Do you love animals? Do you want to work with animals, and help restore them back to health? If so, being a veterinary assistant might be the right career for you! The world of veterinary medicine is growing rapidly, and is a promising arena for a long and fulfilling career. This is especially the case in the state of California. In this article, you will learn everything you need to know about becoming a veterinary assistant in California.
What Does a Veterinary Assistant Do?
Veterinary assistants are responsible for a variety of duties. These professionals maintain and sterilize surgical equipment and instruments; monitor animals after surgery, and provide care; assist in providing emergency first aid to injured and sick animals; restrain animals during examination; clean and properly disinfect operating and examination rooms, cages, and kennels; administer medication prescribed by veterinarians; carry out office administration and reception tasks; administer immunizations prescribed by veterinarians; weigh animals; take animal temperatures; provide instruction and advice to pet owners; and provide nursing care before and after medical procedures (including surgery). During surgery, the veterinary assistant may be required to pass materials and surgical instruments to the veterinarian. As we can see in the breadth and variety of the veterinary assistant’s duties, the veterinary assistant is a critically important component of any successful veterinary practice.
Most veterinary assistants work for veterinarians in private veterinary practices for companion animals (animal hospitals and veterinary clinics). Veterinary assistant job opportunities can also be found in shelter medicine (for example, at a Humane Society or SPCA shelter), zoo/wildlife medicine, and teaching/research institutions. While most veterinary assistants work on a full-time basis, working part-time is quite common, too. Veterinary assistants who work in establishments with extended hours might be required to work night, weekend, and holiday hours. Depending on your specific workplace, you might have some flexibility with regard to hours.
Veterinary assistants work under the supervision of veterinarians and veterinary technicians. Many people tend to get the jobs of veterinary assistant and veterinary technician mixed up. Veterinary technicians have greater educational requirements than veterinary assistants, and they are required to pass two special exams to be licensed to practice in the state of California. Some veterinary assistants decide to go back to school to upgrade their qualifications to that of a veterinary technician after spending some time on the job. Being a veterinary assistant first provides a wonderful foundation for becoming a veterinary technician later on. However, it is important to remember that being a veterinary assistant is a fulfilling and challenging career in its own right! Furthermore, it is an especially promising career in the state of California!
Veterinary assistants are critically important employees in the veterinary practice. They are needed to ensure that the office and front reception runs smoothly, and to provide crucial assistance with care and treatment of the animals. Being a veterinary assistant will give you a wonderful opportunity to demonstrate your love for animals, and your dedication to their well-being. As a veterinary assistant, you will be exposed to many different situations and health conditions. You will have to be prepared to see and experience things that might be very upsetting. As with any medical job, as a veterinary assistant you will have to be comfortable around blood and other bodily fluids.
As a veterinary assistant, you will have to be prepared to accept the possibility of injury, especially if you do not stick to rigorously professional practices when restraining and interacting with animals. Animals tend to be frightened when they are at the veterinarian’s office, and might bite and/or scratch out of fear. However, when you complete your veterinary assistant education program you will learn about appropriate and effective animal restraint techniques that will help to greatly reduce your risk of such injury. You will also learn about animal psychology, which will make you better equipped to prevent or soothe fear and panic, thus helping to prevent bites and other injuries.
You will need many different personal qualities to succeed as a veterinary assistant, including:
• Love for animals: You need to love animals and want to contribute to their well-being in order to succeed as a veterinary assistant.
• Empathy and compassion: Veterinary assistants need to be compassionate people who feel empathy for animals in distress, as well as for owners of the animals.
• Communication skills: Veterinary assistants need to have strong verbal communication and listening skills. This is essential for dealing in a professional manner with pet owners, other veterinary assistants, veterinary technicians, and veterinarians.
• Ability to pay close and consistent attention to detail: Veterinary assistants need to be very detail-oriented and meticulous.
• Physical stamina and strength: You will need physical strength and stamina as a veterinary assistant. This is necessary when both lifting and restraining animals.
• Good level of dexterity: You will need to have a strong level of dexterity to succeed as a veterinary assistant.
• Emotional resilience and stability: A strong level of emotional resilience is needed for a career as a veterinary assistant. This is crucial because you will witness animals suffering and being euthanized. This can be difficult emotionally, so you must be prepared for this aspect of the job.
• Interpersonal skills: Good interpersonal skills are absolutely essential for veterinary assistants. The veterinary assistant is often the first person pet owners will see as they enter the establishment. People who are distressed and worried about their beloved pet need to be treated in a sensitive way, and want to feel that they are being listened to.
• Ability to remain calm: As a veterinary assistant, you will need to be able to stay calm in all circumstances. This is essential in ensuring that the animals stay calm, and in soothing the concerns of the animal owners.
• Strong organizational skills: Veterinary assistants must have strong organizational skills in order to ensure that the office is run properly and all information is filed meticulously.
• Ability to change focus quickly: Veterinary assistants must be able to change focus quickly when required, as they might suddenly be called from a task to something completely different (for example, when there is an emergency with an animal). You will need to be able to change your focus very quickly.
Your first step on the journey of working as a veterinary assistant is to find and complete a veterinary assistant education program. You will study many different subjects in your program. Examples of subjects you might study include animal nutrition; administering medications to animals; animal anatomy; animal physiology; conducting physical examinations of animals; techniques for animal restraint; clinical procedures; infection control and workplace hazards; client relations and practice management; the veterinary assistant’s role during surgery and after surgery; and radiographs and personal safety. Your veterinary assistant education and training program will give you all the knowledge and skills you will need to be a competent and successful veterinary assistant in the state of California. If you study on a full-time basis, you will likely be able to finish your veterinary assistant education program within one year. Your chosen school might offer the option of studying on a part-time basis, instead. This might be a good option if you need to work substantial hours while completing your education.
Once you have finished your program, you will be able to apply for jobs as a veterinary assistant. While it not required for veterinary assistants to have special certification, it will be advantageous for you to obtain the Approved Veterinary Assistant (AVA) designation, administered by the National Association of Veterinary Technicians in America (NAVTA). In order to get this designation, you will need to ensure that the veterinary assistant education program you choose is approved by the NAVTA. You will also need to pass an examination (the Approved Veterinary Assistant examination). You will have to arrange for an exam mentor to proctor and observe your exam. This person will have to be an instructor from your Veterinary Assistant education program, a credentialed veterinary technician, a veterinarian, or someone at a licensed testing facility. You will be required to pay a fee of $100 in order to take the exam. The AVA exam has 100 questions, and you will be required to score at least 75% on the examination in order to pass. Once you have passed the exam, you will receive a certificate and will have the right to use the AVA designation. You will probably find having this credential useful when looking for a job. It will give you an advantage over other candidates. It may also help you command a better rate of pay than you would receive otherwise. The AVA designation needs to be renewed every two years.
A veterinary assistant’s typical day depends to a great extent on his or her specific workplace. It is important to keep in mind that an individual veterinary assistant’s experiences and specific duties can vary significantly from day to day, depending significantly on which animals are brought in and what problems and health issues those animals have.
Let’s go over some of the duties in the typical day of a veterinary assistant working in a traditional veterinary practice for companion animals (pets). When a veterinary assistant arrives for the workday, he or she generally has to check with their supervisor (often a veterinary technician or veterinarian) to determine the schedule for the day. The veterinary assistant must provide water and food to the animals, and change the animals’ bedding (ensuring that high standards of hygiene are maintained at all times). The veterinary assistant must observe animal behavior, and report anything unusual or alarming to the veterinarian or veterinary technician. He or she must make sure that the veterinarian has all the equipment needed for appointments, examinations, and procedures. The veterinary assistant must clean and prepare examination and operating rooms. He or she must check inventory, and complete order forms for supplies needed. The veterinary assistant must store new supplies when they arrive, and update supply records. He or she has to greet visitors as they arrive, find out what they need, and record information. The veterinary assistant must answer the phone, and will have to schedule appointments for pet owners. He or she must tell a veterinary technician or the veterinarian if the need for emergency treatment arises. The veterinary assistant must issue bills to pet owners, and complete general office tasks. He or she must file records meticulously, in order to ensure that information can be found readily when needed. This is very important in ensuring quality care for the animals, as the veterinarian will often need to see information on each specific animal’s history when deciding on courses of treatment.
The median salary for veterinary assistants in the United States is $24,360 annually (or $11.71 per hour). The median salary for these professionals in the state of California is significantly higher than the national average, at $29,640. Like in many other professions, salaries for veterinary assistants in larger cities tend to be higher than those in smaller cities and towns.
Veterinary Assistant Job Growth Information
The job market for veterinary assistants is growing at a rate faster than the average of all other occupations. The demand for veterinary assistants will continue to grow as people devote increasingly greater amounts of time and money to their animals’ well-being and health, and as medical advances cause pets to have longer lifespans. Longer pet lifespans mean that animals will go through a longer period of old age, with the problems and medical needs that tend to be linked to that stage of life.
“Veterinary Assistant,” http://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/veterinary-assistants-and-laboratory-animal-caretakers.htm
“Certificate in Veterinary Assistant,” https://www.ce.csueastbay.edu/ce/programs/veterinary-assistant
“Veterinary Assistants,” http://www.navta.net/?page=vet_assistants