You have a way with animals. You seem to know just what a dog needs to feel calm, and your friends come to you with their animal-related questions.
But how does that passion for animals translate into a career in the veterinary field? Should you go to veterinary school or earn a degree as a vet tech? How is your love of animals best used in the working world? If you’ve ever wondered, “Should I be a vet?” keep reading to explore the best career path for your passions.
Vet Tech Versus Veterinarian: What’s the Difference?
Vet techs and veterinarians spend their days working with animals of all shapes, sizes, and breeds. Both are rewarding careers for people who are passionate about animals, but there are some distinct differences.
A vet tech is basically the nurse of the animal world. Just as a nurse performs a variety of tasks to support human health, both supervised and unsupervised, a vet tech performs various tasks in support of a veterinarian to help care for animals.
Being a vet tech is an ideal career for animal lovers who want to get into the field as soon as possible. Vet tech positions typically only require an Associate Degree, which takes roughly two years to achieve. You spend less money on your schooling and get into a rewarding job in the veterinary field much faster. Vet techs get to perform a variety of tasks, so you won’t just watch from the sidelines while the veterinarian does all of the interesting jobs.
Veterinarians must complete years of schooling to earn the degree, while a vet tech degree takes much less time. The schooling to become a veterinarian involves lots of math and science, which can be challenging for many people. Even if you do love math and science, only a limited number of universities offer certified veterinary programs, and earning a spot in one of those programs is often competitive and difficult.
The median pay for vet techs is $31,800 per year. Veterinarians make more, at a median salary of $88,490 per year, but keep in mind that salary comes with a lot more responsibility and stress — in addition to much more schooling and the potential for a lot more student loan debt.
The bottom line? A vet tech program gets you out into the field using your skills working with animals much faster with a variety of duties to keep you engaged. You get to learn many new skills on the job to expand your knowledge of animal health in a practical and meaningful way.
Fur, Feathers, and Beyond
Working in the veterinary field gives you the chance to interact with a wide range of animals on a daily basis. The specialty of the vet office you end up working in often plays a role in the types of animals you see. A rural vet is likely to see nearly any type of animal, including lots of farm animals because the options for medical care are often limited in rural areas. A vet office in a larger city might specialize in only small pets like cats, dogs, rabbits, etc. or in only certain types of animals, such as birds or reptiles. Other vet techs work in zoos, where they come into contact with a variety of animals.
What does this mean to you as an animal lover? It means you may not always get to work with your favorite animals. If you love snuggling with the cute, furry puppies and kittens, ask yourself if you would be just as willing to assist with an exam on a pet lizard or trudge through a farm field to help a sick calf. If you truly have a passion for animals, this variety won’t likely be an issue. You may even discover a love for an animal you never knew you liked. However, if you do have a strong preference for a particular type of animal, you can target your job search around clinics, hospitals, and other animal care facilities that specialize in that area.
No Two Days Are Alike
If you like your day to be neat, clean, organized, and predictable, working in the veterinary field is not for you. If, on the other hand, you love animals and love the excitement of never knowing what type of creature will walk through the door or what task you’ll be asked to tackle, a vet office could be the perfect spot for you.
Working in a vet office gives you a mix of interacting with the human owners and the animals. You’ll see a variety of patients each day, which gives you many opportunities for hands-on learning. One minute you’re helping trim a dog’s nails, and the next you’re assisting in an emergency surgery procedure. This requires a great deal of flexibility and the ability to switch gears quickly without getting flustered or forgetting basic safety and procedures.
The specific tasks a vet tech is allowed to handle, either alone or with supervision, often varies by state. Here are some examples of tasks you might perform or assist with during a typical day as a vet tech:
- Conducting well-pet visits
- Diagnosing sick and injured animals
- Assisting with surgical procedures
- Administering medications or vaccinations
- Running tests
- Monitoring sick or injured animals
- Performing wound care
- Cleaning up exam rooms
- Teaching pet owners how to care for sick or injured animals
- Administering euthanasia when needed
- Giving anesthesia prior to a surgery
- Assisting with catheterization
- Conducting dental procedures
- Monitoring vital signs
Variety also comes in the specific location you work. Those working in the veterinary field have several options including:
- Private veterinary clinics (either general or specializing in a particular type of animal)
- Animal shelters
- Animal hospitals
- Research facilities
Patience and Compassion Are Required
Working with animals and their human owners takes a great deal of patience and compassion. Strong people skills are just as important as a passion for and knowledge about animals. You often have to explain complicated medical procedures or conditions to people who don’t have your background in veterinary medicine. That means you have to understand the animal’s situation well enough and have strong enough communication skills to break it down to a basic level without coming across as condescending.
While many owners are pleasant and easy to work with, you occasionally come across people who are angry, frustrated, or confused. Others may not understand the importance of good pet care. Part of the required people skills of this field is learning to deal with these types of customers to diffuse the situation and ultimately ensure the pet gets the best care possible.
You also have clients who fail to follow the treatment plan. This complicates your job because you may see the same animal for the same problem, or the problem may get worse. Helping patients understand the importance of following the treatment plan is something you have to do in some cases.
On the animal side of the job, patience comes into play when trying to diagnose a health issue. Since animals can’t tell you in words what is wrong, you have to use your skills and knowledge of animal health, along with sensitivity and attention to detail, to uncover the clues to figure out the problem. Not everything is cut and dry, so a healthy dose of patience helps you succeed in your veterinary career. In addition, large animals require some muscle on your part to lift, maneuver, and control, whether you are performing the procedure or helping someone else.
Some Days Are More Dangerous Than Others
Fluffy, purring kittens aren’t much of a threat, but not all animals are so cute, cuddly, and complacent. Even cats and dogs that normally seem non-threatening can become dangerous when they feel scared or in danger. You know you’re there to make them feel better, but the vet’s office isn’t always a favorite place to stop for animals. A needle jabbing into their body is difficult for an animal to understand — they just know it hurts and want to make it stop.
What does that mean for you? It means at some point you will likely get bitten and scratched. You may have to deal with an angry, growling, and snarling dog who isn’t happy about you being in their space. It’s just part of the duties of a vet tech. Animals aren’t usually excited to get poked and prodded, and biting and scratching become their defense mechanisms. Working safely and following established procedures can help you avoid these potentially dangerous situations.
It’s Not All Licks and Cuddles
Working with animals can bring you great joy, but it can also bring you great heartbreak — and some pretty gross moments. You have to be willing to take the good with the bad and understand that some days are easier on the heart than others.
Make sure you can handle these tasks before considering a veterinary career:
- Euthanasia: As an animal lover, you don’t want to see any animal die, nor do you want to be a part of that death. However, euthanasia is a big part of working in the veterinary field, so it’s something you have to be able to handle. Being able to see euthanasia as a relief to an animal in pain or suffering is helpful.
- Consoling owners: While the animals are technically the patients, the pet parents by default are also part of your job. Telling an owner that a pet is sick or won’t recover is challenging. Consoling an owner during euthanasia can be even worse. It’s part of the job, and it can break your heart as an animal lover to see another pet owner going through one of the worst things in life. Learning to have empathy without becoming overwhelmed with the emotions you see helps keep that balance so you can do your job well.
- Pain and suffering: Seeing any animal suffer is difficult, especially if you have a soft spot for animals. While you’ll be able to assist on many well-pet visits, you will also see your share of injured and sick animals. Some are easy to fix up, but others take a more grueling treatment plan or won’t recover at all. The upside to working with animals who are sick or in pain is watching the recovery and knowing you were a part of that process.
- Feces, urine, and vomit: Vet offices are not neat and tidy. You can’t control when an animal gets sick or goes to the bathroom right on the exam table. Other animals bleed, have pus oozing from sores, or worse. Someone has to clean up all those messes, and it’s likely going to be you. More often than not, at least some of that bodily fluid and excrement is also going to end up on you. Expect to go home sweaty and smelly most days. You may also have to take samples for testing, which is often a messy, difficult task. If you have a strong stomach and don’t mind these types of messes, the veterinary field may be a good fit for you.
Prepare for Clerical Work
A large part of your job in the veterinary world involves direct patient care, but accurate records are also an important part of the job. You will often have to complete patient charts and complete tracking forms for animals in your care. You may need to write out instructions or treatment plans for the owners. Practice your writing skills, so you can accurately convey your message both verbally and in writing.
While it might not be your favorite part of the job, these clerical tasks give you more variety in your day, keeping the job interesting. It can also give you an emotional break if you’re having a particularly trying day.
Sharing Your Knowledge and Passion Is Part of the Job
You’re full of excitement and passion about animals. That’s a great thing in the veterinary field. You get to spend the whole day using that excitement, knowledge, and passion when working directly with the animals and when interacting with the owners. You can help others learn things like how to train a dog or the best way to get a cat to take medicine.
Job Security Is a Bonus
The good news for anyone considering the veterinary field is the job security. People love their pets and are often willing to pay whatever they can afford to care for them. That means all positions in the field are in high demand.
Job prospects for vet techs are great, with an expected 19 percent growth from 2014 to 2024, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. This is much faster than the average growth, meaning you have a better chance than people in other fields to land a job as a vet tech.
The job outlook for veterinarians is also faster than average at nine percent from 2014 to 2024, but it’s not quite as good as the vet tech job outlook.
With such great job prospects, the veterinary field is a secure one, which makes it even more appealing to someone who already loves animals and wants to work with them.
Put Your Animal Passion Into a Rewarding Career
Those with a passion for animals have a number of animal-related career options. Working in the veterinary field comes with its share of messy and difficult responsibilities, but it is a career that is ideal for many animal lovers. If you have a passion for animals and have patience, a strong stomach, and the ability to handle the sad aspects of the job, a career as a vet tech could be the perfect way for you to earn a living.