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What is a Veterinary Assistant?
Veterinary assistants work alongside veterinarians to provide aid, treatment and care to injured and recovering animals in a veterinary hospital environment. Individuals working as assistants will be responsible for patient intake, recording medical histories, preparing animals for surgery, providing assistance during surgical procedures, and providing postoperative care while noting any changes in the patients health. Veterinary assistance requires individuals to be able to work with animals on a daily basis, to perform clerical tasks alongside other duties, and to perform tasks and treatments under the supervision of a veterinarian. An assistant should be courteous, knowledgeable, and capable.
A veterinary assistant works closely with a licensed veterinarian to provide a variety of specialized care and treatment for animals. Both veterinarians and veterinary assistants provide timely, accurate diagnosis, and treatments for animals, pets, hospitals, clinics, labs, zoos, and livestock. Some veterinary assistant will find themselves working in private clinics, animal shelters, or at an animal companion center.
How to Become a Veterinary Assistant
In order to become a veterinary assistant, a student must follow a series of steps necessary to advance in the field of veterinary medicine. The steps are outlined below to help you quickly navigate the series of items.
Step 1 – Research Schools
The first step in your journey to becoming a veterinary assistant is to perform research into accredited colleges and universities that fit your professional goals and objectives. You can also utilize our proprietary matching portal if you find that method easier. While not a requirement for all employers, job applicants with a 2-year associates degree or certification as a veterinary assistant will have a distinct advantage over other applicants in the workplace.
Step 2 – Apply
Make sure to highlight all work experience related to animals on your college application from summer jobs in an animal clinic to volunteer work at an animal shelter, the work experience will help you stand out and provide a solid academic baseline.
Step 3 – Attend College
After gaining admissions, the next piece of the process is to attend an accredited college or university and begin your studies as a veterinary assistant. A 2-year associate degree will provide students with a science-rich view into veterinary medicine along with exposure to liberal arts courses such as philosophy, math, and English. On the other hand, a certificate for a veterinary assistant is a truncated program focused only on core work in the field of veterinary medicine.
Step 4 – Graduate, Exams, Certification, & Work
Upon graduating from an accredited college or university, you will may be required by your state of residence to pass a standardized examination prior to beginning work. Once all state-based tests and requirements are met, you can apply for jobs in a licensed veterinary clinic or animal hospital. After gaining work experience, you may elect to earn your DMV, VMD, or additional certifications in the field to continue to grow and upskill in veterinary medicine.
A program in veterinary assistance will provide an individual with the skills and knowledge necessary to work with animals in a clinical environment. A veterinary assistant can obtain a certificate, associates or bachelors degree through various institutions. The length of the program will vary based on the type of degree pursued, but it will average between one and two years. A veterinary assistant will be responsible for the care of animals, maintaining a sterile environment, and treatment of animals under the supervision of a veterinarian.
Students enrolled in a veterinary assistant program will learn a variety of sciences related to animal biology and physiology, as well as courses providing instruction and regarding the care and treatment of a variety of animals. Students will work in clinical environments under the supervision of professionals to better understand the tasks and duties of their position and how to perform them. Depending on the program and its length, the education provided becomes more in depth and allows for a greater number of responsibilities.
A veterinary assistant program may include classes in:
- Animal Restraint
- Small Animal Nursing
- Surgical Preparation and Assisting
- Diagnostic Imaging
- Animal Identification
What is the Difference Between a Veterinary Assistant and Veterinary Technician?
The primary differences between a veterinary assistant and veterinary technician comes down to education requirements and job duties. A veterinary technician is required to complete an associate’s degree or bachelor’s degree and become licensed, certified, and/or registered to practice in their state of residence. The requirements for vet techs vary by state and must be confirmed which credential is necessary. A veterinary assistant will often have fewer college credits and requirements placed upon them prior to entering the work force depending the state and employer mandates.
From a job duty perspective, a veterinary assistant will help with a variety of administrative and remedial medical tasks around an office or clinic. On the other hand, a veterinary technician will handle more complex tasks and jobs from taking x-rays to providing emergency care to injured animals and laboratory procedures to nursing care.
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Employment Opportunities and Job Growth
Veterinary assisting is expected to grow over the coming years as the need for animal care and the effectiveness of treatment increases. Though a degree is not necessary to become an assistant and much of the training will be on the job, job availability is trending toward those who pursue a degree. As the role of the assistant becomes more complex and given more responsibility, positions will more likely be granted to qualified, educated individuals. Many veterinary hospitals operate 24 hours allowing for a flexible schedule.
Veterinary assistants will work under professional veterinarians by providing day to day care for ailing animals and assistance, logging progress and notes, assisting in the operating room, and fulfilling an overall support role within a veterinary hospital. Assistants may also be responsible for initial contact with pet owners, and thus must be cordial and professional to put the owner at ease in regard to his or her pet's health and safety.
Some duties of a veterinary assistant include:
- Record Patient History
- Nursing Care
- Collecting Samples
- Equipment and Animal Preparation
- Advising Animal Owners
Job Duties of a Veterinary Assistant
A veterinary assistant will have the knowledge and job training to help treat a variety of injuries and illnesses of pets and other animals. Veterinary assistants will spend their time working in conjunction with a veterinarian or veterinary technician to examine animals, provide a medical diagnosis, treat wounds, rehabilitate animals, provide tests, provide inoculations, counsel pet owners, and help during surgery.
Where Do Veterinary Assistants Work?
Veterinary assistants can work in a broad wide range of locations that include: private clinics, animal hospitals, federal government, state government, local government, farms, ranches, labs, classrooms, offices, laboratories, and rescue leagues. As an example, veterinary assistants that work with farm animals will need to travel to farms and ranches with frequency. This specific type of job will require veterinary assistants to work outside and commute to locations far and wide.
Average Salary and Related Fields
The average salary of a veterinary assistant is $25,240 per year. This is primarily due to the current demands and expectations of veterinary assistance, though with the expected increase in employment opportunities there should be an overall increase in salary for assistants. Additionally, more experience individuals will have a higher salary as will those individuals working in more populated areas due to increased work and higher demand.
Students interested in veterinary assistance may also wish to consider a career as a medical assistant, pharmacy technician, and occupational therapist assistant. For additional information about a career in veterinary medicine, check out our Complete Guide for Veterinarians on our blog. You can also read our blog post titled Top College Degrees for Animal Lovers for additional information.