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What is a Veterinary Assistant?
A veterinary assistant or veterinarian assistant works in conjunction with veterinarians providing treatment, aid, and care to ill, injured, and recovering animals. A veterinary assistant works closely with a licensed veterinarian treating animals via specialized care and surgical procedures. Both veterinarians and veterinary assistants are expected to provide accurate, timely diagnosis and treatment plans on behalf of pets, animals, hospitals, clinics, labs, zoos, and livestock. Some veterinary assistant will find themselves working in private clinics, animal shelters, or at an animal companion center.
Veterinary assistants will typically work in a veterinary hospital tasked with both technical and administrative duties. In most animal hospitals, a veterinary assistant will be responsible for:
- Patient Intake
- Preparing Animals for Surgery
- Collecting Samples
- Counseling Animal Owners
- Recording Medical Histories
- Assisting During Surgery
- Preparing Equipment for Surgery
- Providing Postoperative Care
Vet assistants are required to be capable, knowledgeable, courteous, and empathetic. A veterinary assistant will work with other assistants under the direct supervision of a licensed veterinarian in an animal hospital or clinical setting.
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 Accredited Vet Schools
Initially, you are tasked to find accredited universities and colleges offering veterinary assistant programs. Researching schools can be a simple as starting with a geographic region or as complex as layering the overall cost of attending with professor tenure and alumni programs. Alternatively, we have created a set of proprietary matching tools to help you quickly aggregate veterinary assistant degree programs. You can assess the school's fit and research the school after requesting admissions information from our portal.
Step 2 – Apply for Veterinary School
With your college list in-hand, you will now begin to apply for admissions. Take the time to carefully read all instructions on the application. Go to great lengths to highlight all relevant work experience and volunteer experience you have with animals. Volunteering at an animal shelter or animal clinic shows initiative, discipline and passion that schools look for in prospective students.
Step 3 – Attend Veterinary College
After hearing back from your top schools, you will begin to register for classes. Living on-campus will require you to figure out housing, parking, meals, and books before classes start. Online veterinary assistant degrees still come with a transition but not to the extent as moving on campus. After meeting with your academic advisor, you can map our your degree path and courses. A two-year associate's degree will provide you a science-rich window into veterinary medicine in addition to general education classes like sociology, creative writing, and philosophy. On the other hand, a certificate program may be an ideal path for a veterinary assistant depending on your state requirements and employer preference.
Step 4 – Graduate, Exams, Certification, & Work
After passing all classes in the veterinary assistant program, you can move to the next phase of the process. Depending on your state, you may be required to pass a standardized examination for veterinary assistants. After meeting all state-specific certification and licensing requirements, you can apply for jobs at licensed veterinary clinics or licensed animal hospitals of your choice. After a few years of valuable work experience, you may choose to earn additional veterinary certificates, DMV, or VMD. Continue to learn, grow, and add relevant skills throughout your career as learning does not stop in school.
Veterinary Assistants Education Requirements
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.
Veterinary Assistants Classes
Students enrolled in a veterinary assistant school 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
- Medical Procedures
- Pharmacology and Phlebotomy
- Anatomy & Physiology
- Bloodborne Pathogen Training
- Surgical Preparation and Assisting
- Diagnostic Imaging
- Operations Management & Office Procedures
- Animal Identification
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.
Schools Other Students Requested Information From:
Employment Opportunities for Vet Assistants
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.
Veterinary Assistant Job Duties
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.
Veterinary Assistant Salary
Learning how much vet assistants make can be discovered here. The average salary of a veterinary assistant is $26,140 per year with the top ten percent making nearly forty-thousand dollars annually. This is primarily due to the current demands and expectations in veterinary medicine. As job responsibilities and work experience rise, so too will the overall compensation for veterinary assistants.
Industry growth for veterinary assistants is poised to rocket 19% over the coming decade. Surveys produced by the BLS indicate this large jump in vet assistants will occur year over year adding some sixteen thousand jobs. Job growth will translate to opportunities for entry-level positions and career growth as animal clinics grow and expand their services.
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 visit the AVMA then read our blog post titled Top College Degrees for Animal Lovers for additional information.