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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:

  1. 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
  2. Gain on-the-job training. Private clinics and hospitals employ many of the more than 73,000 veterinary assistants working in the U.S. (BLS.gov). Once hired, employees often receive training on the job, although some employers may prefer applicants who already have prior experience with animals.
  3. Seek AVA designation, if desired. Although not required, the Approved Veterinary Assistant (AVA) designation available through NAVTA can be sought. Candidates are required to take and pass an exam to be eligible to use this AVA designation.
  4. Renew the AVA designation. Renewal for NAVTA's AVA designation is needed every two years. To be eligible for renewal, veterinary assistants must complete 10 units of continuing education. Students whose AVA credential lapses may need to take the AVA exam all over and also complete the continuing education credits.
  5. Consider vet tech training. Employees who feel they are prepared for more responsibility on the job may want to think about a vet tech career, which typically requires completion of an associate degree.

Sources:

  • Veterinary Assistant Schools and Training Programs, CityTownInfo.com, Accessed September 2017, http://www.citytowninfo.com/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

Metro Areas Sorted by Total Employment for
Veterinary Assistant

Listed below are the 10 largest metro areas based on the total number of people employed in Veterinary Assistant jobs , as of 2016

     
Metro Area Total Employment Annual Mean Salary
Los Angeles-Long Beach-Anaheim 3,900 $28,940
Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue 1,800 $30,830
San Francisco-Oakland-Hayward 1,700 $34,790
San Diego-Carlsbad 1,460 $30,370
Atlanta-Sandy Springs-Roswell 1,340 $24,820
Phoenix-Mesa-Scottsdale 1,340 $26,730
Miami-Fort Lauderdale-West Palm Beach 1,330 $27,330
Dallas-Fort Worth-Arlington 1,190 $22,960
Houston-The Woodlands-Sugar Land 1,160 $25,240
Detroit-Warren-Dearborn 1,000 $25,230

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Total employment and salary for professions similar to veterinary assistants

Source : 2016 Occupational Employment Statistics, Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, BLS.gov

Most Popular Industries for
Veterinary Assistant

These industries represent at least 1% of the total number of people employed in this occupation.

Industry Total Employment Percent Annual Median Salary
Professional And Technical Services 65,710 91% $20,800
Education 3,890 5% $27,920
Non-profit 750 1% $22,480
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