Salary and Career Options for Veterinary Assistants

Veterinary assistants play a vital role in ensuring that America’s companion animals receive the excellent care that their owners expect them to have.

In fact, in the expanding field of veterinary medicine, veterinary assistants are a swiftly growing profession with a wide range of career and salary options.

The Duties of the Veterinary Assistant

The veterinary assistant supports veterinarians and vet techs in the daily operation of the veterinary clinic. In addition, many other organizations make use of veterinary assistants, including humane societies, wildlife management organizations, and public and private zoos. In most states, veterinary assistants cannot provide any type of veterinary medical care save under the direct supervision of a licensed veterinarian.

Among the most common duties veterinary assistants perform are the following:

  • Veterinary assistants ensure that all animals under their care have received adequate food and water. This includes ensuring that any specific dietary instructions by the veterinarian are followed when feeding the animals.
  • Veterinary assistants are expected to help exercise animals at regular intervals. For those animals that cannot be actively exercised, such as small mammals, the assistant is expected to observe the animal and report any signs of lethargy or other problems to the veterinarian.
  • Vet assistants must ensure that all animal enclosures are cleaned on a regular basis. This includes replacing soiled litter and bedding with clean material when needed. Furthermore, before being used for a new animal, the enclosure must be thoroughly cleaned and sterilized to prevent the potential spread of disease.
  • Veterinary assistants are responsible for the storage and cleaning of veterinary equipment and supplies. Their duties include ensuring that all such equipment is maintained in a sterile condition.
  • In some states, veterinary assistants can administer topical or oral medication under the direction of a vet or vet tech.
  • Some veterinary clinics use veterinary assistants as receptionists. In that case, the vet assistant will have to be able to work with clients and other professionals in a professional manner, as well as ensuring that all information is accurately recorded for later use by the vet.

Finally, veterinary assistants must be prepared to spend a large amount of time on their feet and may be required to work overtime. During emergency situations, such as when an injured pet is brought into the practice, the veterinary assistant must be prepared to quickly and accurately follow the instructions of the vet or vet tech.

Becoming a Veterinary Assistant

Currently, there is no state or national certification requirement for veterinary assistants, which allows individuals to be hired and directly trained by veterinary care organizations.

In general, a student will only need a high school diploma or the equivalent in order to obtain employment as a veterinary assistant. However, a variety of schools offer veterinary assistant programs for those students interested in obtaining a formal education in this field.

Veterinary Assistant Programs

Most veterinary assistant programs are offered by community colleges or vocational schools. In most cases, a student can complete a veterinary assistant program in approximately one year, depending on the program and the student’s schedule. Many programs offer part-time and distance learning options, in order to allow students who are currently working or who cannot attend school on a regular schedule to obtain a veterinary assistant’s certificate.

Although no national body currently recognizes the certificate or credential awarded upon completion of a veterinary assistant program, many veterinary practices will prefer to employee individuals who have already been trained. In addition, some organizations will only employee individuals who have completed a veterinary assistant program. Finally, successful graduates may be able to command a higher wage than those without formal schooling as a veterinary assistant.

Career and Salary Prospects

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

Employment opportunities for veterinary assistants remain promising in today’s economy. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) estimates that approximately 73,000 veterinary assistants are employed within the United States. Furthermore, the BLS predicts a 14 percent increase in the total number of jobs available by 2020. This, combined with the retirement of currently employed veterinary assistants, has resulted in promising employment options for new veterinary assistants.

The BLS has also estimated that the median annual salary for veterinary assistants is over $22,000. This favorably compares with other professions that require the same level of education. In addition, many veterinary assistants are paid on an hourly basis and can substantially increase their wages by accepting overtime.

Finally, becoming a veterinary assistant can be an excellent way to prepare for a more advanced career in veterinary medicine. By closely working with other veterinary professionals, a veterinary assistant can obtain the experience needed to decide if he or she is interested in pursuing an advanced career in veterinary medicine. Furthermore, by developing a professional relationship with vets and vet techs, the veterinary assistant can obtain valuable knowledge about how to proceed with his or her further education.

Becoming a veterinary assistant is an excellent choice for those who are interested in a rewarding career that they can enter immediately after graduation. In addition, by assisting in the care of America’s beloved companion animals, a veterinary assistant will play a vital and respected role in the veterinary care sector.