The primary duties of a veterinary assistant entail looking after animals in clinics as well as assisting with certain procedures. They are generally under the direct supervision of scientists, veterinarians, or veterinary technicians or technologists.
Their tasks may include general grooming and caring for animals by feeding, bathing, and exercising them. They may also clean and disinfect exam and operating rooms as well as hold animals still so the veterinarian can perform certain tests or examinations. California typically has a strong pet culture, and has a number of large metro areas where vet workers may find opportunities.
California Veterinary Assistant Schools
There may be a number of paths to becoming a vet assistant, but at minimum it's typically required to have at least a high school diploma, as well as some formal training. Many vet assistants choose to go through a program at a vet assistant school or community college. Here are a few examples of schools in California:
- Allan Hancock College: Ranked one of the top 120 community in the nation and one of the five best in California, the Allan Hancock College in Santa Maria is known for its English as a second language (ESL) program, its professional theatre program and for its student support services.
- Carrington College (Citrus Heights, Pleasant Hill, Pomona, Sacramento, San Jose, San Leando, Stockton): With campuses in eight western states, Carrington offers a breadth of opportunities for health care career-minded students and focuses on a "hands on" approach.
- Foothill College: Particularly focusing on underserved and underrepresented populations, Foothill College offers a wealth of programs for students and was in fact the first community college in California to offer online courses.
- Los Angeles Pierce College: A two-year comprehensive public institution with more than 60 disciplines, Los Angeles Pierce College has one of the highest transfer performances in all of Southern California.
- Modesto Junior College: Founded in 1921, Modesto Junior College is one of the oldest community colleges in the state and has over 80 associate degree programs.
- Platt College (Los Angeles, Ontario, and Riverside): At three different campuses across California, Platt College specializes in Medical Sciences, Legal Studies, and Graphic Design.
- Santa Rosa Junior College: Nearly 100 years old, Santa Rosa Junior College sis known for academic excellence and boasts over 40 clubs, conference-winning athletic teams and nationally ranked speech and debate teams.
- Westech College: Westech College focuses on providing an educational link between a constantly evolving workplace and a brand new workforce.
What to Expect from California Veterinary Assistant Programs
Typical veterinary assistant programs involve a combination of general skillset building, technical knowledge coursework, and some require a set amount of in-field education. While coursework varies from program to program, a few general skillsets touched upon may include:
- Active Listening
- Active Learning
- Critical Thinking
- Reading Comprehension
These skills may play a crucial role in your success as a veterinary assistant.
As far as technical knowledge coursework goes, you may cover such topics as learning to clean medical equipment, performing clerical work in medical settings, collecting biological specimens, disposing of biomedical waste in accordance with standards, preparing medical instruments and equipment for use, recording vital statistics, preparing medical reports or documents, etc.
California Veterinary Assistant License
Certification for a veterinary assistant is not mandatory in the state of California. Employers however may be more likely to hire candidates possessing any additional certification as it can show an advanced understanding of the various job responsibilities involved in this career.
On the national level, if you are a veterinary assistant seeking certification the National Association of Veterinary Technicians in America offers the Approved Veterinary Assistant (AVA) designation for the role. Program guidelines include graduating from a NAVTA-approved course as well as passing a proctored exam written by NAVTA's AVA committee.
In California specifically, the California Veterinary Medical Association offers the Certified Veterinary Assistant (CVA) program. The program requires viewing over 100 videos and documents, as well as mentoring from a veterinarian or registered veterinary technician and finally completing an exam.
In order to learn more about careers in veterinary assisting in California, we reached out to Elizabeth White, Program Director of the Registered Veterinary Technology program at Pierce College in California.
What are some of the unique issues that vet assistants, technologists and technicians face in the state of California?
One issue that has recently arisen is that the CA Veterinary Medical Board switched from a comprehensive state board exam to utilizing the Veterinary Technician National Exam (VTNE). This in itself is not a problem, except that California also requires a candidate to take a 50 question exam specific to veterinary related laws in CA. The problem is that candidates have to pay $300 to take the VTNE and another $300 to take the CA state board exam. The state reduced the size and scope of their exam, but not the fee. It still costs candidates $300 to take the state board exam and then an additional $300 to take the VTNE. So now a candidate that desires to get licensed as an RVT in California is paying twice as much as before. New graduates (who have typically incurred student debt) will often have to delay taking their exams which prevents them from getting licensed in a timely manner.
What is the greatest benefit of practicing this field within the state of California?
California has always been on the cutting edge of technology and forward thinking. As RVTs, we benefit from being able to participate in advanced medical procedures, but are also able to utilize state of the art equipment and work with brilliant, compassionate colleagues. We also have a wide range of animals in our state, from companion animals to livestock and horses, lab animals, wildlife, exotics and non-traditional pets. Whatever type of animal you love, and whichever branch of medicine intrigues you, an RVT can find a satisfying career in California. Lastly, humane treatment of animals is mandated by law and supported by the public. Our ethical obligation to alleviate suffering by providing excellent care and services to animals can be fully met in California.
How will the job of a veterinarian technologist or technician change in the next 10 to 20 years?
I think the next major change for Veterinary Technology will be the genesis of a Veterinary Professional Associate (VPA). This position parallels the Physician Assistant in human medicine. VPAs would be able to implement wellness programs and diagnose and treat minor problems such as skin and ear infections, GI disturbances, etc. More serious conditions would be triaged and referred to a DVM. VPAs would also educate clients about animal care, nutrition, neutering, parasites, etc. Colorado State University vet school has recently proposed a Master's degree program for the VPA. The public has embraced this mid-tier position in human medicine, so it is likely that something similar in veterinary medicine will be readily accepted.
How is your school preparing students for a future in this career?
RVTs must possess basic skills and knowledge upon graduation. They need to be able to pass their board exams and effectively perform their duties in a clinical setting. Providing this type of education to students is the core of any AVMA accredited veterinary program. But additionally, students need to develop non-technical skills, such as critical thinking, communication, team building and diplomacy. Our school strives to incorporate these important aspects of veterinary technology across the curriculum by utilizing lab groups, shared animal care responsibilities, case study presentations, and group discussions, both in class and online. We also provide hands-on experience with animals and their owners with an on-site veterinary clinic and extensive externship programs at animal hospitals. Lastly, many of our faculty continues to work in a veterinary clinic, which inspires the students and lends a realistic perspective to their education.
Resources for Veterinary Assistants in California