How to Become a Veterinary Assistant

Veterinary Assistant Career Overview

How to Become a Veterinary Assistant

Veterinary assistants play an important role in the pet industry. They take care of animals as well as aid veterinary technicians and veterinarians. Given the advancements in veterinary medicine and compartmentalization of jobs, the role of the veterinary assistant may become more relevant than ever.

Veterinary Assistant Job Description

At the base of many animal hospitals and veterinary clinics are veterinary assistants. Veterinary assistants may look after animals, maintain cleanliness of the facility, and help veterinary technicians and veterinarians successfully complete surgical procedures. As the first to greet patients, veterinary assistants are also frequently in contact with pet owners. They may even educate owners of diseases and health problems, and explain to them how they can better take care of their pets.

Duties of veterinary assistants include, but are not limited to:

  • Feed, bathe, and exercise animals
  • Clean cages and vicinity
  • Communicate with pet owners
  • Set up examination rooms
  • Collect blood and tissue samples
  • Read medical charts
  • Assist with medical administration
  • Aid with surgical procedures
  • Prepare patients for x-ray imaging

Education

Veterinary Assistant Infographic

Infographic by Jesse Hernandez.

Veterinary assistants should have a high school diploma or GED or pass the Ability to Benefit Test. No further education is required to become a veterinary assistant, but veterinary assistant courses are highly recommended by ABC.

An education in veterinary medicine and veterinary hospital protocol provides students with an important foundation. Veterinary assistant training programs may teach students everything from animal restraint to surgical preparation. ABC's program offers hands-on training in order for students to experience cleaning kennels and supervising animals as well as gaining some experience behind the scene of a working veterinary hospital or clinic.

Differences Between ABC's Formal Education & On-the-Job Training

Vet Assistant School

On-the-Job Training

Formal education Hands-on training
Real work experience Real work experience
Knowledge of terminology Biased education and/or lack of a formalized educational process.
Mastery in pet body language
 

Qualifications

Apart from education and experience, veterinary assistants must love animals. More importantly, veterinary assistants must not only have dedication, but passion for working with animals as well. Working with animals isn’t always a pleasant time. Animals can get sick, become helpless, and even die. For this reason, it’s important vet assistants have a grounded mindset when approaching an emotionally charged situation. They must be able to focus on helping the veterinarian without distraction so they can focus on the animal.

Veterinary assistants must also be conscientious. Those who pay close attention to details and have a reliable memory are better at making the right judgment calls and taking preventative measures when needed. Communication skills are a major plus, as the veterinary assistant often has direct contact with pet owners. Being able to thoroughly explain to pet owners of any health problems and effectively communicate with veterinary technicians and veterinarians are essential skills expected in any animal care career.

Qualifications employers look for in veterinary assistants include:

  • Compassion
  • Dedication
  • Attention to detail
  • Communication skills
  • Ability to multitask
  • Ability to work under pressure
  • Accuracy
  • Honesty
  • Loyalty
  • Physical strength

For more information on the physical requirements please see the Bureau of Labor Statistics website at http://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/veterinary-assistants-and-laboratory-animal-caretakers.htm#tab-4

What You Need to Know

Myths About Veterinary Assistants

Being a veterinary assistant can be more than taking care of animals. There are times when an animal needs to undergo surgery, in which case, the veterinary assistant might have to stand ready to provide assistance to the veterinary technician and veterinarian. The sight of blood, bones, and feces is not uncommon in the veterinary world. Therefore, veterinary assistants must be prepared to approach these situations.

In addition, veterinary assistants might receive injuries at work. When veterinary assistants restrain animals prior to or during a surgical procedure, they may get bitten or scratched. Veterinary assistants must remember that those aggressive responses are only natural for the animal and, therefore, should not be taken personally.

Contrary to what many believe, veterinary assistants are in frequent communication with people. As mentioned above, veterinary assistants are in direct contact with pet owners, but they’re also constantly talking with veterinary technologists and veterinarians. Veterinary assistants must be able to accurately read patient’s charts and pass on that information to the veterinary tech or veterinarian in an efficient manner.

Employment Opportunities

No school can make guarantees about employment.

As of 2014, there are currently 73,400 veterinary assistants (and laboratory animal caretakers) employed. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment is expected to increase by 9 percent from 2014 to 2024. Aside from working at an animal hospital or veterinary clinic, veterinary assistants can pursue a career as a veterinary technician, veterinary technologist, or even veterinarian.

Requirements vary for each position. Veterinary technicians have their associate’s degree in veterinary technology or animal science from a school approved by the American Veterinary Medical Association. Veterinarians possess their Doctor of Veterinary Medicine, or D.V.M., from an AVMA-approved institution. Currently, the AVMA has approved more than 40 colleges worldwide as veterinary colleges. Both prospective veterinary technicians and veterinarians must complete a certain number of hours working at an animal facility.

If you’re interested in becoming a veterinary assistant, please call (800) 795-3294 or fill out the form on the right.

By Rachel Ann Custodio

Veterinary Assistant Infographic

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