prices their human doctor charges for things if they ever actually saw the real bill before it went to their insurance provider.

3 Reasons Why Veterinary Technicians Are So Underpaid

There are several reasons why Vet Techs are egregiously underpaid, but for the most part, there are three main ones that I like to discuss:

  • a lack of owner finances or a willingness to pay,
  • no insurance support,
  • the absence of career standardization.

Owner Finances: To Pay Or Not To Pay

Like I mentioned above, pet owners are often not willing to (or financially can’t afford to) pay the prices that Veterinarians charge for services.

Also, most clinics will expect payment at the time of services being rendered, so they can’t just tell the hospital to “bill them” and worry about how to pay later.

No Insurance Support Means Less Funding

Veterinary Technicians get the short end of the pay stick in vet med because there is so much less money being funneled into the clinics, unlike human hospitals that have insurance companies to support them and their staff financially.

After all of the bills, cost of goods and other support staff are paid, there is a smaller pay scale for the Technicians than they really deserve.

No Standardized Veterinary Technician Role

Because Veterinarians have so much schooling and ultimately make all the decisions and treatment plans for pets, it is fair that they receive more pay (obviously).

This also indicates that Veterinarians are held to a “standard” and they cannot practice outside of that realm.

Vet tech’s don’t have a government regulated standard like other careers in the medical field.

While this means that some aspects of vet med are more lax than human medicine, it also means that anyone can practice in a veterinary clinic as a “vet tech” but have no educational background or experience and be trained on-the-job.

No Federal Standardization For Veterinary Technicians Hurts

When a career or title is “standardized” on a federal level, it means that these professionals are held to a specific standard and only those that are credentialed can call themselves said title and perform duties and receive pay based on that title.

A great example of this is a Veterinarian.

These individuals have been to 8 years of schooling, passed their exams and obtained their professional license so that they can legally practice veterinary medicine.

Without the title of DVM (doctor of veterinary medicine), they are not legally allowed to practice as a doctor, call themselves one or perform any duties as such.

If they do, they can suffer legal recourse in the form of major fines or jail time.

Registered Nurse Vs Veterinary Technician: How The Standardization System Is Flawed

My personal favorite example of this issue is to compare the Veterinary Technician position to the Registered Nurse (RN) position in human hospitals.

A RN is someone who went to school, passed exams and obtained their professional license so that they can call themselves an RN and practice RN duties that only they can perform.

Nursing assistants aren’t allowed to call themselves RN’s or perform specific RN duties, holding their title to a certain level of respect, pay and professionalism.

A Veterinary Technician is someone who ALSO went to years of school, passed their exams and received their professional license.

BUT, there is no legal standardization that holds the title of Veterinary Technician to a level of professionalism that allows for them to be paid appropriately.

Another similarity is that Veterinary Assistants can’t call themselves Technicians, so why is there no pay difference.

Oftentimes the assistant will make only slightly less money than a Registered Technician, making the pay scale in vet med extremely unbalanced.

How Can Veterinary Technicians Make More Money?

Many Veterinary Technicians feel the financial and emotional strain of the career early on.

So it’s no surprise that such a large number begin to ask the same question, “How can I make more money?” The best answer to this is to specialize in a particular part of the field that you enjoy the most.

Go Into A Specialty

Veterinary Technicians that specialize in a specific aspect of vet med, such as behavior, rehabilitation, dental or orthopedics can certainly make more money.

This “extra mile” that you’ve gone to achieve is a huge selling point with many potential employers.

Have A Veterinary-Related Side Hustle

Another way to pull in some extra funds is to utilize your knowledge, degree and license to do jobs on the side, such as pet sitting, dog walking or dog training.

When you show someone that you also have a degree to back up your experience, it should be an easy choice to pick you for their services.

Make A Lateral Career Move

By “lateral career move” I mean going into a different branch of veterinary medicine, other than just working in a practice.

This could be anything from working in research medicine with lab animals, to using your knowledge and degree working with companies that promote prescription drugs, food or vet specific technology.

Freelance Writing For Pet Websites And Blogs

Some veterinary professionals may not realize how many websites and blogs need well-informed and knowledgeable technicians for content writers.

If you’re skilled with words and feel confident about your veterinary skill and information, then content writing for websites could be your new thing.

How Can Veterinary Clinics Keep Technicians Happy?

Burn out is a major issue among the veterinary community and many clinics and veterinarians wonder how they can help make the stressful work environment a more comfortable and happier place.

The reality is that the job is going to be stressful and busy sometimes, it’s just the way things go, but there are certainly ways that bosses and employers can help.

Provide Breaks And A Healthy Schedule

Many veterinary technicians feel that their superiors don’t listen and would prefer to look at the bottom dollar instead of their employees’ health and happiness.

That means, missed lunch breaks and being at the clinic hours after their shift has ended, on top of the numerous scratches and emotional strain they endure daily.

The best thing to do is ensure that each employee gets their deserved break and that you schedule things according to the staff and time that you have at that time.

Fitting every patient in doesn’t do you, the pet, the owner or the staff any favors when they all leave feeling frustrated and drained at the end of the day.

Don’t Cover Up Every Issue With Pizza

The solution to many emotional woes in veterinary medicine is pizza. At least, that’s what many employers of unhappy staff members think.

The reality is, pizza doesn’t fix anything, but it at least provides a single, temporary lunch for everyone in the hospital.

Consider asking what the staff would want next time that a group lunch feels warranted.

Perhaps ask the clinic if they would like to go out to a team building dinner, lunch or some kind of fun event to break up the monotony of the stressful work days.

If There’s A Problem, Fix It

As an employer, it’s your job to ensure that the hospital is running at full capacity.

That means if there’s a broken washing machine, it needs to be taken care of.

If you’re short staffed, then put out applications and interview potential candidates instead of expecting your current employees to pick up all of the slack.

Can You Live On A Vet Tech’s Salary?

This depends somewhat on which state you live and practice in and your years of experience.

The average Veterinary Technician’s salary in the US is around $22K to $30K a year.

More for those that hold a license and speciality degree.

If you wanted to be a Vet Tech, you’d have to learn to live on a humble budget.

Is It Hard To Become A Vet Tech?

The success of Veterinary students depends entirely on their passion for the field and aptitude towards understanding medicine.

Some states have programs for future Vet Techs that is about 18 months to 2 years of schooling for an Associates degree. There are others that offer a Bachelors program in 3 years.

The schooling itself requires dedication and a true calling for the field as wasting your time going through years of training for a lower-paying career may not be what you ultimately want in life.

Insurance Support And Federal Standardization Could Fix A Broken Career

It’s a common consensus among the veterinary community that we are tired of being underappreciated and underpaid.

And that goes for doctors, Techs, Assistants and up front staff.

If there was more financial support from pet insurance companies and a federal standardization that we could hold the title of Veterinary Technician to, we could potentially start to see the field prosper like it should be.

Photo by Tima.