What is the Difference Between a Veterinary Technician and Veterinary Assistant?

Veterinarians are assisted by two kinds of workers, the veterinary technician and the veterinary assistant.  While many similarities exist between the two roles, there are some fundamental differences. We spoke to a vet tech who outlined the main differences in her clinic:

Education

A vet tech attends a two year technician program and completes a 6 week practicum. Technicians are required to be licensed with the accredited provincial technician association in the province that they are employed in, must complete continuing education hours to uphold the license, and pay an annual fee to the association. Upon successful completion of the technician program, a student must pass a Veterinary Technician National Exam.

A veterinary assistant attends a six month VA program and completes a 3 week practicum. Upon successful completion of the course, the student receives a diploma and does not write a national exam. There are no license or continuing education requirements as a VA.

Surgical Duties

Vet techs draw up and administer anesthetic drugs, place intravenous catheters and place endotracheal tubes. They have full knowledge on how to operate an anesthetic machine, can manually ventilate an animal should it experience any respiratory distress during a surgical procedure, monitor an animal’s vitals during surgery, assist the surgeon during the operation, prepare the site on the animal that will be surgically incised (shaving and sterilizing), and recover the animal post op.

VA’s can draw up anesthetic drugs, gather supplies needed for catheterization and intubation, monitor an animal’s vitals during surgery, prepare the site on the animal that will be surgically incised, and recover the animal post op. VA’s are not taught how to place catheters or endotracheal tubes or how to operate an anesthetic machine.

Lab Work

Vet techs can draw blood from an animal, use lab equipment such as a blood analyzer, urine analyzers, can perform fecal exams, use snap tests, and identify parasites or bacteria using a microscope. Techs can also perform a cystocentesis (drawing urine from the bladder using a needle and syringe)

VA’s can gather materials necessary for a blood draw (needle, syringe, and blood tubes), restrain the animal during sample collection, use lab equipment such as a blood analyzer, urine analyzers, can perform fecal exams, use snap tests, and prepare the sample slides for viewing by either a vet or tech. VA’s do not normally draw blood, perform a cystocentesis, or identify parasite eggs and bacteria under a microscope.

Drug Calculations and Administration

Vet techs are skilled in calculating drug dosages for an animal based on its weight and the drug concentration. Drug protocols are provided to the tech by the vet in a mg/kg basis and the tech will calculate the dosage the animal requires in either mg or ml measurements. Techs can administer drugs orally, intravenously, intramuscularly, and subcutaneously.

VA’s are provided with a prescription from the vet for an animal and are trained on how to calculate the amount needed based on how many days the animal requires the drug and how many times a day it must be administered. VA’s can administer drugs orally and subcutaneously. They are not trained on IM or IV injection.

Both techs and VA’s can perform and process radiographs, admit and discharge patients, educate clients on basic medical care for their pets, restrain animals for medical procedures, and monitor hospitalized patients.