In today’s veterinary care sector, veterinary assistants provide a vital service to veterinarians, vet techs and other veterinary professionals.
Because of that, this is a field that can be attractive to many individuals who are seeking to enter the field of animal care.
In addition to this, veterinary assistants earn a competitive wage when compared to other fields with similar educational and licensure requirements. Finally, as pet care providers, veterinary assistants enjoy a great deal of respect from the public and coworkers alike.
What does a Veterinary Assistant Do?
Veterinary assistants help the vet and other staff care for animals that have been brought to them for treatment. Unlike vet techs and veterinarians, veterinary assistants do not require a license or certification to work in this field. However, they are not permitted to carry out most veterinary procedures and must work under the direct supervision of a licensed or certificated veterinary professional.
Veterinary assistants commonly carry out the following duties in the office or clinic:
- They help care for animals after surgical procedures.
- Veterinary assistants clean and ensure that surgical instruments and equipment are sterile.
- They disinfect cages, kennels, and examining and operating rooms in order to prevent the spread of infectious diseases.
- Under the direction of a veterinarian or vet tech, they can help provide emergency first aid to sick or injured animals.
- In some states, they can give medication or immunizations that veterinarians have prescribed.
- Some clinical or laboratory veterinary assistants may perform routine laboratory tests, such as taking x rays.
- They will feed and bathe animals, while monitoring them to ensure that they are comfortable and healthy.
- Collect samples for testing, such as blood, urine, or tissue.
- Many veterinary assistants also work in the front office as receptionists or clerical workers.
State Limitations on Veterinary Assistants
Is it important to note that every state has different regulations regarding the duties that a veterinary assistant is allowed to carry out. In some cases, they may be allowed to carry out their duties while they are under the direct supervision of a licensed vet tech or veterinarian, while another state may outright forbid a veterinary assistant from carrying out certain actions.
In most cases, veterinary assistants may not take the following actions, regardless of the state they are working in.
- Prescribe medication to an animal. In some states, there are also limitations on what types of medication the assistant can administer even with a veterinarian’s supervision.
- Carry out surgical procedures.
- Provide a diagnosis for an animal.
Because of these limitations, it is vital that anyone considering becoming a veterinary assistant speak with his or her superiors in order to determine what duties their state will allow them to carry out.
Educational Requirements for Veterinary Assistants
Veterinary assistants who are working in veterinary clinics do not require certification or licensure. In general, they must have graduated from high school or possess a GED and be 18 years or older.
Veterinary assistants usually receive on the job training by their supervisor and already employed veterinary assistants. This training can vary depending on the exact duties they are expected to carry out.
Veterinary Assistant Programs
While prior training is not required to become a veterinary assistant, many veterinarians prefer to hire those individuals who have some degree of training in the field. Because of this, many individuals seeking to become a veterinary assistant can enroll in a veterinary assistant program. These programs are usually offered by community colleges and vocational schools. In general, completing one of these programs will prepare the individual to carry out all the duties of a veterinary assistant.
The National Association of Veterinary Technicians in America (NAVTA) has established standards for veterinary assistant programs. While these standards are strictly voluntary, prospective students can use them to determine if the veterinary assistant program they are considering fulfills all of their educational needs.
Laboratory Veterinary Assistants
A growing number of veterinary assistant careers involve providing care for research animals. Because this field differs in a number of ways from the traditional veterinary care field, these veterinary assistants often seek out certification by the American Association for Laboratory Animal Science (AALAS).
The AALAS provides three levels of certification for veterinary assistants working in the research field. While this certification is not mandatory, many research establishments require some degree of certification before they will hire a laboratory assistant. Furthermore, certification can improve the veterinary assistant’s professional and salary prospects in the research field.
Professional and Salary Options for Veterinary Assistants
The field of veterinary medicine is currently enjoying robust and steady growth in the United States. Because of this, many expanding and new clinical practices and research labs have a growing need for qualified veterinary assistants. In addition, wildlife management programs, zoos and state and municipal humane societies are also showing an increasing demand for veterinary assistants.
Currently, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) estimates that there are over 73,000 jobs for veterinary assistants as of 2010. In addition, the BLS expects that the number of available jobs will increase by at least 14 percent by 2020. When combined with attrition due to retirement and other factors, workers in this field enjoy excellent employment prospects.
Furthermore, veterinary assistants earn a very competitive wage. The median annual wage as of 2010 was over $22,000. Furthermore, the top ten percent of veterinary assistants earned over $33,000 in 2010. This compares very favorably with other professions that have similar educational requirements. Furthermore, veterinary assistants enjoy a high degree of stability in their field, due to the fact that many veterinarians prefer to retain already trained employees.
Improving the Veterinary Assistant’s Earning Potential
There are a number of ways that a veterinary assistant can improve his or her earning potential. The simplest way is to obtain practical experience. Veterinary assistants with a long work history can obtain a higher starting wage at a new job than those without experience can. Furthermore, many veterinary clinics offer raises for those individuals who have worked at the clinic for a long period of time.
Secondly, while schooling is not required for veterinary assistants, obtaining extra education can improve the individual’s ability to provide high quality service to his or her employers. This can often lead to promotion and the resultant increase in wages. Furthermore, this education does not always have to be in the field of veterinary medicine. Because many veterinary assistants also work as receptionists, training in clerical and veterinary record keeping procedures can drastically improve the utility of a veterinary assistant.
Veterinary Assistants and Other Careers
Finally, a veterinary assistant can use the experience he or she has gained as a way to enter another veterinary career. As an example, many veterinary technicians initially entered the field as veterinary assistants, before obtaining the training and certification needed to become a vet tech. This can be especially beneficial for individuals who are interested in the veterinary care field, but cannot currently afford the cost of being trained as a veterinary technician.
Ultimately becoming a veterinary assistant can be an excellent way to enter into a well-compensated and secure career. In addition, veterinary assistants enjoy a great deal of respect from their fellow workers and the public alike. Whether they are working in a veterinary clinic or other field, veterinary assistants are a vital and valued part of America’s veterinary care sector.
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