A veterinary assistant knows many basics about how to care for animals and uses that knowledge to support veterinarians and other veterinary professionals as they take care of animals in shelters, kennels, veterinary offices and animal hospitals. In addition to working directly with animals, veterinary assistants may also help manage administrative tasks and interact with pet owners and other staff.
Vet assistant jobs are great for people who enjoy being around or working with animals and who don't mind being on their feet much of the day.
A Day in the Life of a Veterinary Assistant
Veterinary assistants may not know what their day will bring, except that they'll be involved in caring for animals. Their day can start early, assisting with a first appointment that may be scheduled for 8 or 9 a.m., or even earlier. Depending on the purpose of an appointment, they may help to set up an examining room for an animal or make sure specific tools are on hand for the veterinarian to use. Some veterinary assistants work in research labs; and, while the purpose of the business is entirely different from a veterinary clinic, animal care is still necessary in this workplace.
The job of a veterinary assistant is not necessarily easy. In fact, turnover in the field is high (BLS.gov); but those who love working with animals may find that the job is just right for them. Unlike a veterinarian, vet assistant training can be done on the job or through a short-term, vet-assisting program, which makes this a great way to explore the animal-care field. Vet assistant jobs can include multiple responsibilities, some related to working with animals and others related to administrative tasks and preparing for office visits.
Animal-related duties may include:
- Bathing, feeding or exercising animals
- Restraining animals during a visit or a procedure
- Collecting blood or urine
- Giving medications, as directed by a veterinarian
- Providing care to animals after surgery
- Explaining care procedures to owners of animals
Clinic or hospital duties may include:
- Preparing a room for a visit or appointment
- Sterilizing equipment for use by a veterinarian
- Helping with inventory
- Cleaning or disinfecting cages
- Putting items away after an examination
- Updating animal medical records
- Assisting at the front desk when needed
Important Characteristics for Veterinary Assistants
The type of individual generally suited for this career is detail-oriented, good at communication and full of empathy. They know their medical terminology well and are comfortable assisting professionals in the office, whether those are veterinary technologists or veterinarians. They know how to use various tools and instruments and to prepare a room for an appointment or even an operation.
Typically, veterinary assistants have great patience with animals and may even own several of their own. They may use the vet assisting career as a way to try out the field and gauge whether they want to pursue education and credentials beyond what is available at schools that offer veterinary assistant programs. Whatever their reasoning, they do need to have physical stamina for the job and also the strength to help move or transport animals.
Typical Steps for Becoming a Veterinary Assistant
There are several steps that can be helpful to becoming a veterinary assistant. A high school education is typically the necessary entry requirement for the field, but any of the steps below could be helpful:
- Earn a vet assistant diploma or certificate. Students in a diploma or certificate program can learn animal and medical terminology, emergency and wound care procedures, and veterinary practice administration. Many of these programs can be completed online, although an externship could be required. Prospective students should consider enrolling in a program that is approved by the National Association of Veterinary Technicians in America (NAVTA) so they can seek Approved Veterinary Assistant (AVA) designation later on, if desired. Programs in the field can have different names, such as the titles listed below:
- Diploma Veterinary Assisting
- Veterinary Assistant Certificate
- Veterinary Assistant Certificate Training
- Veterinary Assistant School
- Veterinary Assistant Schools and Training Programs, CityTownInfo.com, Accessed September 2017, /employment/veterinary-assistants
- Diploma Veterinary Assisting, Ashworth College, Accessed September 2017, https://www.ashworthcollege.edu/career-diplomas/veterinary-assisting/
- Online Veterinary Assistant School, U.S. Career Institute, Accessed September 2017, https://www.uscareerinstitute.edu/certificates/professional-services/veterinary-assistant
- Veterinary Assistants, NAVTA, Accessed September 2017, http://www.navta.net/?page=vet_assistants
- Veterinary Assistants, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2016-17 Occupational Outlook Handbook, https://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/veterinary-assistants-and-laboratory-animal-caretakers.htm#tab-1
- Veterinary Technologists and Technicians, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2016-17 Occupational Outlook Handbook, https://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/veterinary-technologists-and-technicians.htm