How to Become a Veterinary Assistant

How to Become a Veterinary Assistant

What Does a Veterinary Assistant Do?

If you would like to become a vet assistant, but you do not know what a veterinary assistant actually does, we are here to help you.

You need to have in mind that love towards animals is not the only thing that matters.

So as to become a veterinary assistant, you need to get acquainted with numerous techniques and processes that you will perform while you assist veterinarians and licensed veterinary technicians.

You will need to become a professional who is ready to help with every aspect of animal care.

Plus, managing pet owners’ questions and concerns will be your duty.

Generally speaking, veterinary assistants play a vital role when the daily activities of a veterinary hospital are in question and make it function perfectly.

These are just some of the responsibilities of veterinary assistants:

  • They need to take care of the daily needs of the animals such as feeding, walking, and providing water and clean bedding
  • Furthermore, they are in charge of cleaning and disinfecting animal cages, exam rooms, and treatment areas
  • Also, vet assistants maintain surgical equipment, sterilize surgical instruments, and assist the veterinarian during a surgery
  • They administer medications to patients and properly restrain patients for blood/urine collection and tissue sampling for testing
  • Some of them also perform laboratory tests such as urinalysis setup, operation of automated blood machines, fecal exams, etc.
  • When administration duties are in question, they must maintain patient charts that document daily care

Animal care is not the only service they provide.

Veterinary assistants also have to work closely with pet owners, as they are the first people pet owners meet when calling or coming to a pet hospital.

So as to make sure that the overall veterinary hospital experience is pleasant, veterinary assistants must be comfortable with people and equipped with good communication skills.

They are those who inform clients about various diseases, medication administration, and general pet care.

The survey done by the American Veterinary Medical Association claims that pets are members of the family in more than 71% of households in the United States and that households have an average of 2-3 pets.

Thus, vet assistants have both the reward and satisfaction of assisting animals and their owners.

Workplace Details

Once they reach the appropriate education, veterinary assistants can find jobs in veterinary clinics and animal hospitals.

These are the places where they are frequently found working.

However, there are some other career opportunities for vet assistants.

They can work in animal or biomedical research laboratories, research and teaching institutions, shelter medicine, and zoo or wildlife medicine.

Veterinary assistants typically work full or part-time, and those who work in 24-hour facilities such as emergency animal hospitals will have to work evenings, nights, weekends, or holidays.

Salary and Job Outlook

If we take into consideration the US Bureau of Labor Statistics’ data, the median annual salary for veterinary assistants is $24,360.

However, their salary depends on numerous factors and can range from around $18,060 to around $36,690.

According to the 2015 Firstline Career Path Survey, the average hourly wage for veterinary assistants is $14.23.

How much they will earn highly depends on the number of doctors in the practice and the type of practice.

If you want to earn more, you should look for a job in a research facility, as it pays higher salaries than clinical or hospital settings.

Of course, veterinary assistants with years of experience will get higher salaries.

Those who are finishing their vet assistant education should not worry about whether they will find a job, being that the veterinary industry is constantly growing due to the increasing number of pet owners in the US.

Plus, the number of responsible pet owners is also increasing,  causing a huge demand for veterinary assistants.

In the years to come, the employment for veterinary assistants is expected to grow at a rate of 9%.

Steps to Become a Veterinary Assistant

Get your high school diploma or GED and consider your options to obtain more education.

Our first suggestion is to earn a certificate through a non-degree program which can be attended either at a college or online.

It is true that certification is not required, but according to the employers who prefer to hire veterinary assistants who have an associate’s or bachelor’s degree in animal science or a similar field, you will have better chances of employment if you have one.

Get training on the job.

Another way towards this new career is getting the appropriate training on the job.

This training is provided by colleagues who are more experienced and are in charge of training veterinary assistants in animal care, laboratory skills, and front desk administrative tasks.

When animal care is in question, it involves the training of the following skills:

  • Feeding
  • Watering
  • Patient restraint
  • Monitoring animals for issues
  • Cleaning and disinfecting cages and work areas
  • Sterilizing laboratory equipment and surgical instruments
  • Providing post-operative care
  • Administering oral and topical medications
  • Preparing specimens for lab examination

Furthermore, front desk training is related to:

  • Assisting customers over the phone
  • Interacting with clients when they visit the clinic
  • Utilization of practice management software to manage client and patient records

Consider optional certification.

As we have already mentioned, certification is not required.

The reason why you should get it is that it is preferred by employers.

You can take into consideration optional certifications that can be obtained through state veterinary societies and private organizations.

It is important to get familiar with requirements that may vary by program.

However,  the majority of them require educational coursework, hands-on training with veterinarians and veterinary technicians, and a final written examination.

Explore opportunities for advancement.

Those who are the most persistent and advanced decide to advance their careers in animal welfare.

They achieve this by obtaining further education and certification, by going back to school to complete either an associate’s degree or a veterinary technician program.

Some of them even decide that completing a bachelor’s degree with pre-veterinary requirements, allowing them to apply to veterinary school is the right career path.

It is worth mentioning that acceptance to veterinary school is highly competitive, and their experience working as a veterinary assistant will be their advantage for admission.

Explore Degree Paths

You should get familiar with what your possible employer expects from you when education requirements are in question, as many veterinary assistants can get the training on the job at clinics and hospitals, but there are also those employers who would require assistants to hold a high school degree or GED, as well as certificate prior to becoming employed.

If you are a high school student who is eager to prepare for this career, you can take classes in office operations, communications, and life and physical sciences.

Plus, you can gain volunteer experience with animals.

There are high school career centers that offer training and certificate programs in veterinary assisting.

In case you want to get employed by larger and specialty practices, you have to know that they hire only those veterinary assistants who are certified by the National Association of Veterinary Technicians in America (NAVTA).

So as to get certified, you will have to complete a NAVTA-approved veterinary assistant program.

You can enroll in any of the NAVTA currently approved programs – 29 on-campus and 3-distance programs.

Also, you can obtain appropriate knowledge through a program that is not NAVTA-accredited.

It is true that this program will not provide you with certification, but you will be equipped with some useful skills and training

Universities, community colleges, technical colleges, career schools, high schools, and veterinary hospitals all offer vet assistant certificate programs.

Which degree path you should take depends on you, but you can always check with other veterinarians and assistants in your area and find out what is necessary to get employment in this field.

Students complete a series of courses covering the following:

  • Veterinary medical terminology during which they will study vocabulary related to animal anatomy, physiology, and diagnostic testing.
  • Restraint and handling – as they will need to know how to handle common species safely and perform nail trimmings and bathing.
  • Surgical Nursing and care – as they must know how to properly prepare a room for surgery, how to assist vets and techs during the procedure, and provide nursing care to patients.
  • Laboratory and clinical procedures – they must learn to assist vets and vet techs with imaging studies and lab tests.

Students are also required to complete an internship at a veterinary clinic.

This is a significant part of the education process due to the fact that it is the only way to practice handling, restraint, surgical prep, lab techniques, and office operations.

Necessary Skills and Qualities for a Succesful Veterinary Assistant

  • Physical fitness
  • Focus and multitasking abilities
  • Interpersonal skills
  • Love of animals
  • Ability to handle stress with poise
  • Good temperament

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