Get Ready For a Great Career in Veterinary Assisting
Few jobs are more rewarding for animal lovers than that of a veterinary assistant. Veterinary assistants are a valuable part of an animal healthcare team. Through compassion and knowledge, these professionals work to make the experience of a visit to the vet more comfortable for pets and their owners alike. Veterinary assistants play an important role in the activities of a veterinary clinic or hospital. (See also Vet Technician Schools)
The need for veterinary care today is prevalent. According to a 2012 survey by the American Veterinary Medical Association, pets are valued members of over 71% of today’s households in the United States. The average household has two to three pets. Not only is this career field in demand, making it a viable career choice but veterinary assistants experience a rewarding satisfaction through helping these beloved pets and their owners.
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A veterinary assistant performs many roles. These responsibilities are not limited to but may include:
- Administering medication to patients
- Cleaning and disinfecting areas such as exam rooms, treatment areas and animal cages
- Attending daily needs like walking, providing food and water and clean bedding to animals in their care
- Maintaining patient charts
- Properly restraining patients when necessary
- Collecting blood, urine or tissue sampling for testing
- Maintaining surgical equipment and sterilizing surgical instruments
- Assisting the veterinarian and veterinary technician during surgery in areas like preparing the patient and monitoring)
- Performing laboratory tests like bedside “SNAP” tests (for feline leukemia, heartworm, etc.), urinalysis setup, operating automated blood machines and fecal exams
- Handling record requests by making contact with other vet facilities.
Veterinary assistants also fulfill an important role for pet owners, in addition to the care they provide to their pets. They are typically the initial point of contact for clients and set the tone for the experience they and their pets will receive. Veterinary assistants should be comfortable with communicating with people. Vet assistants also answer questions the client may have and may need to offer the client education about general pet care, various diseases, medication and how to administer treatments.
Although some opt to earn a certificate through a non-degree program (either online or at a college), certification is not required to work as a veterinary assistant. However, most employers do prefer to hire assistants who have obtained an associate’s or bachelor’s degree in animal science (or a similar field like biomedical technology).
Education is available to those interested in becoming a veterinary assistant through training centers, technical institutes, vocational schools and community colleges throughout the country. Although the curriculum may vary from each program, the general concepts taught are relatively similar. Distance learning programs are also available through some institutes.
Earning a Veterinary Assistant Certification is a good way to demonstrate that you have the necessary skills required to work in the field. Certificates are ideal when it comes to gaining employment as well as negotiating pay. While certifications are not needed, employers do tend to hire assistants who hold some type of credentialing. Certification is issued upon the completion of a program.
Certification can also be obtained through the National Association of Veterinary Technicians in America (NAVTA). NAVTA offers several training program options. Another option is the Approved Veterinary Assistant (AVA) certification offered in any of 35 certificate programs that have received approved program distinction by the NAVTA. This certification is recognized throughout the United States.
Veterinary assistants work in various different work settings. Veterinary practices are the most common place of employment for veterinary assistants but they can also find work in pet clinics and veterinary hospitals. Some animal education programs and research facilities employ several veterinary assistants as well as Animal Rescue facilities and shelters. Veterinary assistants can also look for employment in larger pet stores as some have in-house animal clinics.
The median annual salary for veterinary assistants is $24,360, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. This includes a range that extends from around $18,060 to $36,690 (the median incomes of the bottom 10% and top 10%) The average hourly wage for veterinary assistants is $14.23 (with a range of $13.61 per hour to $16.12 per hour), according to the 2015 Firstline Career Path Survey.
Pay range depends on the type of practice (general vs. specialty) and the number of doctors in the practice. Research facilities tend to pay higher salaries than hospital or clinical settings. Experience also plays a part in the amount a veterinary assistant earns.
Opportunity for Advancement
A career as a veterinary assistant can be a stepping stone towards climbing a ladder of success in the field of veterinary medicine. Assistants gain field experience every day that is valuable to the field of a veterinary technician, which is the next logical step when it comes to career advancement. Eventually, this could lead to a more prominent position like a practicing veterinarian.
If you plan advance up the ladder in the veterinary field, ongoing education is the best way to advance while working. Ongoing education opportunities are available at schools and also through regular seminars and workshops throughout the country. Working as a veterinary assistant can be just the start of an exciting and advancing career in the veterinary field, giving you the necessary skills and experience you need to move up.
The industry is expected to grow as pet ownership continues to increase in the United States. There are estimated to be over 75,000 veterinary assistants working in the United States. 70 million dog owners and 80 million cat owners can be found in the United States as of today. Dog owners spend upwards of $400 each year on veterinary medical care while cat owners spend just under half that amount. In 2016, Americans spent over $62 billion on pet expenditures, according to the American Pet Products Association. These numbers all suggest that more opportunities will be available for veterinary assistants.
An emphasis on responsible pet ownership and animal safety efforts has also increased the demand of veterinary care, in turn increasing the demand for veterinary assistants. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, veterinary assistants’ employment is expected to grow from 2014 to 2024 at a rate of 9%. This is faster than the overall average rate for job growth, which is a promising future for those interested in entering into this rewarding field.