Vet Assistant Schools

Becoming a Veterinary Assistant

Currently, America’s veterinary care sector is enjoying robust growth. With many pet owners demanding the best possible care for their beloved animal companions, veterinary clinics and care facilities are finding themselves needing qualified veterinary care professionals.

In addition, laboratories, ranches, zoos and wildlife management programs all have a continuing need to provide effective care to their animals. For this reason, veterinary assistants currently are facing an increasingly attractive job market in the United States.

What is a Veterinary Assistant?

vet assistantA veterinary assistant provides basic care for animals under the guidance of a veterinary technician or veterinarian. In addition, veterinary assistants help maintain the veterinary clinic, lab, or zoo in a sanitary condition in order to ensure that the animals will not fall prey to communicable diseases or other health issues.

Among the most common duties of a veterinary assistant are the following:

  • Feeding and watering animals under the care of the veterinary clinic. The veterinary assistant must be certain to ensure that every animal is fed according to the specific dietary instructions of the supervising veterinarian.
  • Cleaning and sterilizing cages and other animal enclosures in order to prevent the spread of contagious diseases from one animal to another.
  • Properly sterilizing and caring for surgical and other tools used by the veterinarian. This is especially important in order to prevent the spread of disease via improperly cleaned instruments.
  • Administer routine vaccinations and other medications to animals under the supervision of the veterinarian.
  • Conduct tests such as X-rays.
  • Obtain blood, feces, urine and other samples for later testing.
  • Walking or otherwise exercising animals that are under the care of the veterinarian.
  • Many veterinary assistants also work in the veterinary office as clerical support. This includes filing veterinary records, interacting with clients and other visitors, making appointments and other duties involved in ensuring the smooth functioning of the establishment.

Working as a veterinary assistant generally demands that the employee be able to spend sustained periods on his or her feet and have the strength and endurance needed to work with large and small animals. In addition, veterinary assistants often interact with the public, which mandates that they be able to behave in a professional and polite manner at all times.

Education and Veterinary Assistants

Veterinary assistants are not licensed by the state and so may be employed without finishing any formal program of education. However, most employers demand that any potential employee be at least 18 years of age, and have completed high school or an equivalent course of education.

On the Job Training

In some cases, a newly employed veterinary assistant will receive on the job training from his or her employers, fellow veterinary assistants and other individuals. Usually, this involves the veterinary assistant starting out working at simple tasks while under the supervision of his or her trainer. As the veterinary assistant becomes better skilled at the assigned tasks, he or she will work more independently until the employer considers the new veterinary assistant to be fully trained.

However, it may be difficult to find an employer willing to invest the time and effort it takes to train a veterinary assistant, especially if there are job candidates who have received formal training in this area. In addition, larger veterinary clinics or labs may have a policy that mandates only hiring fully trained veterinary assistants.

Formal Training

There are formal training programs for veterinary assistants. In most cases, these programs are offered by community colleges or vocational training centers. These programs generally take less than a year for a full-time student to finish and award a certificate of completion upon the student’s graduation from the program.

While these programs are not currently accredited by any professional agency, students intending to obtain formal education should check to see if the institution’s other programs have been accredited by the relevant agency. This is especially true of institutions that also offer veterinary technician programs, as those programs are accredited by the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) as it is likely that many of the instructors in the vet tech program will be teaching classes for veterinary assistants. An accredited institution is more likely to offer a high quality education to its students than an institution that is not accredited.

Additionally, many schools have a wide range of class and schedule options. Today it is common for schools to offer part-time schedules for those students who cannot attend class on a full-time basis.

In addition, distance learning and online courses can allow a student to complete most or all of his or her coursework without being forced to physically attend the school.

This can be extremely beneficial for students who have other work or family obligations that restrict their ability to attend classes on a regular schedule.

Volunteer Work

Finally, it is possible to obtain valuable experience working as a volunteer in an animal care facility such as a humane shelter. In this case, the individual can obtain both the skills and experience that will improve his or her job opportunities. In addition, many volunteer jobs will put the volunteer in close contact with veterinary professionals who can then provide assistance in finding later employment. Finally, volunteering to care for animals can also help and individual decide if becoming a veterinary assistant is a wise course of action, before he or she has invested a great deal of time into the training process.

Veterinary Assistant Programs

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Veterinary Assistant Salary and Employment Options

Currently, veterinary assistants are enjoying excellent salary and employment options, driven by the continuing expansion of the American veterinary care sector. Because of the distributed nature of veterinary care in America, most states have a number of employment options for veterinary assistants.

As of 2010, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) estimated that there were over 73,000 currently employed veterinary assistants in the United States. That number is expected to increase by about 14 percent between 2010 and 2020, and when coupled with retirements and other sources of job attrition, indicates that the employment prospects for new veterinary assistants will be very promising.

In addition, veterinary assistants may earn a median annual salary of just over $22,000. Experienced veterinary assistants or those working in fields that require extra training may earn a higher wage, with the top 10 percent of veterinary assistants earning nearly $34,000. Finally, veterinary assistants may benefit from a wide range of health benefits as a part of their employment.

Becoming a veterinary assistant can be an excellent choice for an individual who wishes to work in America’s growing veterinary care sector. Whether it is the first job and individual enters after graduation or as part of a decision to transfer to a more rewarding career, many individuals find that becoming a veterinary assistant is a personally and professionally rewarding choice.