The difference between a veterinary techician and a veterinary assistant are the education and credentialling requirements.
No state in the US has any educational requirements for working as a veterinary ASSISTANT. This is an entry level-position in a veterinary facility and training is generally done on the job. Because most training is done on the job it is often very cursory and lacks the depth and breadth of a formal education. Veterinary assistants are generally taught the basic how-to but not the why or when you would do something different. They tend to do basic tasks such as animal restraint, basic care and sanitation, assist in patient monitoring, prepare instruments for use in surgeries or daily treatments, they may give medication as prescribed by the veterinarian, collect biological samples and perform basic diagnostic tests like reading fecals. Veterinary assistants are generally not the equivalent of a formally educated veterinary technician. For example, many assistants can place an IV catheter and hook up a fluid line to it, but they generally don't know how to calculate the appropriate amount of fluids to give in a 24 hour period to maintain hydration, replace lost fluids from vomiting/diarrhea, calculate the appropriate number of drops per hour to provide the correct amount of fluids or understand the different types of IV fluids available and when each type is appropriate to a given situation. They may monitor anesthesia but they generally don't know how the different anesthetic drugs they are giving affect the body other than producing sedation or anesthesia---do they cause a drop in blood pressure that needs to be compensated for, do they make it more likely for animals that have seizures to have one, do they need to change the anesthetic protocol to compensate for heart, liver or kidney issues in a given patient. Veterinary assistants generally require much more supervision than a credentialed veterinary technician
There are voluntary educational opportunities, however these are not equivalent to a college degree program and are instead basic vocational training. There is no over-sight by a professional body to ensure that the majority of these programs provide adequate or correct information. There is no requirement for hands-on training and instructors often have little or no experience or education in the veterinary field. There are a handful of certification programs that are designed and approved by veterinary professional organizations or that are offered by colleges which also offer accredited veterinary technology programs and these are better choices for someone who wants to be a veterinary assistant. All of these programs offer certification as a veterinary assistant, but this certification is not legally recognized or required by any state in the US.
Veterinary technicians are required (in most states) to have a 2 year degree in veterinary technology from an AVMA accredited veterinary technology program, to have passed the Veterinary Technician National Exam and a state exam in order to be credentialed. They are also generally required to attend a set number of continuing education courses each year to keep up with changes in veterinary medicine. Veterinary technicians are educated in veterinary anatomy and physiology, pharmacology, animal husbandry, surgical assisting, anesthesia, medical nursing, diagnostics such as radiology and ultrasonography, clinical pathology, parasitology, medical terminology and record keeping, biological collection and sample handling and preperation, etc. They can also specialize in areas such as emergency and critical care, internal medicine, anesthesia, dentistry, behavior and equine nursing.
The quality of veterinary staff is extremely important as I understand that they will be the ones monitoring and providing the majority of the care for my pet. I always ask questions of staff members designed to determine the extent of their training, education and experience.
The first time I ever drew blood in front of a client I had been warned to make sure that the client was ok with the sight of blood. So I asked and she said that she was a nurse and blood didn't bother her. But as soon as I started collecting the sample she actually fainted! She went to see her doctor as it was wierd for her to faint from seeing blood and discovered that she was pregnant!
Registered Veterinary Technician
experience as a veterinary assistant for 3 years before getting my degree