When looking to start a career as a veterinary assistant in D.C., the best thing to do is to start by finding a training program that will teach you everything you need to know to be successful on the job. In these courses, you’ll learn the ropes including how to handle chemicals and office equipment, medical terminology, animal breed information and identification as well as miscellaneous office duties.
There are a number of different training programs in the D.C. area that you can choose from. Each one has its own benefits and potential drawbacks, but the most important thing to make sure of is that it’s properly accredited. This is so you can be sure that you’ll have everything you need to begin working as soon as you complete the course.
Job Criteria and Program Basics
As a veterinary assistant, you’ll be the go-to person for almost everything in the facility. You’ll be tasked with maintaining records and inventory and similar front office duties while also being asked to help out with examinations and surgical procedures. Your main tasks will most likely involve taking care of the animals that come in. This includes feeding, bathing, grooming and walking them if necessary. You’ll always be interacting with the clients, so it’s important to be attentive, personable and trustworthy.
While most veterinary assistants think about working in veterinary offices, you can also be hired by animal hospitals, kennels, shelters, grooming companies and even zoos. No matter where you end up working, you can be sure that the right training program will teach you everything you need to know.
Each course will be unique and have its own guidelines and standards, so the length, cost and nature of each one will vary. In general, a typical veterinary assistant training course will last 100 to 300 hours spread over a period of weeks, months or even a full semester of school. Most are divided into two sections that include an in-class portion and a hands-on field training portion. There are also online courses that have their own structure.
As far as the cost of the courses, these can vary depending on where the program is offered. For example, online courses can range from as low as $500 up to $2,000, while in-person courses offered through secondary education schools can be anywhere between $1,000 and $3,000. While some schools will have an all-inclusive fee that covers books and materials, others may charge separately for tuition, books and other expenses.
Even though these courses may seem pricey, they’re worth it since most veterinary assistants in the District of Columbia make close to $40,000 a year according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The more experience you obtain, the higher you can expect your salary to be, too.
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Although the District of Columbia is a small area, there are still plenty of different training programs available. Some to note are:
- Prince George Community College in Largo, Maryland
- Howard Community College in Columbia, Maryland
- University of the Potomac in D.C.
There are different online courses available, too. It’s always best to compare your options in terms of the cost, length of the program and how it best suits your needs.
Educational Requirements to Begin Training and Work
The D.C. area currently has no mandatory requirements for veterinary assistants. On average, most employers want their employees to have at least a high school diploma or its equivalent in order to start working. There is no licensing or certification requirement for the position, however. That being said, any training program will give you some kind of certificate showing that you took and completed the course successfully.
There is an official certification that you can choose to get if you’d like to. This is the Approved Veterinary Assistant (AVA) certification offered by NAVTA (National Association of Veterinary Technicians in America). This is a nationally recognized distinction that you obtain when successfully completing an approved NAVTA course. There are no physical classes in the D.C. area for this certification course, but it can be taken online.
Once you complete the NAVTA-approved course you’ll have to pay $100 to take the certification exam. If you pass the exam you’ll get your AVA certification. All you have to do is maintain your status by taking continuing education courses and paying a $10 renewal fee every two years.
While this certification isn’t necessary to work as a vet assistant, it can earn you a higher salary or help you get a job faster. Since it’s nationally recognized you also have the option to move out of the D.C. area and work somewhere else without an issue.
When you finish your training (be it the NAVTA course or another), you’ll be ready to work in the field. You can expect to find work in places like:
- VCA (Veterinary Centers of America) MacArthur Animal Hospital
- Banfield Pet Hospitals (multiple locations in the D.C. area)
- Friendship Hospital for Animals in D.C.
Of course, you’ll also be able to get a job in a vet office, at shelters, zoos and other animal-focused facilities.
With all of this information under your belt, you’re ready to jumpstart your career as a veterinary assistant. Remember, compare your options and choose what’s best for your individual needs.