Veterinary Assistant Veterinary Assistant Careers in America Today’s American veterinary care sector is enjoying rapid and sustained growth. Whether it is an urban clinic providing high quality care to beloved family pets or a small rural veterinary practice, the American people expect that their pets will receive the same level of care a human can find in a modern hospital. Because of this, the demand for skilled veterinary practitioners is steadily growing across the nation. Among some of the most important veterinary employees are veterinary assistants, making this an excellent choice for individuals considering a veterinary career. Veterinary assistants help veterinarians, vet techs and other veterinary professionals care for those animals they are working with. Furthermore, the vet assistant plays a vital role in ensuring that the veterinary practice remains clean during its operation. Although vet assistants do not carry out veterinary procedures themselves, no veterinarian could practice his or her craft without the help of one or more veterinary assistants. What are the Duties of a Veterinary Assistant? Veterinary assistants help the veterinarian and other staff members maintain the veterinary clinic, research lab, or other zoological facility. In general, they provide semi-skilled labor and are not certificated or licensed veterinary care workers. Although this places strict limits on the type of work they can perform, it also makes it possible for individuals to become veterinary assistants without having to complete a course of formal study. In general, veterinary assistants provide the following services: Regularly clean the veterinary facility, ensuring that it remains in a sanitary and attractive condition. Clean and sterilize the animal enclosures in order to prevent the spread of communicable diseases and provide a pleasant living environment for the clinic’s patients. An important part of their duties is maintaining the practice’s veterinary equipment in a sterile condition. This is extremely important in order to prevent postoperative infections. Feed and water all animals that are currently under their care, ensuring that the dietary instructions provided by the veterinarian are followed. Exercise and walk the animals. This can be an especially important duty for vet assistants that work at a practice specializing in the treatment of equines. Take blood, urine and other samples to provide to the veterinarian for later testing. Perform some tests, such as x-rays, under the supervision of other veterinary personnel. Administer any medications that the veterinarian has prescribed. In general, veterinary assistants may not perform any of the following services: Diagnose an animal’s illness or injury. Independently evaluate tests. Prescribe medication for an animal. Conduct medical or surgical procedures on an animal. The limitations on a vet assistant’s permissible duties may vary from state to state. It is very important that all vet assistants understand what their legal rights and responsibilities are in the state where they are working. Providing prohibited services can lead to severe professional penalties, and may include the filing of civil or even criminal charges against the vet assistant. Becoming a Vet Assistant Currently, vet assistants are not required to be licensed or certificated by any state in America. Because of this, there is a wide range of paths to becoming a vet assistant, ranging from on the job training to completing a formal course of education. In most cases, an employer will demand that any vet assistant applying for work be at least 18 years of age and have a valid high school diploma or its equivalent. On the Job Training Many vet assistants are hired and trained by their employer. Usually, the vet assistant starts out with mundane tasks such as cleaning the establishment, later graduating to more complex duties as he or she gains experience. Although this can be an excellent way to become a vet assistant, it is important to understand that many veterinary clinics prefer to hire individuals with experience or formal training and it may therefore be difficult to find an employer willing to hire the candidate on a permanent basis. Formal Education While no state requires that an individual be formally educated in order to become a veterinary assistant, many employers prefer to hire formally trained vet assistants. In addition, formally trained vet assistants may be able to command a higher starting wage. Because of this, attending a vet assistant program can be an excellent choice for anyone wishing to become a vet assistant. Most formal programs are offered by community colleges or vocational training programs. Usually, these programs can take anywhere from six months to a year to complete and confer a certificate of completion on those students who successfully finish the program. These programs train the students in how to perform their duties as a vet assistant. Although these certificates are not required to become a vet assistant, completing a course of study at a respected school can help improve the graduate’s chance to obtain the job of his or her choice. In addition, many programs offer online or distance-learning options. This can allow a student who cannot physically attend classes to complete his or her program of study from home. As such, this can be an excellent choice for those students who have family or job obligations that do not permit them to attend traditionally scheduled classes. Students can also choose to attend the program on a part-time basis in order to allow for a more flexible schedule of instruction. Job Prospects for Vet Assistants Currently, vet assistants are enjoying excellent job prospects in the United States. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, as of May 2012, there were over 71,000 vet assistants working in the United States. Additionally, the number of job openings for vet assistants is likely to increase by at least 14 percent between 2020 and 2020. When combined with attrition due to retirement and other factors, this job growth will result in a growing demand for qualified vet assistants. Finally, the current salary vet assistants enjoy is very competitive with other fields requiring a similar level of training and experience. The BLS has determined that the national median wage for vet assistants is nearly $25,000, with the top 10 percent earning over $35,000. This salary level is expected to exceed or keep pace with the national inflation rate. Becoming a vet assistant can be an excellent choice for those individuals who enjoy working with animals in a clinical or laboratory setting. Whether working at a major urban veterinary clinic or a smaller rural practice, the vet assistant plays a vital role in providing pet owners with the care they demand for their treasured companion animals.